At one point or another, most little girls have a fantasy of being in a big ball gown and giving their best poised wave to a crowd. Others dream of making an impact and being a confident leader. Miss America pageants have combined these dreams into one contest, advocating that the best women aren’t just those that smile and look pretty. The new Miss North Phoenix, Melody Pierce, exemplifies that role and has one last chance to achieve those dreams.
After placing first runner-up for Miss Arizona 2021, Pierce aged out of the competition at 25. However, the Miss America organization increased the age limit to 26 this year, and Pierce has another chance. She was awarded the title Miss North Phoenix 2022 and over $1,000 in scholarships and prizes Dec. 4.
“It feels incredible, I’m so excited,” Pierce said. “I thought that my dream of competing in Miss America was over last year and that was devastating. I worked so hard in pursuit of becoming Miss Arizona and Miss America. When I heard that I had the opportunity to compete again, I mean, nothing matches that moment.”
Caitlin Dempsey, executive director of Miss North Phoenix, Glendale, Anthem and Cave Creek scholarship organization, said there were 18 “miss” candidates and nine “teen” candidates this year. Each candidate was assessed by five local judges in five categories: an interview, evening wear, a social impact statement, talent and on-stage questions. Dempsey said Pierce, along with Miss North Phoenix Teen, will now go on to compete at Miss Arizona in June 2022.
Pierce didn’t grow up as a pageant girl, in fact, she started competing at 20 years old.
“I started because of the scholarship opportunity. I was in college at the time and had some friends that were in the system, and I started to see the impact they could make in their community,” Pierce explained. “I really have a passion for helping others and for volunteerism, so I thought it was something I should look into. So, I did, and then I found out that it’s a scholarship program. I was able to graduate debt-free from Arizona State University with my journalism degree. It’s been an absolute dream.”
While Pierce may not have walked the runway, she has been involved in entertainment since she was a child. Her talent is clogging, which she started in third grade with her best friend. In addition to talent, all candidates are required to have a social impact project, and Pierce’s focuses on kids with eating disorders.
“They also have a social impact project that talks about a special cause that is really important to them,” Dempsey said. “That is one of the reasons why I love the organization, because having a social impact is a requirement to compete, which just means the women competing are service oriented at heart. They’re really putting their passion behind a cause to help bring awareness and money and really help to solve whatever the problem is with their social impact.”
For Pierce, it’s more than just a requirement for the pageant, and she turned her social impact project into a business called S.T.E.P.S. Recovery that helps kids with eating disorders. S.T.E.P.S. stands for support, educate, talk, prepare and strengthen, an acronym Pierce created when giving presentations about the issue at schools.
Pierce said her commitment to help kids with eating disorders is a personal one. Her dad died due to an addiction when she was 10 years old. She knew addiction was hereditary and to stay away from drugs and alcohol, but addiction ended up manifesting in an eating disorder.
“I struggled for about six years with anorexia,” Pierce said. “It was a silent battle, you know, dieting is something that’s praised in our society, being thin is something that’s praised. So, it’s very difficult when you’re young for people to catch on to the fact that you have a problem.”
She said when she was young, there weren’t many resources for kids with eating disorders at the time. So, she developed a full curriculum for fourth to sixth grade in 2017. Then, after seeing people of all ages who needed resources, she turned it into a full business about three years ago. She also voluntarily spearheads the National Eating Disorder Association’s walk in the Valley and has been involved with the organization for six years.
Pierce said she is in an interesting position to be involved in pageants and advocate for awareness and recovery from eating disorders. She added that pageants, despite what they might have once been, have evolved to consider more than just looks, but all the characteristics that make a great woman.
“That’s where Miss America sets itself apart,” Pierce said. “We don’t have a swimsuit competition anymore. We’re not focused on outward appearance, we’re focused on what kind of public servant you can be, how you can support your community, what you have to bring to the table and your intelligence. It’s so much more than what you look like.”
In addition to her volunteer work and side business, Pierce works full time as a commercial account manager at Living Spaces. She said she received about $600 in scholarships and $400 in prizes and will be putting the money toward obtaining a master’s degree in business education.
Now that she is Miss North Phoenix, there’s no time to take a break. Pierce said there is a lot more that goes into prep than people realize, and she does something every day to better herself for Miss Arizona. The state competition is slated for June.
Dempsey says the next local competition isn’t until October, but the organization is always looking for sponsors, donors, volunteers and candidates to help in the future. She added the organization is also looking for opportunities to have the titleholders out in the community. They are able to serve as a community ambassador for events such as grand openings, galas, open houses or fundraisers.