When word spread that Miss Georgia USA was dropping by the office for this interview, everyone wanted to take a peek at the beauty queen. And there was no mistaking Brittany Swann for anyone else. With her long blond hair and fabulous dress, she portrayed everything you would expect from a girl with a pageant crown.
Even if she did notice the whispers or wondered why so many staffers needed to pop by the hallway she was waiting in, she never showed it. She was all calm and confidence, matter-of-fact when it came to answering even the toughest of questions. “Ask me anything. I’ve heard it all,” she says.
She’s also honest when it comes to her future. Yes, winning Miss Georgia USA was amazing. But yes, it’s time to move on, to take this remarkable accomplishment and use it to propel herself forward. Brittany’s story doesn’t end with the crown. It starts with it.
Brittany started in “little miss” pageants when she was just a child around three years old. But while she grew up watching Miss USA and idolizing the winners, she didn’t stay with pageants long.
“I can remember seeing little girls backstage crying, not knowing what was going on. Putting kids in pageants when they have no idea what’s happening is weird to me,” she says. Her mother, Tammy Mayfield, didn’t want to become a “pageant mom” always pushing her daughter, so the idea of competing for a crown faded into the background until Brittany was in high school.
Attending Cookeville High School in Tennessee and living with her mom, Brittany once again began entering local pageants, and the reasons why may surprise you.
“I was so shy growing up,” she explains, relating how her heart would pound in school during the roll call as the teacher slowly neared the S names. “We moved around a lot and I was always the new girl.”
One day, a family friend asked sixteen-year-old Brittany to participate in her store’s fashion show. Brittany decided to do it. “I challenged myself, forced myself to stretch out of my comfort zone. I wanted to become more comfortable with the public,” she says.
Her parents, dad Ray and step-mom Debbie of Fayetteville, were also supportive but stood back, letting Brittany make her own decisions. If she wanted a particular dress for a pageant, she bought it herself, “so I didn’t take anything for granted,” she says. During this same time, Brittany also began modeling as a way to earn extra money and gain more professional experience in the world.
Local contests and state fair pageants eventually led to the Miss Tennessee Teen USA pageant in 2001, where Brittany placed in the finals as the second runner-up, beat out for the crown by Rachel Smith. It would not be the last time these two young women faced each other on the pageant stage, but that was still a few years away.
There were more pageants, and more final rounds, but Brittany said she was “always the bridesmaid and never the bride” when it came to winning. “It made me work harder,” she says about being a runner-up for so long. “I always told myself that I would get it the next time.”
That next time turned out to be the Miss Georgia USA 2007 pageant on November 11, 2006, held in Newnan, just a few towns over from where this Fayette County resident grew up.
That night, Brittany Swann became Miss Georgia USA. “I was crying so hard when I won,” she says, recalling the moment. It was the realization of a dream she had worked so hard for.
Brittany recognizes the great honor that comes with the Miss Georgia USA crown, and also the great responsibility. “I knew being Miss Georgia USA would be hard work the night they put the crown on my head,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to help and do things on a state level that many people don’t get.” She has taken that opportunity to work with youth on issues like peer pressure and self-esteem.
“Peer pressure is something kids deal with every day. Young women deal with body image and self-esteem,” Brittany explains. “Being a part of the [Miss USA] organization helped me get over my own issues and gave me self confidence to be myself” and it is this positive attitude that she wants to help others with. She counts being able to serve the state and community as one of the best parts of being Miss Georgia USA.
“I love that little girls get a big kick out of seeing me. At the same time, they can be so awed, and I just want to tell them that I’m a regular person, too!” she says, feeling a certain pressure to be a good role model for her young fans. “I don’t want to portray the wrong image for these little girls. Sometimes I even try not to wear too much makeup around them. I want to show them that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be yourself—the best person you can be.”
Another one of the best parts of being Miss Georgia USA? Competing in the 56th annual Miss USA pageant on March 23 of this year, the accomplishment Brittany is most proud of thus far.
