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Former Miss USA of Utah says it’s too early to say if the pageant will exist

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A few years ago, Sharlene Wells Hawkes was in London for a charity event when she was introduced to Prince Charles.

Hawkes said: “He was walking down the aisle… and someone came right behind him and told him I was Miss America. “And the look on his face—a look of pure astonishment. How?!?’ Here’s the future king of England thinking, “That’s great.”

(Courtesy Sharlene Wells Hawkes) Prince Charles reacts when he meets former Miss America Sharlene Wells Hawkes.

Remember this is 3 and a half decades after Hawkes, who was Miss Utah, was crowned Miss USA in 1985. “That’s shocking, isn’t it?” she speaks. “And I realized I was going to be 95 years old and someone would say, ‘Former Miss America!'”

She believes Prince Charles’s reaction “has nothing to do with me. It is a globally recognized brand. “

However, as the Miss America organization prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, it is not what it used to be. For decades, it was one of the biggest events on TV, right after the Oscars and the Super Bowl. “It used to be quite a fascinating event,” says Hawkes.

Back on September 15, 1984, when Hawkes – competing for the Miss Utah title – was crowned, about 70 million spectators watched. In 2019, 3.6 million viewers watched, an all-time low. (Because of the pandemic, no Miss America pageants were televised in 2020. Nor were there any pageants between 1928 and 1932, or 1934.)

This year, for the first time since it first aired in 1954, Miss America will not be broadcast on television or cable television. NBCUniversal’s Peacock will stream the show live on Thursday nationally. In the Mountain time zone, the pre-show will air at 5pm and the show will start at 6pm

This is the latest attempt to find an audience for Miss America. To make it more suitable for the 21st century.

“We’ve been asking questions about relevance since the ’70s,” says Hawkes. “In the 80s, I definitely understood that.”

But Wells is still not ready to eliminate Miss America. She points to Americans’ interest in the British royal family.

“We are drawn to anything with a crown,” she says. “I do not know what it is. Is it because we are colonies and we miss our royalties? It really confused me.”

And, Hawkes said, Miss America is more than just a national pageant. There are hundreds of local competitions associated with the state pageants, which produce Miss America contestants.

“Local councils want a local representation in their parades and chamber events. They want that local representation,” Hawkes said. “When those locals don’t care anymore, that’s when everything falls apart.”

“And we love to compete, whether it’s Georgia-Alabama in football or Miss Georgia-Miss Alabama. … The fact that we’ve been around for about 100 years is crazy. How many brands last a hundred years? ”

No more bathing suits

The competition has changed, albeit slower than many would have liked. There was a scandal involving the organization’s former leadership, who was ousted at the end of 2017, and local competition organizers battling the national organization over the swimwear issue.

“During Miss America year, I said, ‘I think we have to get rid of the [the] Swimwear [competition],” says Hawkes — and it finally happened in 2018. “Some traditions last a lot longer than they should, just because they are traditions. ”

And because the TV executives thought the swimsuit competition was good to rank for.

“It caused a huge internal debate, but I’m really excited to see it play out,” she said. “And now there’s not a single point made based on appearance.”

Hawkes said she considered attending this year’s finals at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, but decided now wasn’t the best time for her to travel. However, she will be watching from home.

“I would hate to see it go away so soon,” she said. “I don’t know if the funding will be there in the long run. But for now, as long as the locals get involved and the locals want to see it happen, it will happen.”

(Courtesy Sharlene Wells Hawkes) Former Miss America Vanessa Williams, left, and former Miss America Sharlene Wells Hawkes.

Crowned because she’s a Mormon?

It has long been assumed that Hawkes won because she competed the year after the Vanessa Williams scandal. Williams, the first black Miss America, was forced to give up her crown when nude photos of her were published. And the thinking is that Hawkes – daughter of Robert E. Wells, general authority of Latter-day Saints – doesn’t have a skeleton in his closet.

At a press conference shortly after her coronation, she said, “I was asked, ‘Did you win because you were Mormon?’ And I think my answer is, ‘I hope so.’

