Truman High School class of 2011 graduate Hayley Lewis didn't aspire to become a beauty queen. In fact, the daughter of Truman's former football and track coach Craig Lewis said that when she was younger she best resembled actress Hayden Panettiere in the movie, “Remember the Titans,” a spirited and precocious young girl.
“I was a music geek at Truman to say the least,” she recalled. “I sang in the Honor's Choir and participated in every school play.”
Lewis attends Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and lives there year round. One day nearly two years ago, a friend mentioned a local beauty pageant contest with a $500 cash prize. Being responsible for her own tuition and housing, she decided to compete at the local pageant.
“I have a decent body and can sing,” she said. “I thought, 'why not?'”
It turned out that she won the beauty contest, followed by three more throughout the state of Tennessee.
“I later won the title in Chattanooga and Miss Tennessee Valley.”
These consecutive wins allowed Lewis to compete in the state beauty pageant, where she was crowned Miss Tennessee 2014 in June. She will represent the state in the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September.
The Truman High School alumna said she is just “beginning to understand what the Miss America pageant does for a woman” and also debunked misconceptions some people may have who are not familiar with pageantry.
“Some may have a skewed perception about them. It's not just about beauty. Girls who compete are either lawyers or in medical school. It's a very elite group of women and I'm honored to be a part of that.”
Lewis said the state of Tennessee holds its pageant winners in high regard and even considers them as holding a state position. “I'm officially a spokeswoman for the governor.”
As Miss Tennessee, she will travel more than 80,000 miles to visit nearly 50,000 school children teaching character building at virtually every elementary school in the state. It's a full-time job and she had to take a year off from school due to the commitments.
“These kids truly keep you humble,” she said about the schoolchildren she visits daily. They will point out your flaws on your face and you'll be like, 'oh that's a zit.'
But she says what motivates her every day to visit schools and hospitals is the impact she makes on children.
“It's the fact I go into a hospital and they think I am a real princess. I'm not Hayley Lewis. I talk to them as a role model and they will sit there amazed and believe every word I say.”
One particular instance that made a profound impact on Miss Tennessee herself was when a little girl approached her and said she reminded her of her sister, and then revealed that her sister died in a boating accident.
“She told me, 'you made my day,'” Lewis said. “You just want to break down and cry. This is the reason you keep going and talk to these kids. You make a moment that will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
On top of visiting schools and speaking at various organizations and clubs throughout Tennessee, in order to prepare for the Miss America pageant, Lewis said she is constantly working out and eating a lot of fish. There is much preparation that goes into transforming into Miss Tennessee.
“I hate curling my hair this much. I travel non-stop, give speeches at the Rotary Club and have a huge conference call with all the 52 Miss America girls,” she about a day in the life being Miss Tennessee.
Being a Miss America contestant is not all about looks and talent, either. She said 35 percent of a contestant's score is a private interview with a panel of judges.
“You're quizzed on how well you're prepared for the job,” said Lewis, “and graded on your uniqueness and how personable you are. The title of Miss America is not only a public performer, but a spokeswoman. You have to present that you're legit. Every single girl has a platform, plus you have to dedicate time for a charity.”
Lewis' platform is Children's Miracle Network, which funded medical care for her when she was a child and severely broke her arm at a time when her family was struggling with medical bills from her father's cancer treatments and a newborn boy in the home.
She said actively competing in beauty pageants throughout Tennessee has allowed her to figure out who she is and set future goals.
“Hayley would always ask me, 'what can I do better?'” wrote Truman High School theater teacher Ron Meyer. “You don't hear that from a lot of high school kids. She wanted to do the best that she could do and was never a 'prima donna.'”
Lewis plans to return to Belmont University to finish up her degree in business with emphasis in the music industry after competing in the Miss America pageant. Her career goal is to fuse her two passions, non-profit organization fundraising and country music, by becoming an event planner.
“I don't want to be a performer,” said Lewis, who will sing a contemporary ballad, “I Who Have Nothing” for the talent portion of the Miss America contest. “I want to incorporate non-profits and the music industry.”
She added what inspired her to pursue this profession was previously raising awareness through Relay For Life when her father was diagnosed with cancer.
As for those who aspire to become the future Miss America or a beauty pageant winner, Hayley said the girls who want to compete need to make their own decision and make sure you are pursuing it for the right reasons rather than just because your mom or family want you to become a beauty queen.
“It's a job, not a title,” she said. “Make sure you like kids and are very adaptable. You need to have a head on your shoulders.”
Should you decide to actively compete in pageants, the benefits are numerous, she added. Not the least of the benefits is the thousands of dollars in scholarship money she has been awarded so far.
“This has opened doors I never thought possible,” said Lewis on being Miss Tennessee. “Regardless of being a resume builder, it catapults you into these social circles, such as the board of directors in non-profits.
Hayley says her family is thrilled about her competing in Miss America, although her dad is not too fond of her in 5-inch heels walking around in a bikini. “It's been a huge journey so far. They're so excited and proud and provided nothing but support.”
You can watch Hayley Lewis compete for the Miss America title on television Sept. 14.
“With Hayley, you're getting the 'real deal,” Meyer wrote. “She's beautiful, talented, kind and hard-working - the perfect combination.”
You can see Hayley Lewis in these YouTube videos.
Post pageant video
Presentation at the Jackson Exchange Club