Miss Lexington Lauren Dickson was crowned Miss Tennessee 2022 Saturday night at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Memphis.
Dickson, who works as a financial advisor, is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration at Union University.
Her sights are now on the Miss America competition as she attempts to bring home the title to the Volunteer State for the first time since 1987 when Kellye Cash-Sheppard won.
Dickson said she was excited to be able to reach more people with her social impact initiative, “Heart for the Hungry: Overcoming Food Insecurity.”
"I'm very excited for the opportunity that Miss Tennessee allows me to have on a grander scale to serve all of Tennessee, in particular Memphis," she said. "It's always been a poor city, but there are resources here, though. There is money here, there are people that want to help, and I want to get in front of them because I want to share my heart for the hungry — no pun intended."
Dickson said her time working as a financial advisor has helped keep her informed on the topic of food insecurity.
"It does not matter what socioeconomic class that you may be in presently, at some point in your life it is likely you will experience food insecurity or have experienced it," Dickson said. "If you don't plan correctly and budget correctly and learn those financial literacy skills — it's more likely. My career as a financial advisor has really situated me perfectly to be able to teach hands-on things that are going to help people either get out of the cycle of food insecurity or, perhaps, never enter it in the future."
This year's competition coincided with the Supreme Court ruling that overturns Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. Dickson said the week was already heavy with the competition, but the ruling added weight to conversations she had with the other women on stage.
"It's been a heavy week and you can definitely sense that amongst the girls. The pressure that you feel when that decision came about, we were all sharing it with one another and just expressing our own beliefs and our opinions," she said. "But it's been very empowering to be amongst so many likeminded women, yet so diverse in our backgrounds and perspectives. I've learned a little this week, hearing from different perspectives, perspectives from educated women."
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Miss Tennessee: Saturday night finals
During the beginning of Saturday's program, the 36 Miss Tennessee candidates were narrowed to 12. In addition to Dickson, the finalists were:
Miss Music Row Samantha Hennings
Miss Roane County Tannah Kirkland
Miss Sullivan County Eliza Sanders
Miss Nashville Savannah Maddison
Miss Historic Jonesborough Jordan Bowling
Miss Gatlinburg Hawa Ceesay
Miss Milan Crown and Scepter Kaylah Johnson
Miss Jackson Abbie Bayless
Miss Robertson County Brandee Mills
Miss Greater Gibson County Lauren Blodgett
Miss East Tennessee Taylor Parsons.
Each of the 12 was asked a question related to a current topic including racism, gun control, book banning and the opioid crisis. The women all showed poise and displayed their personalities as they answered their questions.
The 12 finalists also once again performed their talent for the judges. While the majority showed off their vocal or dance talents, Parsons clogged to "Soul Man" and Ceesay delivered a spoken word performance about her experience being bullied.
Dickson performed her rendition of "How Great Thou Art." She has performed the Christian hymn in all but one of the competitions she has been a part of.
"The song — I feel determines my success, and I'm not just talking about a win of Miss Tennessee, a win in my heart," Dickson told The Commercial Appeal after her win Saturday night. "Because if I can connect with the audience, and I can show my heart and what's in my heart — which is Jesus — then I feel like I'm fulfilled and that I've accomplished exactly what the Lord sent me out in this path to do."
In 2021, after three years of singing the hymn, she decided to sing a different song to showcase her voice beyond church music. However, for her fifth year in the program, she brought it back.
"Last year I did something completely different because I felt like I needed to change and I needed to show people that I could sing something other than a little gospel hymn that I learned in church," Dickson said. "But I found my voice in church, about 2 or 3 years old, I found my voice there. I had to pay honor to that because that's who I am."
The semifinalists also presented their social impact programs, which ranged from variations of mental health awareness to bringing awareness to foster care and adoption.
Before Dickson was crowned, the field was narrowed to five: Dickson, Sanders, Johnson, Mills and Blodgett.
Mills was the runner-up, followed by Sanders in third, Blodgett in fourth and Johnson in fifth.
Saturday night's finals followed two nights of preliminary competition Thursday and Friday at the Cannon Center.
Thursday's preliminary winners were Sanders, Social Impact Pitch and Onstage Interview; and Mills and Dickson, who tied for Overall Talent.
Friday's preliminary winners were Bayless, Overall Talent; and Dickson, Social Impact Pitch and Onstage Interview.
This marked the second consecutive year the Miss Tennessee competition was held in Memphis. Contestants arrived in Memphis on June 19 and spent the week touring the Bluff City, including Beale Street and Overton Square.
Also during Saturday's finals, Jane Marie Franks, Lexington's Outstanding Teen, was named Miss Tennessee’s Outstanding Teen. The teen finals were held earlier Saturday at the Cannon Center.
Porsha Hernandez is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Miss Tennessee 2022: Miss Lexington Lauren Dickson wins