01/03/12 — Waiting for her chance

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Waiting for her chance

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 3, 2012 2:01 PM

With less than two weeks until the Miss America Pageant, Miss North Carolina Hailey Best is counting her good luck charms and hoping history repeats itself.

"This year is the only Miss America (from North Carolina's) 50th anniversary," she said. "Maria Beale Fletcher was Miss North Carolina in 1962. She'll be in Las Vegas to watch me as well."

Ms. Fletcher was actually present at this year's state pageant and has taken Hailey under her wing. In a recent e-mail, she shared something else the two have in common.

"She was a Rockette and before the performance (at Miss America) she injured both ankles. They said she wouldn't be able to dance," Miss Best said. But dance she did, capturing the national crown. "Exactly 50 years later, I'm going through an ankle injury right before the pageant."

Five weeks ago, Hailey broke her ankle at the joint. She just had the cast removed this past week. And while dancing is not her talent -- she'll sing the same humorous operatic selection that won her the state contest, "Art is Calling For Me" -- the shared experience serves as a "good motivator."

Between Ms. Fletcher's backing and all the support received from friends and family in Wayne County, Miss Best said she simply hopes to make everybody proud.

"I have had the best support system of any contestant," she says of the hometown connection and positive feedback. "That means more than people know."

Being a pageant queen brings with it a lot of perceptions, and she has not been exempt.

"At my events, I have made the comment, so often I walk into a room and am perceived as a dumb, short, blonde beauty queen," she said. "There's a huge difference between how they react before I speak and after I speak or sing.

"I do get that very often and I'm not afraid to stand up for myself and say that I'm not a dumb, blonde beauty queen. I hope that you do see that I'm much more than that."

That's what being Miss America is all about, she notes -- changing minds.

"Last year's Miss America was 17. She just made everyone fall in love with her," Miss Best said. "Life is all about expectations."

Watch out, she smiles, she can be "dynamite in a small package."

Miss North Carolina is among the half-dozen contestants this year who are shorter than 5 feet 2 inches. But the reigning Miss America, she points out, is only 5 feet 5 inches.

Since receiving the state crown in June, it's been a full-time job -- between fittings, driving from one end of the state to the other for appearances and now making final preparations for the national contest.

"The whirlwind is not stopping," she said this past week. "Just packing and labeling every single thing that we send to Miss America. I have to ship my wardrobe straight to the hotel (Jan. 2) then fly out Thursday. But we're getting it done."

In some respects, the magnitude of it all still hasn't sunk in.

"We talk about it, and my mom has been getting butterflies recently," she said. "I have some sense of peace that I had before Miss North Carolina. There's a reason that I'm competing this year. ...

"The Lord has already decided who Miss America 2012 is. All I can do is be myself and show the judges and the United States who I am and that I truly deserve to be Miss America and that I want to be Miss America. If it's meant for me to be Miss America 2012, then I will walk away with that crown."

She basically treats her newfound role like a job, trying to enjoy the journey as opposed to focusing simply on the destination. As that points draws near, though, she finds herself focusing on the mental preparation needed.

"I'm so anxious to get there I cannot stand it," she said.

She even admits she has begun to visualize the crowning moment, which she hopes will be hers.

"Now it's really hitting us that that night I (could) be signed over to the Miss America organization and I would basically be their daughter for a year," she said. "I have been away from my family before -- when I went to the N.C. School of the Arts and to New York for a year.

"Literally, the next morning (after the pageant) they fly you home to pack up your things and then fly you out again Monday."

Miss Best said she believes the state organization has well-prepared her for what lies ahead, including 12- to 16-hour days for the week and a half leading up to Miss America, which will be televised live from Las Vegas Jan. 14.

From the moment she steps off the plane later this week, within an hour after arrival she will be one of five contestants interviewed for a show, "On the Red Carpet," followed by interviews, photo and commercial shoots and preparing for the production that is Miss America.

The Internet and social media are also a large part of her path to the crown. She regularly posts updates on Facebook, a blog at www.missnc.org, and solicits donations to the pageant's cause, Children's Miracle Network -- exceeding her $20,000, currently at $26,000, prompting her to raise the amount to $30,000 -- at www.missamericaforkids.org.

The public can also cast their vote for the 21-year-old at missamerica.org, where the top vote-getter in the "America's Choice" contest will have a place in the Top 15.

And if Vegas oddsmakers are taking notes, her lucky number hasn't let her down yet.

"Four is my lucky number," she said. "As Miss North Carolina, my contestant number was 14, my room number was 214. My apartment as Miss North Carolina was 204; in the Miss America pageant, my contestant number is four.

"Every hotel room I have stayed in has had a four in it. The Miss America crown has four points, which represent scholarship, style, service and success. I'm not a superstitious person but I'm going to use it as my good luck charm."