Lakewood Ranch graduate competes for Miss Florida beauty pageant title.
Samantha Hyatt is a list-maker.
To-do lists, packing lists and schedules record all her tasks.
The habit of writing down everything comes in handy when she’s backstage preparing for a beauty pageant and needs to make sure she has the right earrings and shoes and whether she needs to touch up her hair.
The 2014 Lakewood Ranch High School graduate was checking off a list last week as she packed for the Miss Florida beauty pageant, which began June 26 and runs through July 2, when the winner is crowned at the Lakeland Center.
“I have to bring everything I might need,” said the 19-year-old University of Florida student, who’s not allowed to use her phone outside her hotel room at the pageant.
Hyatt learned the benefit of making a list — and actually checking it twice — when she entered the Miss Central Florida pageant in Pasco County in April. As she was preparing for the contest, she realized she had left a crucial part of her outfits, her shoes, at home.
In a twist of fate, her phone also stopped working the same weekend. Left with no way to get in contact with her mom, she sent out word to her fellow contestants.
She said generosity to a competitor is a common thread in the beauty pageant world. Her competitors offered her the shoes that eventually carried her into the winner’s circle as Miss Central Florida.
“We’re all friends,” Hyatt said. “You’re never upset if you don’t win because you know how hard the girl who won worked to get there.”
Pam Hyatt knew her daughter had found her passion when she was 7 years old.
The Hyatt family has supported and participated in the Manatee County Fair, and when her daughter was 7, Pam entered her in the Miss Manatee County Fair beauty pageant.
Before she got on stage, Pam remembered seeing her daughter on the sidelines, jumping up and down from excitement.
“She was hooked,” Pam said. “She’s never been shy. I knew she had what it took.”
Pam Hyatt said she never tried to make fashion or style tips, but she acts as the photographer during the contests and gives her daughter tips on the talent portion of her performance.
Twelve years later, competing in beauty pageants is Samantha Hyatt’s preferred lifestyle. This year, she climbed the ranks to have a shot at the Miss Florida title.
“I fell in love with it and what it stands for,” she said.
As a pageant contestant, she has been trained to stop the stereotype before it can start. Before someone can make an assumption about her, she tells them about her Girl Scouts service project and the work she’s doing in her community.
The winners of the Miss Florida and Miss America pageants are crowned with a tiara that has four points, and they represent style, success, scholarship and service. Those are the four areas in which the winner should be able to show her prowess.
Pageants start at the local level, often at county fairs. Winners progress to a regional level and, in Hyatt’s case, she won the Miss Central Florida title in April. Although Hyatt is a native of east Bradenton, she’s now studying public relations at the University of Florida, so she was eligible for the Central Florida title.
A major part of being a contestant is having a service platform and the work to show for it. Hyatt, a Girl Scout for 13 years and now a lifetime member, has been working to keep girls enrolled in the youth program through their high school years and encouraging them to work hard for their goals and dreams, despite obstacles. She speaks at troop meetings and community events and does appearances as Miss Central Florida.
During pageants, only one part of the contest makes Hyatt nervous ... the on-stage question.
Before the contestants appear in front of the audience, they have a 10-minute interview with the judges, who will ask them about their platform and quiz them on current events.
Then, before showing off their talents, bikinis and evening gowns, the girls are asked one question before the audience and have 20 seconds to answer. The question can be about anything. One year, Hyatt remembers, a girl was asked what she thought about affirmative action.
“Some people don’t think girls in pageants are the brightest,” she said. “The ones I’ve met are the smartest I’ve ever met.”