Olivia Mayo grew up watching the Miss America pageant. Now, in September, she’ll be competing for the title.
Mayo, a fourth-year Communication and Media Studies student at the University of Southern Maine (USM) was crowned Miss Maine in June and will head for Atlantic City, New Jersey to take part in the Miss America 2019 competition on Sept. 9.
“It’s my dream come true,” said Mayo, 21, of Minot. “I’m happy to represent Maine. I’m happy to do my very best.”
Developed by the Miss America Organization, the Miss America Program provides professional and personal opportunities for young women and helps promote a voice in politics, culture and the community. Contestants working toward college or postgraduate degrees can earn scholarship awards to help further their education.
The organization is the nation’s leading provider of scholarships for young women, awarding millions annually in cash awards and in-kind tuition waivers, according to its website. Philanthropy is also key to the organization, with the winner of the pageant becoming the national ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network of hospitals.
Mayo said every contestant for the crown is required to have a social impact initiative, Mayo said. Hers is called “Love Doesn’t Hurt,” and takes a stand against domestic violence and sexual assault — a cause she said hits close to home.
“I saw so much happening within my community, my state and my group of friends,” she said. “I needed to do something. I couldn’t just sit around anymore.”
But this isn’t the Mayo has put herself on the front lines of charity work. In fact, she’s been performing community service work her entire life.
And in April, Mayo partook in the 9th annual Husky Day of Service, during which nearly 300 USM students donated 1,200 hours of community service at more than 20 organizations in the Greater Portland and Lewiston-Auburn areas.
“I love doing community service. It’s been a big part of who I am since I can remember,” she said. “I do community service all year long, and it really gives me a platform to take my voice to another level.”
But probably the most important reason she entered the running for Miss Maine, she said, is to inspire more young women from her home state to compete, to strive for a goal.
“If young girls see me on the screen, then they’re motivated. They have the opportunity to look into what Miss America is about,” she said. “This isn’t my end goal, but to get where I am I had to reach other goals — with my education, with community service, just bettering myself as a whole. I just want to encourage other girls to do the same,” she said
That goal, she hopes, will be better realized now that the Miss America Organization, through its rebrand as Miss America 2.0, has removed the swimsuit portion from the overall competition. As a result, candidates will now no longer be judged on their physical appearance.
In place of the swimsuit competition, each candidate will participate in a live interactive session with the judges, according to the organization. There, candidates will highlight their achievements and life goals, and how they will use their talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.
"In the long run, it makes sense,” Mayo said in response to the change, which has garnered national controversy. “Instead of being upset the change is happening, take that anger and watch what these girls have to offer. Support the girls.
“From a contestant standpoint, in order to continue our organization, we have to decide what is important to showcase and what is not,” she continued.
While Mayo said she’s excited to partake in the competition — which she acknowledged has been a dream of hers since she can remember — she said she has much larger goals, including working in television production, either on- or off-camera.
“A lot of the skills I want to learn are more on the technical side of things,” she said. “I haven’t done much behind-the-scenes work and I think it’s extremely important to have that aspect as well … actually getting to work with that (in class), I realized I actually really enjoy production.”
She also credited USM’s Department of Communication and Media Studies with giving her the skills necessary to hold her own in the Miss Maine competition.
“All the communication skills I’ve learned I feel have pushed me even more forward,” she said. “As far as Miss Maine goes, the communication work got me here.”
Catch Mayo compete for the crown at the 92nd Miss America pageant Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. on ABC Television Network.
By Alan Bennett / Office of Public Affairs