By Emily Beckett

The 2014 Miss Alabama Pageant in June will feature three contestants with ties to Chilton County.

(Left to right) Jill Vinzant, Katie Hilyer and Jessica Swindle pause for a picture together at a luncheon after the Miss Alabama orientation.
(Left to right) Jill Vinzant, Katie Hilyer and Jessica Swindle pause for a picture together at a luncheon after the Miss Alabama orientation.

Katie Hilyer, Jessica Swindle and Jill Vinzant will compete for this year’s Miss Alabama title June 4–7 at the Wright Center on the campus of Samford University.

Hilyer and Swindle, both of Clanton, and Vinzant, of Jemison, each won preliminary pageants qualifying them to participate in Miss Alabama with more than 40 other contestants.

Hilyer is the reigning Miss Chilton County, Swindle is the reigning Miss Madison County and Vinzant is the reigning Miss Quad Cities.

2013 Miss Alabama Chandler Champion will crown the new Miss Alabama.

The four-day Miss Alabama Pageant consists of interviews, onstage questions, and swimsuit, talent and evening gown competitions.

Each of the preceding categories constitutes part of the overall percentage of contestants’ scores from a panel of judges.

Community service is another factor judges look at for each contestant.

“Each contestant is required to raise a certain amount of money for the Miss America Organization’s national platform, Children’s Miracle network,” Vinzant said. “Contestants are also required to complete a community service scrapbook showing their community involvement, platform work, fundraisers, etc.”

Each Miss Alabama contestant is placed in a competition group, and each group does a different category each night of Miss Alabama preliminaries.

The 2014 competition groups are Mu, Alpha and Sigma.

Hilyer is listed in the Alpha group, which means her interview will be Tuesday, evening wear Wednesday, talent Thursday and swimsuit and onstage question Friday.

Vinzant and Swindle are in Sigma, which means their interviews, swimsuit and onstage question will be Wednesday, evening wear Thursday and talent Friday.

On Saturday, June 7, the top 10 contestants will be announced, and they will complete every category again that night for the final judging.

This year’s Miss Alabama Pageant includes 47 contestants.

As the 2014 Miss Alabama Pageant approaches, get to know the three contestants who call Chilton County home.


Katie Hilyer

2014 Miss Chilton County

Hilyer is the 22-year-old daughter of Jimmy Hilyer and Elizabeth Hilyer Ginsburg.

She is a 2010 graduate of Chilton County High School and will graduate from the University of Alabama on May 3, where she double majored in public relations and political science.

She is the reigning Miss Chilton County.

Her platform for Miss Alabama is the Camo Foundation, which she founded as aid to veterans, military members, their families and their survivors in locating resources, benefits and services.

“The Miss Alabama Organization (Miss America Organization) is a scholarship program that is dedicated to teaching young women how to be community leaders,” Hilyer said. “This organization has always been something I wanted to get involved with, and I have already gained so much knowledge from my experience as Miss Chilton County.”

Hilyer said she is looking forward to the talent part of Miss Alabama.

“All 47 women are very talented and have worked so hard to compete at Miss Alabama,” she said. “Performing onstage is exhilarating, and when it’s doing something I love, like twirling, it makes the whole experience even better.”

Along with school and work responsibilities, Hilyer said she spends hours preparing for each portion of the competition most days, and she has worked with several professional coaches and others willing to volunteer their time and energy.

“I was a late starter and did not participate in my first pageant until the age of 18,” Hilyer said. “Miss Chilton County has been a wonderful way to become a representative of not only Chilton County as a whole but to Chilton County’s veterans too, which goes to show you that no matter how old you are, you can accomplish your goals. Never let preconceived notions about timeliness of a goal stop you from pushing forward, because if you dig deep enough you can make anything happen.”

She has participated in several Miss Alabama preliminary pageants in which she was named the swimsuit winner.

