“I have some big goals for my year to expand recruitment, retention and inclusion within Miss North Carolina and Miss America, network as an arts ambassador across the state and advocate for the arts through my community service initiative Healing Hearts Through the Arts, 501(c)(3).”
Over the last weekend in June, at the High Point Theater, senior Taylor Loyd was crowned Miss North Carolina 2023. Taylor is a music and public policy major set to graduate in December 2023. She is a voice student of Dr. LaToya Lain.
We caught up with Taylor to learn more about this incredible achievement and what’s next for her.
UNC Music: When did you get into competing in pageants?
Taylor Loyd: I competed in my first pageant at age 13, but my intentions from my first pageant were all rooted in the goal of eventually representing North Carolina at Miss America. My mom competed at Miss North Carolina as Miss Statesville in 1993, exactly 30 years before I won Miss North Carolina as Miss Statesville. My dad was a local volunteer beginning as a teenager, so with that family history I’ve always been well aware of the incredible opportunities that are available through Miss America.
My first competition with the Miss America Opportunity was at age 15, and I competed for the title of Miss North Carolina’s Teen 3 times between 2017-2019. Though I never won that state title, the growth I experienced has served me so well in all areas of my life and gave me the tools I needed to win Miss North Carolina on my first attempt.
UNC Music: What was this year’s Miss North Carolina pageant like?
TL: I like to say that going to Miss North Carolina is like going to the best family reunion. It’s so special to be surrounded by people I’ve looked up to for years that I get to call friends and mentors as an adult. For many of us, if we’re not competing on the stage we’re cheering on the women who are from the audience! A few years ago, my best friend and UNC roommate since we were freshmen competed at MNC so I stayed with her all week and did her hair and makeup. With those experiences plus having competed as a teen, I felt really prepared to step into competition week with a sense of peace, thus allowing me to really lean into the joy of the week!
For those who are unfamiliar, Miss North Carolina is a multi-day event beginning with a 10-minute job interview with a panel of 6 judges, all experts across different professional fields. We are split into 2 groups for the preliminary rounds of onstage competition, so on the first night, my group performed our talent pieces and participated in onstage interview– consisting of a 30-second speech about our community service initiative followed by a question prompted by the judges. The second night the groups switch, so I then competed in lifestyle and fitness in athleisure attire followed by the evening gown portion. Each night of preliminary competition they provide a scholarship award of $1,000 to the woman in each group with the highest overall score in talent and the same for evening gown, depending on which areas she competed in that night. It garners a lot of excitement to see who wins those first scholarships, allowing folks a perspective on who might be a contender on finals night. The week was especially exciting for me as I won both awards in my group, thus making me what we call a “double-preliminary winner.”
That adds a layer of pressure and expectation, sure, but it also felt so validating to know that whether or not I walked away as Miss North Carolina, I would still have earned scholarship funds to support my educational endeavors. Going into the final night, they call out the top 15 scorers from the preliminary competition and those women participate in all phases of competition again. Those 15 were then cut to a top 5, and we were prompted to participate in a final onstage interview now regarding the job responsibilities of Miss North Carolina. On the morning of finals, delegates attended a scholarship awards brunch where additional scholarships were awarded based on essays and separate applications. I was honored to win the $4,000 endowed music scholarship as a classical singer!
As the week progresses and finals night creeps closer it certainly can become more nerve-wracking, but I felt really calm all week trusting in the work I’ve put in over the past many years to be on the stage. The other delegates were so much fun to spend time with all week, and many of them have become some of my closest friends through the years. The other 44 women are people I have laughed with and cried with and the competition week brings us even closer, so by the end of the week it all felt so bittersweet.
UNC Music: How has your time at UNC and your vocal studies here helped prepare you for these pageants?
TL: There is certainly some kind of magic in the air here in the UNC Music Department! To my knowledge, I’m at least the third Miss NC to have majored in voice here along with Amanda Watson Bailey and Jennifer Vaden Barth– and each of us has sung in Carolina Choir with Prof. [Susan[ Klebanow! In the top 5 this year, both my 1st runner-up and 4th runner-up are UNC graduates. Miss America being a scholarship program based around women’s empowerment, it certainly makes sense to see the overlap with UNC-educated women.
Part of why I chose UNC was because I knew it would be a place where I wouldn’t have to put myself in a box. I have been able to grow in my greatest passions and explore new interests.
Miss North Carolina is a role that requires that same type of mindset– every day looks a little bit different in the job but the depth and breadth of experience and knowledge I’ve had access to at UNC has been the ideal stepping stone. Miss America is unique from other pageants not just because it is the largest single provider of scholarships to women in the world, but because a performance talent has long been part of the qualifications for titleholders. My passion for music met with my love for public speaking, both skills honed through opportunities at UNC, made Miss America very appealing to me.
For my talent, I sang a cut of “Amour, ranime mon courage” from C. Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. Having the expertise of my teacher Dr. [LaToya] Lain and accompanist Tommy Bastable really helped me feel prepared for competition. I wanted to provide a professional performance to the audience and tell a story while expressing the importance of classical music. Each time I perform an aria in a pageant setting, folks will come up to me and share they had never heard opera before me. Knowing that I’m able to be someone’s first experience with opera is something I do not take lightly and the training I’ve received here has provided me the ability to make that positive impact.
UNC Music: What are you most looking forward to about being Miss North Carolina 2023?
TL: Honestly, this is a hard question for me because there are so many things I’m thrilled to do this year. I have some big goals for my year to expand recruitment, retention and inclusion within Miss North Carolina and Miss America, network as an arts ambassador across the state and advocate for the arts through my community service initiative Healing Hearts Through the Arts, 501(c)(3). Living my little-girl dream of serving the people of North Carolina in this specific role still does not feel real, and words cannot express how thrilled I am to represent our state at Miss America!
UNC Music: Any advice for someone who wants to get into pageants or for someone who wants to be a classical singer?
TL: For folks interested in pageants– it is imperative to know yourself and your goals in life. I like to say that pageants are a “what you put in is what you get out” kind of experience. There are so many things that people can benefit from pageants, but knowing what you want those to be can provide a clear sense of direction for your journey. Some folks have used their titles to open opportunities in the performing arts as a stepping stone to bigger stages like former Miss Americas-turned Broadway performers Vanessa Williams and Kate Shindle. Others have made their names in TV, journalism, business, and medicine. The intersection of scholarships with networking opportunities provides such a clear leverage point for what comes after the crown. The most powerful things about pageants are the things that come afterward and the doors that have been opened. Knowing how you want to use your time as a titleholder for goodwill allows the intentionality to make a difference in the lives of others and catapult your own future success.
For classical singers, I think a similar mindset is also important to guide your path. Put into it what you want to get out – and the more you want to get out of classical voice, the more time you should probably spend in the practice room (haha!). No one thing is the end-all-be-all, so constantly orienting yourself to where this current thing will place you in the future has helped me to take the opportunities that have been the most personally and professionally rewarding.
UNC Music: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?
TL: For folks interested in getting involved with the Miss North Carolina Organization, check out missnc.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org! There is a non-competitive mentorship program for girls ages 6-12, the teen program ranges for ages 13-17 and Miss North Carolina is open to women ages 18-28. Because of this program, I have earned over $30,000 in scholarships and thousands more in various in-kind scholarships. The program opened professional and performance opportunities to me that I never thought possible at this stage of my life, and I feel very strongly that everyone deserves to benefit from the good Miss America is doing within our communities.
Also… GO HEELS!!!
Interview by Catherine Zachary, ’10