Maleia Bigham, a sophomore fine and performing arts major from Turtletown, Tennessee, in Polk County, won the Miss UT Martin title during the 65th Miss University of Tennessee at Martin Scholarship Pageant, Sept. 10, in the Boling University Center’s Watkins Auditorium. Bigham will next compete in the statewide Miss Tennessee Volunteer Pageant set for July 2024 at the Carl Perkins Civic Center in Jackson.
Sloan Wiggs earned first runner-up honors while Sierra Smith was named second runner-up and Miss Congeniality. Wiggs is a junior social work major from Tullahoma, and Smith is junior agricultural business major from Newland, North Carolina. Faith Godoyo, a first-year psychology major from Elkville, Illinois, received the People’s Choice Award.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum was pageant emcee, and attendees included Caleigh Jo Erwin, the outgoing Miss UT Martin; Karenna Rainey, last year’s Miss Tennessee Soybean Festival; and Jada Brown, the reigning Miss Tennessee Volunteer. The annual pageant is organized by the university’s Division of Student Affairs.
Pageant competition included private interview, fitness and wellness, talent and evening wear. Each contestant is scored individually in each category during the competition. Bigham’s first pageant was last fall when she competed at Miss UT Martin and finished first runner-up. With the title in hand, Bigham looks forward to representing the university in her new role.
“Winning Miss UT Martin was actually on my bucket list, not just going to Miss Tennessee Volunteer but being Miss UT Martin because I love my school so much,” she said following the pageant. Among her activities, Bigham is a member of the Skyhawk Dance Team and UTM Dance Ensemble and serves on the Student Government Association as a senator for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. Her platform is Uplifting the Underprivileged with her goal to provide better opportunities for students and families in rural communities. Her academic focus on dance education has prepared her to begin student teaching later this fall.
The weeks and months ahead will involve preparation for the Miss Tennessee Volunteer Pageant, and Bigham is ready for the challenge. The pageant allows her to do what she enjoys most – and that’s dance.
“I get to create a new dance and perform it on a stage that is totally out of this world,” she said. “I got to perform this past summer a solo that meant the world to me, which I actually performed tonight (at Miss UT Martin), and a lot of people saw it that might not have been able to see it if I’d done it anywhere else.” Other preparations include improving stage presence, practicing interview skills, and getting involved in the community and promoting her platform.
Katrina Cobb, executive assistant for West Tennessee PBS and the Miss UT Martin pageant’s executive director, was pleased with the event and high-quality competition.
“It was a great pageant. …When we came out of interview, all of the judges said this was one of the best groups they had ever judged,” Cobb said. “Every one of the girls was quite qualified to be the winner, and so I’m just totally excited. And Maleia has experience, and so we’re both looking forward to going to Miss Tennessee Volunteer together.”
Bigham earned a $2,000 scholarship for winning the crown and will represent the university during the next year at various events and activities. Wiggs and Smith received $750 and $500 for finishing first and second runners-up respectively.
The winner of the Miss Tennessee Volunteer crown serves as the governor’s spokesperson for character education and receives $25,000 in scholarship money.
Photo caption: Maleia Bigham (center), a sophomore fine and performing arts major from Turtletown, Tennessee, won the Miss UT Martin title during the 65th Miss University of Tennessee at Martin Scholarship Pageant on Sept. 10 in Watkins Auditorium. Bigham will next compete in the statewide Miss Tennessee Volunteer Scholarship Pageant set for July 2024 at the Carl Perkins Center in Jackson. Pictured in the pageant court are (from left) Sloan Wiggs, first runner-up; Bigham, the new titleholder; and Sierra Smith, second runner-up and selected Miss Congeniality.