Reigning Miss Statesville set to compete for Miss America title in Orlando
BY MIKE FUHRMAN
Taylor Loyd was beaming as the silver crown was placed atop her head.
From a talented field of contestants from across the state, she had just been named Miss North Carolina for her poise, grace and intellect, for the depth of her vocal rendition of “Amour, raiment mon courage” and for her community service initiative.
Taylor was humbled by the recognition and also proud of the journey she undertook as Miss Statesville to become the best version of herself before she arrived at the High Point Theater for the final night of the competition on June 24.
“It felt like that moment was meant to happen,” she said. “I won this title because I came as I was.”
Looking back over Taylor’s 22 years, there are a few moments that stand out in her rise to prominence. Several of these moments foreshadow her rise to Miss North Carolina, but others decidedly do not.
Taylor grew up in a musical family, the daughter of Ashton and Cinamon Loyd. By the time she was five years old, she had a vocal coach — her Aunt Martha.
Her mom vividly remembers Taylor’s first vocal recital at a Statesville church. A crowd of 100 family members listened as about a dozen youngsters took the stage, one by one, for their solo performances.
When it was Taylor’s turn, she sang “Let’s go fly a kite,” but the performance was not memorable solely because of the quality of her vocals.
“She was so shy … that she stood with her back to the audience,” Cinamon recalled.
“She would not make eye contact with the audience.”
“It was cute and funny because she was so young,” she added. “Now, to think she won the talent award at Miss North Carolina and is Miss North Carolina — she’s come a long, long way.”
Although Cinamon was a former Miss Statesville and Ashton has been judging pageants for decades, they never pushed Taylor into competing under the bright lights.
Taylor had to find her own way. When she was in third or fourth grade at Lake Norman Elementary School, she decided to do her living history project on Maria Beale Fletcher, the only Miss North Carolina to be crowned Miss America. She wore her mom’s old Miss Statesville crown, a white dress and a homemade sash that she decorated with stickers.
“She had not even competed in a pageant at that point in her life,” Cinamon said. “That’s a pretty incredible memory for sure.”
While she was growing up, Taylor participated in youth theater, but she continued to suffer from stage fright. She remembers being passed over for other kids for the elementary school chorus and the sixth-grade talent show.
When she was 13, Taylor finally had the confidence to ask her parents if she could compete in a pageant. She got her feet wet in a local pageant and then competed in the 2014 North Carolina Cinderella Teen Pageant.
Later, she won Miss Rowan County Teen, Miss Carolina Foothills Teen and Miss Charlotte Teen before being crowned N.C. Rhododendron Queen (2021) and Miss Statesville (2022).
When she was competing for Miss North Carolina Teen, which she did three times, Taylor adopted a strategy that she thought would give her the best opportunity to be crowned.
That strategy can be summed up in nine words: Nobody is going to work harder than Taylor Loyd.
Although she worked hard preparing for those contests, she did not reap the ultimate reward. Her best finish was a second runner-up in three attempts.
Realizing that she could put in the work – literally devoting hours and hours preparing for interviews, working out religiously and practicing her vocals – and still not be among the top finishers provided “a life-shattering realization” for the teen.
“No result is ever promised,” Taylor said.
That moment of clarity proved to be a critical turning point in her journey. After being crown Miss Statesville and beginning preparations for the 2023 Miss North Carolina Pageant, Taylor adopted a new mindset. From her earlier setbacks, she learned that she could not magically turn herself into the best candidate to represent the Tar Heel State in the 2024 Miss America Pageant.
She could only be the best version of Taylor Loyd. To become that person, she committed to being physically and mentally healthy, being aware of what’s happening in her community, state, nation and around the world, and committing the time necessary to reach her potential as an opera singer.
“It’s a different way of saying, ‘It’s about the journey. It’s not about the destination,’ ” she explained.
While carrying 17 credit hours at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Taylor juggled rehearsals for the lead role in an opera in Durham. She also continued to make regular appearances as Miss Statesville, where she promoted her platform.
In the days leading up to the Miss North Carolina Pageant, Taylor was pretty relaxed and reasonably happy with the work she had done creating “the optimum version of Taylor.”
Because Taylor was away at college, her mom did not keep close tabs on her preparations as she had done in the past. When Taylor asked her mom if she thought she was ready, Cinamon’s response was, “I don’t know.”
Three months later, after winning Miss North Carolina, more than $20,000 in scholarship money, and a spot in the Miss America Pageant, mother and daughter both chuckle at the memory.
“It was a funny moment,” Taylor said. “We laugh about it.”
Taylor will never forget April 22, 2009.
That’s the day her 4-year-old brother, Preston, was critically injured when his grandfather accidentally ran him over with a lawnmower outside their Mooresville home.
Preston, who lost his stomach, spleen and a kidney, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and had an esophageal transplant, beat long odds and survived.
Taylor, who was 7 at the time, remembers the outpouring of community support.
“It was so impactful to me and Preston and my family,” she said.
Today, Preston is a student at Lake Norman High School – and one of Taylor’s biggest inspirations.
“He’s really just a ray of sunshine,” Taylor said. “I am so grateful for his heart.”
During Preston’s long recovery, she witnessed firsthand the healing power of art and music. Those experiences were the impetus for Taylor’s community service initiative, “Healing Hearts Through the Arts.”
She formed her own nonprofit, which provides art supplies for students. She also advocates for seniors and lobbies lawmakers for arts and music education funding.
Preston, whose older sister describes him as being “a little sassy,” attended the preliminary rounds and the finals of the pageant to support Taylor.
“He insisted on going,” she said. “He loves it when I talk about him and tell his story.”
LIFE AS MISS NORTH CAROLINA
Taylor continued her journey in the fall by finishing up her bachelor’s degree in psychology and music at UNC and traveling the state as Miss North Carolina. She’s been making the rounds at festivals, speaking at Rotary Clubs and visiting elementary schools. During her appearances, she gets to talk about her brother and the vital role that arts can play in the lives of all children, people with disabilities and seniors.
She feels a little pressure to live up to the standards of the previous Miss North Carolina titleholders, but she also made time to enjoy her last couple of months as a student, spending time with her friends at the mall and hanging out with her cat Lottie.
Meanwhile, she was also preparing for the 96th Miss America Pageant, which will be held this week in January at the Walt Disney Theater in Orlando, Fla.
She has the support of the Miss North Carolina organization and has enjoyed getting to learn from her mentor, Jennifer Vaden Barth, who was crowned Miss North Carolina in 1991.
Barth, who has known Taylor’s parents since the 1990s, said she has been honored to help, but Taylor is driving the boat.
“We’re not setting these kids up so they can go compete in a one-time realty show event,” she explained. “We are setting them up for life … that is the essence of this program and this experience.”
Meeting so many new people and sharing her passion for arts education has been an amazing experience, Taylor explained.
“I feel like I’m going to cry sometimes because it’s so unreal that I get to do this.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the November edition of “IFN Monthly.”