By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Candace Knight of Pleasant Grove recently pulled off a feat rarely seen in the world of beauty pageants. The 18-year-old entered the National American Miss (NAM) state pageant this summer—her first ever competition—and won.
“Most of [the contestants] had done it for numerous years. … I was in total shock when they called my name,” Knight said. “There were so many beautiful girls, and when my favorites were called as runners-up, I got a little light-headed as I thought my chances were getting pretty good.”
Knight was crowned Miss Alabama Teen NAM 2018 and will now prepare for the national title, which will be awarded in November in Anaheim, Calif. To help cover the costs for her trip, she will have a fundraiser on August 28 at Jazzi’s on 3rd Avenue from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
In the national competition, Knight said confidently, “I look forward to meeting all of the other state queens. … And I’m going to win and bring the title home to Alabama.”
NAM is based on fostering a positive self-image by enhancing beauty from within. Knight said she was attracted to the program because it was more than about beauty.
“It’s based on things like personal introduction, the way you walk, the way you carry yourself, how well you speak, your energy,” she said.
When Knight received an email about NAM, she saw a window of opportunity that she couldn’t pass up. She wanted to do pageants in high school but was busy as a cheerleader and running track. When she received the letter, however, “that’s when I decided I wanted to do it,” she said.
Knight feels that her confidence helped her become a first-time winner in the competition, which included 50 girls and took place at the downtown Birmingham Sheraton Hotel in early July.
“You have to state your name, hometown, and ambitions. … It has to be detailed and you have to make it cute, but you have to do it in less than 30 seconds. I did mine flawlessly,” she said. “For me to come in there and actually win my first time ever doing the pageant just showed me that I’m very blessed.”
The pageant was a step out of Knight’s comfort zone, but she won first place in sportswear modeling and fan appeal, as well as for having the highest grade point average (GPA). Despite this being her first pageant, she was treated no differently than the other participants.
“Most of them had done it for numerous years, so they all knew each other, but they all acted as if I had been there with them all the years before,” she said. “Everyone was really nice, … and I really enjoyed it. We even had a pajama party one night.”
As Miss Alabama Teen, Knight performs community service and appears for speaking engagements, such as the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Back-to-School Rally hosted by Pastor Steve Green of More Than Conquerors Faith Church earlier this month. She also recently was a speaker during an event at her church, Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Southwest Birmingham, and plans to host workshops for children interested in pageants, speak at different schools, and help with a project to clean up Birmingham. Another issue she plans to raise awareness about: mental health, mainly depression and suicide.
“It’s important for people to notice the signs, so they can help someone else,” she said. “So many people battle with [mental health issues] every day, especially young people and people in the black community. I just want to bring as much awareness as possible.”
Knight’s pageant experience will help her not only spread the message about mental health but also serve as a positive example for other young people.
The public speaking portion of the event was helpful because, she said, “I’m nervous every time even on stage, but I just don’t show it.”
Plus, Knight knows the importance of having integrity as a beauty queen: “I think I am a role model because I’m always open-minded and honest. I don’t like being lied to, and I’m pretty sure no one else does, either. I’m always honest, and I’m never rude or mean.”
Knight, currently a sophomore at Alabama State University (ASU), plans to run for Miss ASU during her senior year.
“I wanted to do that even before being in the pageant because I was part of the homecoming court in high school,” she said. “It’s just something I wanted to do since I got to [ASU]. I think it would be really cool to kind of be the face of my school and represent the students.”
Knight grew up in Pleasant Grove with her parents, Bobby and Maria, and her three older siblings. In elementary school, she first tried gymnastics. When she got to middle school, she participated in cheerleading and track, which she continued once she went to Pleasant Grove High School. Academically, she took forensic science and is interested in becoming a crime-scene investigator or an FBI agent.
When Knight got to ASU, she mainly went to class and spent time in her dorm room. Since winning the pageant, she believes that will likely change this semester.
“Now I talk to people,” she said. “I ask them how they’re doing, how their day is going. Before the pageant, I wouldn’t even do that.”
Amid so much exciting change for Knight, one thing that has remained a constant: her church attendance at Greater Shiloh and Birmingham’s Rock City Church, commonly called The Rock.
“If I could go to church every day, I would. The main church I love to go to is The Rock because I always just get a different message every time and Pastor [Mike McClure Jr.] really speaks to the younger people,” she said. “When I’m in my dorm, I always sing and play gospel music. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is play gospel music because it just sets the tone for the rest of the day.”
Knight encourages others to keep the faith and “follow your dreams.”
“No matter how impossible the task might seem, as long as you give it all your effort and trust God and keep Him first, things will work out in your favor.”