From Pageants to Perseverance: My Journey Through the Miss America Organization

If you would have asked fourth grade Izzy where she saw herself in five or ten years, I can assure you the Miss Arkansas stage would not have been among the answers. I remember from my childhood, the young women who walked the stage were poised, polished and put together, and as a child I was the purest form of “tom-boy” a young girl could be. Flash forward just three short years, and the young women I thought I would never be, was now staring back at me in the mirror.

At 12, I attended a preliminary competition to watch some of my dear friends compete for the first time on a local level. Once the curtains closed and by the time my mom and I made it back to her vehicle, I had made the decision that I too wanted to pursue a local title. Following this realization, I won a few titles in the teen system which prepared me for my future endeavors, but it was not until 2019 that I was fortunate enough to win the Miss Lights of the Delta preliminary competition in Blytheville, Arkansas. This would mark my first opportunity to compete at the Miss Arkansas competition immediately following my high school graduation. Prior to competing, I spent most of my days preparing for each phase of competition to the best of my ability, and went into the week young, green and ready to tackle the world. I did not walk away with the crown, but I did walk away with an assortment of newcomer awards and a fire under my seat to compete again the next year. Just two short months later, I entered the Miss Texarkana Twin Rivers Scholarship Competition and won the title on August 28, 2019. When I won Miss Texarkana, I had no clue I would represent the twin cities for two years, nor what a blessing the board of directors would be in my world. They say life is unpredictable. In my case, this phrase rang very true.

What most people do not see from the outside are the hours candidates put into each action performed on or off the stage in preparation of earning the title of Miss Arkansas. In all honesty, that tends to be where the negative connotation of “pageantry” comes from. Titleholders are asked to serve in their respective communities, challenged to grow in their ability to speak, motivated to polish their talent for the stage and additional performances, encouraged to gain understanding and empathy for the politically driven culture we currently live in and driven to maintain a state of overall health and well-being. Leading up the competition, I worked day in and day out to ensure I was prepared for whatever was thrown at me during the week or day of competition.

When competing for the title of Miss Arkansas, there are four different phases of competition including private interview, talent, evening wear, and onstage interview and social impact pitch. While prepping looks different for every young woman, and each phase takes a unique method of preparation, they are all equally vital to your experience. 

Private interview is ten minutes long and provides the judges an opportunity to get to know the candidate’s thoughts and opinions on current events facing our nation, our personal social impact initiatives, general knowledge of our state and why we would be best fit for the job. In addition, onstage interview gives the audience a chance to get a feeling for what our private interview entailed. To prepare, I spent most mornings reading and listening to different news sources to make sure I was well-prepared for various topics. Additionally, I participated in about two dozen mock interviews with panels from across Arkansas. While both methods are great prep, my favorite practice happens when my parents throw out questions over dinner and work with me to form my thoughts and opinions. 

Talent, which used to be the phase that made me most nervous, became one of my favorite areas to prep this year. I spent many hours working on each note, planning when to breathe between words, and perfecting my onstage presence. This year I sang “That’s Life” from SMASH: The Musical, which speaks to life’s ups, downs, highs, lows, and in-between. This song felt extremely fitting after the last 18 months we have all faced. 

The final step in preparation was social impact pitch. This is a newer phase of competition and allows each candidate to share our impact initiative, what it means to us, and how we would promote it throughout the Natural State. This moment allows the judges, and the audience, to see our heart for service, which is easily one of my favorite parts of competition.

Because of COVID-19, we could not have “visitation” time with our family each night after competition, but on talent night we were finally given the chance to hug our people. While there were many memorable moments during competition week, this was by far the best. Walking into the room and seeing the faces of those who have prepared you, cheered for you, and walked alongside you every step of the way. 

At Miss Arkansas 2021, I felt prepared and ready for the week. I gave every phase my all, and sometimes that is the best we can do. There are moments in life you work so hard for and at the end of the day they do not always go as planned. For me, that was the case at this year’s pageant. I’ve always been told when the going gets tough, the tough get going, so this disappointment is not something to hang my head about, but it has instead provided a pivotal moment for me to change my outlook, my approach, and to hit the ground running full steam ahead. Many people ask why I competed, and I cannot think of just one or two reasons. While the experience itself would have been enough to convince me to compete again, I was also extremely grateful for the scholarship money I received to pay off my entire first year at Ouachita Baptist University. Pursuing a double major in political science and media and communications and a minor in business administration, and with hopes to one day obtain a Juris Doctorate, this scholarship money, the interview and public engagement prep and the many lifelong friendships that are a product of the Miss America Organization, leave me ready to make my mark on the world.

Over my years as title holder, I have found myself road-tripping across the great state of Arkansas for many appearances, community-wide celebrations, or to squeeze in a night in at home amidst the busyness of life. During these frequent drives, I would find myself deep in conversation with God. Many times, I was in prayer for situations that my friends, family, or I currently faced to get wisdom and clarity in decision-making and to seek the Lord’s plan over my own. Many other times I could not help but thank God for the opportunity to share my heart and my dreams, and to relentlessly pursue my deepest passions in my home state. This journey, although not over just yet, has been one I can truly say changed me for the better. From the young girl who sang “Wagon Wheel” in her sparkly cowgirl boots, to the young woman who now confidently performs, speaks, and serves… I am thankful for every single second.

I have grown up in a home that overuses the words “thank you,” and to each person who has cheered me on in the relentless pursuit of my wildest dreams, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am forever grateful for the people who have molded me, the experiences that have grown me, and the mentors who have shown me what it means to reach for the stars every single day. Texarkana, it has been my greatest honor to wear your name across my chest and represent the people who make this town so great. While my time as Miss Texarkana Twin Rivers is coming to a close, I am reminded daily of the blessing this community has been to me.

Forever yours,
Miss Texarkana Twin Rivers, Izzy Baughn


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