Three young women from Wayne County are competing for the title of Miss North Carolina 2020.
The state contest is being held in Raleigh this week, with three nights of preliminary competitions, Tuesday through Thursday, and culminating with the pageant televised on Saturday at 8 p.m. on ABC11.
In addition to the reigning Miss Goldsboro 2019, Isabella “Bella” Gaines, two others with local ties will be among the 42 vying for this year’s state crown. They are Emily Mitchell, Miss Rose Hill 2019, and Bailey Stamper, Miss Central Carolina 2019.
Gaines, who is from Wilmington, previously represented Goldsboro as its Outstanding Teen in 2016. She went on to place as fourth runner-up at the state level. She has since been Miss Raleigh 2018 before returning to compete, and win, the Miss Goldsboro title.
Gaines started dancing when she was 18 months old and competing at 4 years old. She began competing in pageants at age 8.
In 2015, she sparked a viral movement after being cyberbullied on social media for how she looked without makeup. The situation resulted in numerous media outlets picking up the story, including the “Today” show, and led to the creation of the hashtag #NoMakeupSelfie Network, which is now Gaines’ platform.
Being bullied since she was 12 years old, the 20-year-old has been able to turn the experience into a way to help others. Pageants provided not only potential scholarship money for college but a way to redirect and grow.
She regularly speaks at schools, sharing her experiences and inviting students to sign a pledge committing to avoid participating in, or even watching, bullying behavior.
“When I started, I didn’t have any confidence, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. This gave me confidence in what I believed in and what I stood for,” she said. “Being able to have that leverage gives me the opportunity to speak to, and most importantly, I get to help these kids. That’s my most important mission of all this. It’s fun, and I love it.”
Now a junior at East Carolina University, she is studying social work and aspires to become a counselor.
Her talent at the state pageant will be a clogging routine.
Mitchell, 24, is a 2013 graduate of Wayne Early/Middle College High School, where she was named Miss WEMCH in 2012.
She previously competed for Miss Goldsboro in 2018, receiving the People’s Choice award, but the title went to Stamper. She went on to win Miss Rose Hill.
“I have been competing in this organization for four years, in about 13 local pageants,” she said. “This is my first title that I have won. It’s really very humbling and rewarding to reach my dream and make it to Miss North Carolina.”
A graduate of UNC-Wilmington with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Mitchell currently works at Pfizer Pharmaceutical in Rocky Mount as an aseptic process engineer.
Her parents, Ellen Sandlin Mitchell and Stephen Mitchell of Goldsboro, were part of the reason Mitchell became interested in pageants.
“My mom was Miss Goldsboro (1987), and that’s actually how she met my dad,” she said. “That sparked my initial interest, but throughout my years of competing and all of the experiences, I continue to keep competing and see what else this organization could offer me.”
Her platform is Mind Your Health, focusing on raising awareness and education on mental health.
For her talent, she will perform a jazz dance to “Let’s Get Loud” by Jennifer Lopez.
“I’m just really looking forward to the experience, and I’m looking forward to being able to say I finally made it,” she said. “This is something I have dreamed about ever since I was little.
“I’m just really looking forward to saying I finally reached my goals and achieved something on my bucket list.”
Stamper is a 2017 graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School. She was Miss Goldsboro 2018 and 2016 Queen of the Fair.
A junior in the honors program at East Carolina University, she is studying business administration with a concentration in marketing. She is currently a marketing intern at Hope Restorations in Kinston, a nonprofit ministry for men overcoming addictions and incarcerations.
Her parents are Amy Stamper, a teacher at Norwayne Middle School, and Thayer Stamper, pastor at Gateway Church.
The 20-year-old will perform a tap dance routine for her talent.
Stamper’s platform is raising awareness of SMA, or spinal muscular atrophy, the No. 1 leading genetic cause of death in infants.
“Through my platform I’m advocating for newborn screenings in North Carolina because it’s not currently done,” she said.
Like Gaines, this will be a return visit to the state pageant for Mitchell, who says she is a bit more relaxed this time around.
“I’m definitely less nervous about next week,” she said. “I know what to expect.”
“I’m a little bit more laid-back but I’m still determined to go in and do my best.”
At last year’s event, she was one of the five Wells Fargo Community Impact scholarship winners and said she hopes to pick up some more college scholarship money.
“I’m looking forward to getting to see 41 beautiful and talented contestants who are participating and competing for the title of Miss North Carolina,” she said. “As someone who’s majoring in marketing and business administration, it would be a wonderful jumping-off point in my career. Resume-building and connections are invaluable.”
A Miss Goldsboro has not won the state crown since 1942, when Hilda Ward Taylor took the title. But several from Wayne County have represented other communities and won at the state level.
Beth Stovall, a 2011 graduate of Rosewood High School, reigned as Miss Goldsboro 2013 and advanced to the Top 10 at the state contest that year. She went on to compete again and win Miss Greater Sampson County 2014, which led to being crowned Miss North Carolina 2015.
Hailey Best, also from Goldsboro, was a contestant for Miss Goldsboro 2011 when the crown went to Chelsea Guild. Best later won the title Miss Durham and went on to become Miss North Carolina 2011, finishing in the Top 15 at Miss America.
Cards and letters of support for the contestants can be mailed to them during the week. Officials noted that no mail can be delivered after Friday. The address is (Contestant’s name), William Peace University, Finley Dorm, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, N.C., 27604.