With competitors hailing from Searcy and Franklin, the Three Rivers area has two good reasons to keep an eye on this summer’s Miss USA and Miss Teen USA competitions.
On Jan. 4, girls from across the state gathered in Bentonville to compete in swimwear, evening-gown and interview categories for the Miss Arkansas USA and Miss Arkansas Teen USA 2013 titles.
When Hannah Billingsly, 21, heard her name called as the winner, she couldn’t have been more surprised. It was her first time competing for the title of Miss Arkansas, though she’d competed in other pageant circuits in the past.
A Franklin native, Billingsly said her rural ways mean she’ll likely want to stay in-state when she finishes her degree in speech pathology at the University of Central Arkansas. As she was growing up in Izard County, Billingsly wasn’t as enamored with tiaras as she was (and still is) with her cattle.
“Most kids growing up saved money to buy a bike, but I bought a cow,” Billingsly said. “I still help my dad with hay every summer, driving the tractor. I love it. I love the feel of a small community. I’m a homegirl at heart.”
When Miss Teen Arkansas USA was crowned the same weekend, Billingsly was happy to know that her “sister queen,” Abby Floyd, grew up nearby.
Floyd, a 16-year-old junior at Searcy High School, began competing after starting a modeling career at 13. Like Billingsly, Floyd has grown up on a farm, where she’s learned to ride and show horses.
“Riding horses has always been my passion,” Floyd said. “I’m in my own little happy world when I’m riding.”
For both Billingsly and Floyd, being crowed was a sweet ending to months of training and work to prepare for competition. Floyd works with a pageant coach and a personal trainer who helped her maintain a strict diet through the holidays.
“The hardest food to give up while I was getting ready would probably be the pies,” Floyd said. “But my Mom’s actually making some cookies right now, so I get a little break.”
Billingsly cut herself some slack in the days after her win as well, ignoring her diet for a week before hitting her training hard again to prepare for the national Miss USA competition.
“I think every girl’s biggest fear is probably putting on a swimsuit in front of a crowd,” Billingsly said.
This summer, Billingsly will travel to Las Vegas and Floyd will travel to the Bahamas to represent the state of Arkansas in national competitions.
Billingsly plans to take a semester off at UCA to focus on her reign. Hunger is a big charity focus for the freshly crowned Miss Arkansas USA, and Billingsly hopes to continue her work with Feed Arkansas Kids throughout 2013. Floyd plans to try to juggle her Miss Teen Arkansas USA duties with her schoolwork, riding competitions and cheerleading duties this year.
Floyd’s mom, Kim, said the busy schedule can be overwhelming at times, but the sacrifice is worth it.
“Abby’s really disciplined,” Kim said. “The girls in these pageants are really sharp, smart young ladies, and they learn so much about what makes a good work ethic and how to carry themselves.”
Floyd’s entire family, including her older sister, who had inspired her start in pageants, were there to cheer Floyd on in competition. To Kim, watching Floyd walk across the stage is no different than watching her kids play sports.
“It was just nerve-wracking and exciting all at the same time,” Kim said. “To watch your child work really hard and see them achieve is just incredible.”
Billingsly’s mother, sister and cousins were on hand to watch her compete. But when it came to responding to the flood of well-wishes from people on her Facebook after her big win, Billingsly had to stay surprisingly silent.
“It was rush week at my sorority, and we have to deactivate our Facebook and stay away from any social media the entire time,” Billingsly said. “Everyone tried to contact me, and I couldn’t even reply. People from all over town have been calling my parents and congratulating my mom. Word has definitely spread.”
Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or email@example.com.