Wayne County has another contestant in the Miss North Carolina pageant this year.
Karen Stallings of Fremont was recently crowned Miss Spivey's Corner.
She will join Courtney Smith, 19, of Mint Hill, Miss Goldsboro 2017, at the state competition in June.
A 2011 graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School, Miss Stallings received her degree in applied sociology from East Carolina University in 2016. The 23-year-old is currently working as an account executive at WHFL in Goldsboro and with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Wayne and Pitt counties.
The daughter of Barry and Olivia Stallings -- he is senior pastor of Pleasant Grove Original FWB Church, she is a teacher assistant at Fremont STARS Elementary School -- was Miss Daffodil in 2012. But her first experience in the pageant world was when she participated in the younger category and won Little Miss Daffodil as a child.
The latter is where she met her first queen, Miss Goldsboro 2003, Desiree Autry Houston, planting the seed of interest.
"Through college I thought about it but never really put forth the effort to do it," she says now.
The age limit makes this her last year to compete, so she decided to pursue it. She started out by vying for the Miss Goldsboro crown, for reasons beyond the crown and scholarship money.
"My nana, Miriam Creech, was the first Miss Goldsboro in 1932, 85 years ago," she said of her great-grandmother, who passed away in 1997. "I wanted to do it, really competing in Goldsboro was also about my hometown but it was connected to her.
"Just to say that I even competed in that pageant was a blessing to me. I just felt her right there with me, so it was special."
She doesn't look at the outcome as a loss, she says, for the lessons prepared her for other opportunities, including the platform she is creating.
"My platform changed after Miss Goldsboro because I was struggling with self-confidence and my self-esteem. I kind of went into that experience not knowing that I could do it," she said. "When I came out of that I actually had a group of people, several people just reach out to me and encourage me to keep going and keep competing.
"I realized that there's so many girls out there that are dealing with (self-esteem). So I changed (the platform) to Project RISE, which is Empowering Others by Promoting Confidence. And RISE stands for Ready to Improve Self-Esteem."
It's a newfound passion, which she hopes she can share with young people in schools during her reign. Developing her platform will be the focal point of the coming months, along with preparing for the Miss North Carolina competition.
She is more prepared for the talent portion, as singing is something she has done as far back as she can remember.
"I would say, and my dad's going to appreciate this, the first time I ever sang, I mean obviously when I was little I sang but the first time I ever sang in public was when I was two and it was a song my dad wrote, called 'Singing with the Angels,'" she said with a smile. "I sing it now. I've actually recorded it on a CD."
In addition to having competed in the Miss Goldsboro pageant in November, she also participated in Miss Kinston in early February -- where she was first runner-up and won for talent and Miss Congeniality. During the Miss Spivey's Corner event, she also won in the swimsuit and talent categories. Both times, she sang a gospel ballad, "Up to the Mountain."
She is undecided about song choice at the state pageant.
"You want to make sure it's something that's from the heart," she said.
The whole experience of receiving a title has been humbling, she said, and she is now looking forward to the personal growth and making new friends.
"I love meeting new people," she said. "These girls have all been chosen to represent certain parts of North Carolina.
"I'm excited just to kind of get to know these young women who are inspirations to others. I'm sure they're going to be inspirations to me so I'm excited about that."
Younger sister, Katie Stallings, travels around with her sibling, as support as well as a coach of sorts.
"She's very driven, very beautiful. She holds herself together very well," Katie said. "She's a lot like Daddy. This is how she described Daddy, a very constant person, he can talk to anybody. She's very good at making people feel special."
The June 24 state pageant will be at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh. It was recently announced that this year's event will be televised on ABC11 channels and streamed on ABC11.com.
For social media followers, Miss Stallings' addresses include Miss Spiveys Corner 2017 on Facebook, @missspiveyscorner_nc on Instagram and #projectrise on Twitter.