She was never quite attracted because “quite a lot” of the other contestants were “very religious and very talkative about their religion.” And she kept quiet about her faith. As a senior in high school, she competed in the final round of Miss Junior America, “and I really understood my religion” in an interview with the judges. She didn’t want that to happen again.

At Miss America, “I wasn’t asked anything about my religion. Hawkes said. “They don’t know anything about me. Google wasn’t a thing back then. So if they go based on religion, purity, whatever, there are 49 other people who will fall into that category,” she said with a laugh.

Almost fired?

Hawkes said that in the middle of the year as Miss America, she was “about to be fired” because she “accidentally hacked” one of the broadcaster’s main sponsors. She was supposed to sit next to the CEO at a dinner, but instead she went and sat with other young women she knew “and we talked to the boys and everything.” . It’s fun. ”

The next day, she received a call from the Miss America CEO telling her that the sponsor was threatening to withdraw from the TV show. “Well, I learned,” she said. “In PR, yes, whoever spends money, you have to lean back and make them feel important.”

(Barry Thumma | AP) President Ronald Reagan shakes hands with Miss America Sharlene Wells of Provo at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, January 23, 1985.

Thanks for the memories

Some memories of the year she became Miss America have faded, while others are still intact. Like going to the White House to meet President Ronald Reagan, who “acted as if he had nothing else to do for 10 minutes”.

And sometimes it’s weird. Hawkes was at an event in Louisiana and, when it came time for Governor Edwin Edwards to lead the 2,000 men in the Oath of Allegiance, he noticed there were no flags in the room.

“He didn’t even blink. He just said: “Can everyone please stand back, put your hand on your heart, turn your face to Miss America, and read the Pledge of Allegiance to me again.” And I said, ‘What? Isn’t that a violation or something? ‘” Hawkes said with a laugh. “It’s really weird for me.”

No pressure for her daughter

Hawkes is a mother of one son and three daughters, and she never pressured her daughters to follow in her footsteps. She keeps her tiara in a cupboard, taking it out when her daughter wants to wear it to a birthday party or something like that.

“Every year, we watch Miss America, but every year I say, ‘Okay, guys, this is what mom did. It is just entertainment. This is not something you need to do, says Hawkes.

The first time it seemed to make an impression on her kids was when her eldest daughter, then a first grader, arrived at a new school and was surrounded by sixth graders. who “wants to know all about his mother. So all of a sudden she was, like, “Wait – my mom’s different.”

But Hawkes downplayed it.

“Really, it was a well-timed moment,” she said. “There was a bit of luck. Just being in the right place at the right time. Different night, different jury, a completely different result. I really believe in that.”

Life changing event

When she returned to Utah after the Miss America year ended, “I really wanted to hide, just because I’ve been in the news for a whole year.” She didn’t even put it on her resume for the next 15 years.

“In the final sense, I fully see how it affects my ability to develop relationships from a PR standpoint,” says Hawkes. “I have learned ingenuity. I have learned to overcome difficult circumstances. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and go with the flow. ”

When her school year ended, she thought she would go back to Brigham Young University (where she was Miss BYU before being Miss Utah) and finish her studies.

“At the time, I didn’t know if it would change my life. Looking back, I learned more than I thought possible,” Hawkes said. “It all happened in some of my careers. … I found it completely touched everything that I did. “

While still at BYU, KSL hired her as a sideline reporter for Cougar football matches. That led to a gig with ESPN that lasted for 15 years (from 1987 to 2002). She continued to work in publishing and public relations, including for a year as the communications director of the Undersecretary for Personnel and Availability for the Department of Defense.

In August, she returned to Utah as senior vice president of public relations for Mountain America Credit Union.

“I love it,” Hawkes said. “It feels like this is absolutely the right place at this stage in my life, career and everything. … I still have two kids here in Utah. My parents are in Utah. I have three siblings here. And I love Utah. It’s my favorite state.” She added with a laugh, “and I got all 50!”

https://www.sltrib.com/artsliving/2021/12/15/utahs-former-miss-america/ Former Miss USA of Utah says it’s too early to say if the pageant will exist

Ryan Perry

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