“I did a few pageants in high school too, but with the Miss Alabama system I was a late bloomer,” she said. “It has taken persistence and perseverance to continue to compete in order to win my first preliminary crown. It has been a goal of mine for years now, and I am thrilled to finally be able to take that next step.

“What I love about the Miss America system is that awards and titles are not as important as scholarships recipients and community service winners. Having a title is only going to get you to Miss Alabama. What you make happen with your title can last years beyond your reign and impact everyone in your community.”

For the last four years, Hilyer has been a Crimsonette for the University of Alabama, where she is also an active member of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority.

She served as the Chief Justice for the Academic Honor Council for the College of Communication Sciences at UA.

“My ultimate goal is to attend law school and continue my foundation, the Camo Foundation,” Hilyer said. “I hope to specialize in Elder Law and will have an open mind for any opportunity that law may present.”

Hilyer said many have shown support for her platform, Camo Foundation LLC, and as a result, helped veterans in Chilton County and at the Lakeshore Foundation.

“Since being crowned in November, I have accomplished more than I ever thought possible, and it was with the help of Chilton County that I was able to do so,” she said. “My platform is near and dear to me, and I will continue to work for it years and years to come.

“The Miss Alabama Organization led me to find a passion that was right under my nose. Being Miss Chilton County gave me a big push and encouragement to reach out and accomplish my goals. I am very happy with how my role as Miss Chilton County has impacted the community and am always looking for ways to be of service to a place that I call home.”


Jessica Swindle

2014 Miss Madison County

Swindle is the 22-year-old daughter of Dwight and Madeline Swindle.

She is a 2010 graduate of Jemison High School and is a graduating senior at Alabama A&M University, where she is majoring in Communication Arts.

She is the reigning Miss Alabama A&M University until the end of the school year on May 2.

Her platform for Miss Alabama is “Weathering the storms: Educating and preparing communities for severe weather.”

“I chose this platform because I aspire to be a broadcast meteorologist, and with this aspiration I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about weather, storms and severe weather safety,” Swindle said. “It is very important to be weather-ready. Severe weather can strike at any time, and through my platform I plan to educate on the importance of having a family emergency plan, a safety kit and a general knowledge of severe weather and what to look out for.”

Swindle said she decided to compete in Miss Alabama because of the opportunities it holds, such as obtaining scholarships, informing the community about her platform and forming friendships with “some of the sweetest girls in Alabama.”

Swindle’s talent for Miss Alabama is dance.

“I’m looking forward to the swimsuit competition because I am working extremely hard on getting into shape, and I really like the swimsuit I chose to wear,” Swindle said. “I’m preparing all the time, from the foods I eat to constantly watching the news and working out with my trainer. I would have to say my weekdays are totally dedicated to school and Miss Alabama preparation.”

Swindle’s coach in Huntsville is Stan Bradford, and her coach in Clanton is Wes Gandy.

Swindle has competed in various pageants for 18 years, including Miss Chilton County and every category of the Peach Pageant.

“I don’t think there is a pageant in Chilton County or at JHS I have not competed in,” she said.

Swindle was Chilton County’s 2010 Miss Peach, 2011 Miss Sophomore at Alabama A&M University, 2012 Miss Black and Gold (Alpha Phi Alpha) and 2013 Miss Alabama A&M University.

She is a member of the AAMU Great Debaters, Film Club, Spanish Club, Bulldog Pride Committee and the Gamma Mu Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Swindle said her goals after graduation include attending Mississippi State University to receive a master’s degree in broadcast meteorology.

“I have crossed paths with Anna Laura Bryan, Miss Alabama 2012, on a few occasions, and she told me to enjoy the experience of competing for Miss Alabama and make sure to have fun,” Swindle said. “Though my title is Miss Madison County, I am thrilled to still be considered a representation of Chilton County. I take Chilton County with me wherever I go and make it known to whomever I come across that I am from the ‘peach county.’”


