Saturday night, Maggie Benton subtly shook her head in disbelief on stage at the Robinson Center in the moments after it was just announced that she was crowned 2017 Miss Arkansas.
“The nerves of just being on TV and out in front of your friends and family were definitely real,” Benton said. “But also just knowing that it was going to happen the way that it was supposed to. It ended up being more than I could have ever hoped for.”
She reflected back nearly five years ago when her pageant journey began, a memory that triggered the shock she said she was feeling. Benton didn’t always see herself as a pageant competitor, much less a future Miss Arkansas, but a particular day when she was 17 years old sticks out to her in terms of when it all started.
“When I was a senior in high school, I was at a Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser, a philanthropy I am very passionate about, and Kristen Glover Belew was there,” Benton recalled. “She was Miss Arkansas 2011 and was there having an appearance in Jonesboro. I saw her signing autographs and playing with kids. She spoke to the crowd and I realized in that moment what Miss Arkansas was all about, and I decided that was a job I wanted to have.”
Benton set a goal that day, and began to do pageants. She won the first one she entered.
“I was completely shocked. I thought I had won Miss America,” she said, laughing.
Later that year, she competed in her first Miss Arkansas pageant and got a taste of what it was like. Five years later and four Miss Arkansas pageants later, she’s at the peak of her journey.
Benton stood on the stage Saturday night next to the four other finalists still in the competition, and in front of the 38 other contestants and waited a suspenseful handful of minutes as the runners-up were announced.
“It went so quick that I was Miss Arkansas before I could even blink,” Benton said. “It was actually contrary to everything that I have ever heard. Most people say that…