Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh woman who has battled scoliosis to become an accomplished dancer was crowned Miss North Carolina Saturday night at Raleigh's Meymandi Concert Hall.
Miss Raleigh Katherine Elizabeth Southard accepted the crown from another Wake County woman, 2008 Miss North Carolina and Miss Garner Amanda Lauren Watson.
Other area women also did well in the scholarship competition: Miss Fayetteville Adrienne Core was named first runner-up, Miss Greater Johnston County Ashley Beasley the third runner-up, and Miss Sandhills Lisa Mace the fourth runner-up. Core also took home the Miss America Academic Award.
"I didn't know, and I was in disbelief," Southard describing hearing her name called as the winner. "This year, they did it differently, and we didn't have a top five. ... So there's a good number of us still standing, and it could have been any of us."
Southard impressed the judges with her personal platform, "Scoliosis: Ahead of the Curve." Scoliosis causes abnormal curvature of the spine, which can lead to back problems and be painful in severe cases.
"I've coped with scoliosis and was diagnosed young, wore a brace for a couple years, and then had the surgery two years ago. I had a metal rod and my vertebrae fused all the way down my back," Southard said.
Southard had trained in dance for 21 years, but had to re-learn the art after the surgery.
On Saturday, she danced her way into a three-way tie for first place in the talent competition. She did a ballet en pointe performance of "Fascinating Rhythm."
Judges were also dazzled by her wardrobe: an apple green, two-piece swimsuit with gold-colored accents, designed by Jamye Shaw, and a white evening gown with a fitted bodice and a flowing train, designed by Gregory Ellenburg of South Carolina.
As Miss North Carolina, Southard plans to travel the state to ease the fears of those who also suffer from scoliosis.
"It's not only about scoliosis, but it's about confidence. You do have a different shape to your body than other people do. And it's OK, and people accept you for it," she said. "Now, my spine is straight, and I know how to relate to people on both sides of the spectrum."
Southard, the daughter of Matthews residents Vance and Linda Southard, also plans to continue working in commercial real estate and to complete two final courses to obtain a masters degree in business from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She graduated from Elon College in 2007 with degrees in business and dance.
As Miss North Carolina, she'll represent the state in the Miss America pageant in January and, in between, go on a long schedule of appearances.
"I do what I'm told, and I'm not exactly sure what that is yet, but I'll figure it out very soon," Southard laughed.
On Saturday night, the second runner-up was Miss Western Carolina Jamee Hunt. Among the finalists were Miss Wake County Amanda Sowards, Miss Garner Chelsea Ingram, Miss Mount Holly Lauren Workman and Miss Wilmington Stevie Riverbark.
Ingram also won the Miss American Community Service Award and the Children’s Miracle Network Top Fund-raiser Miracle Maker Award.
Non-finalist talent award winners included Miss Goldsboro Molly Deans, Miss Spivey’s Corner Lara Black, Miss Kinston-Lenoir County Larissa Harris and Miss Henderson Ciara Newman.
Southard, who competed in the pageant for the third time Saturday night (as Miss Mount Holly, she placed third in 2008), described the experience the women went through.
"It’s the whole build-up. You get so excited and into everything, and then you’re on stage before you realize it, and it’s over," she said. "You don’t even think about the pageant when you’re doing it; you just start, and then it’s over.