Jill Vinzant

2014 Miss Quad Cities

Vinzant is the 19-year-old daughter of Shannon and Martie Vinzant.

She is a 2013 graduate of Jemison High School and is a freshman at Auburn University, where she is majoring in history and minoring in dance.

She is the reigning Miss Quad Cities (the Quad Cities are Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals).

Her platform for Miss Alabama is Wounded Warrior Project.

“Donny Eslinger has always been a close friend of mine,” Vinzant said. “Seeing the recovery process he went through after being injured in Afghanistan, as well as the recovery process he continues to go through daily, inspired me to help one of the main organizations that helped him throughout that process.

“My uncle also serves in the Armed Forces, and I’ve always had a heart for those that serve our country. My platform is truly the driving force behind what I do. I always tell people that competing in Miss Alabama is not about me; I just see it as an opportunity to make a change and serve my country by speaking out for our wounded warriors.”

Vinzant said her decision to compete in Miss Alabama this year was based primarily on her platform.

“Seeing what Donny went through has really driven me to work with WWP and raise awareness about the issues our veterans are facing,” Vinzant said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to compete in Miss Alabama, and the scholarship money was a huge motivator as well. But the title and scholarship money are just perks; the thing that makes all the time and hard work worthwhile is knowing that I’m advocating a cause that I so strongly believe in.”

Vinzant said she is looking forward to the talent portion of Miss Alabama since most of the pageants she participated in growing up didn’t require a talent, and the talent could show the judges another side of her they might not see in any of the other categories.

Vinzant’s talent for Miss Alabama is singing.

“I absolutely love being on stage and singing and performing, so it’s even more exciting that I get to do that at Miss Alabama,” she said. “I’m also excited about interview because I feel like that’s really my chance to let the judges get to know what I’m about. I love politics and current events, so it’s always fun getting to share my ideas and opinions with people, and more than that relate things back to my platform.”

Along with platform fundraisers and appearances, Vinzant usually spends several hours each day preparing for Miss Alabama by working on her talent, watching the news and researching to keep up with current events and exercising to prepare for the swimsuit competition.

Vinzant also has people helping her prepare for the pageant.

“Julie Davis Bentley has always been a big mentor for me,” she said. “I’ve known her since I was little, when she was Miss Peach, and she later went on to be my majorette sponsor and employer [at] Chilton Dance and Twirl throughout high school. She’s always pushed me to continue in pageants beyond Miss Peach and is actually the one that convinced me to continue doing preliminaries after Miss AU. She’s been there every step of the way, from Little Miss Peach to now, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

Vinzant said she is also close to her Miss Quad Cities director, Sammy Akridge.

“I’ve only known Sammy since I’ve had my title, but just in these last few months he’s been unbelievably helpful,” she said. “It was really a God thing that I won the preliminary I did because a lot of directors aren’t quite as involved as Sammy is. It’s been such a blessing to have him, especially since it’s my first year and I’m still learning the ropes, so to speak.”

Vinzant said her pageant involvement spans back as long as she can remember.

In Chilton County, she was Little Miss Peach in 2002, Young Miss Chilton County in 2007, Junior Miss Peach in 2009 and Miss Peach in 2011.

She was second runner-up and tied for talent winner in Miss Auburn-Opelika Area.

Vinzant said after graduation, she wants to focus on politics and be able to lobby for Veterans’ Affairs or Gulf Coast fishermen.

She said she is “blessed” to have the opportunity to compete in Miss Alabama, support a cause she is passionate about while earning scholarship money and bring awareness of Chilton County to others.

“Judges know from my facts sheet that I’m from Chilton County, and I’ve been asked about it several times in interviews,” Vinzant said. “I’m so proud of where I come from, and I always love the chance to brag on our peach farmers. Chilton County has already had great representation these past several years at Miss Alabama by Susan Hamm, so I’m just hoping that I, along with Jessica Swindle and Katie Hilyer, can step up to the plate.”