“It was such a hard thing to do. It was a long process of preparing to be the best person I could be, trying to show my true self,” she explains. Prep work included long hours of working with a personal trainer and focusing on her fitness, countless wardrobe fittings, visiting sponsors, staying up to date on current events and interview preparation. College was put on hold and Brittany approached her reign as a job. “From the Miss Georgia USA pageant to Miss USA, preparation is a full-time job,” Brittany explains. “With events and travel, my schedule was overloaded. But all the hard work ahead of time meant everything was in its place so at Miss USA, I could focus on showing myself instead of worrying about my interview answers.”
The two-week long Miss USA pageant, held in Los Angeles, California, included publicity events around the area, rehearsals, photo shoots and preliminary rounds of competition all leading up to the main event, broadcast live from the famed Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. Adding to the pressure was the constant presence of television cameras, capturing everything behind the scenes for the reality show being taped about the event.
The Miss USA organization was also under media scrutiny that spring following Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner’s public admission of being an alcoholic and subsequent stay at a rehabilitation facility. During the competition, Brittany had a chance to meet Tara, and says she respects the honesty she has shown throughout the ordeal. “Whether you are Miss USA or a regular person on the street, it’s a big deal to admit you have a problem with alcohol. Getting to know her, I respect her more. Her heart is in the right place.”
Despite all the distractions surrounding the event, Brittany was ready for the two-week competition. “The first day, I was instantly insecure, comparing myself to all the other girls,” Brittany says. “But the next day, I decided not to worry about what I’m not, but focus on what I am. I had worked so hard to get to this point and I was really on my game and came out of my shell.”
It helped that her friend Rachel Smith was her roommate during those two weeks. Years after beating Brittany for the teen crown, Rachel was crowned Miss Tennessee USA the month before Brittany won her own state title, and the two were set to meet again on the Miss USA stage. “We really kept each other focused during the competition,” Brittany says. “We had this whole plan how one of us would win and the other would be first runner-up, and take over the crown when Miss USA won Miss Universe.”
In the end, Brittany watched her friend win the crown from the sidelines. While she was thrilled for Rachel, the loss was hard to take initially.
“I was so shocked when I didn’t make the top 15,” she says. “It was the end of a dream for me. I had done everything right, so how could I not win?”
Now she says she has peace with the outcome. “I did my best,” she says. “I’m not in control over what the judges were looking for that night. There were plenty of other awesome girls who didn’t make the top 15 either. And I’m glad Rachel won. She’ll be one of the best Miss USAs we’ve ever had.”
This marks the end of the pageant road for Brittany, and her feelings are positive. “I have taken everything I can out of this experience, now I need to move on and see what doors open for me,” she reflects. “I’ve worked towards this my whole life, and every choice I’ve made was geared towards this. So it’s kind of a relief to have a whole new set of opportunities open for me.”
Those opportunities include the second half of her Miss Georgia USA reign and graduating college this December. Brittany is currently attending Georgia State University, studying marketing and management. She is a member of the American Marketing Association and is a broadcaster for GSTV, the school’s television station.
“Because I delayed school to pursue [Miss USA], I’ve had time to figure out what I want to do in life. I’ve gotten to know myself better. I’ve stopped focusing on what I don’t have and I focus on my assets,” she says. She wants to work in television, either in front or behind the camera, and plans to take modeling as far as she can, doing commercials and print campaigns.
Her reign as Miss Georgia USA ends in November, and until then, Brittany looks forward to being more involved. “You put into your reign what you want,” she explains. “You get to choose which direction it goes.” This includes working with Fayette County’s Relay for Life and other charitable events.
In her free time, Brittany takes time out with friends and family at the lake and watches the Food Network. Soon she’ll begin planning her wedding to Trent Lewis of Newnan. And she tries to work as much as possible, modeling in Atlanta and Nashville. “I like to stay busy,” she explains.
What advice would she give to other young girls interested in entering the pageant world? Do it for the right reason—yourself. “You have to be okay with not winning. On a different day, different judges make different decisions,” she says. “Just make sure you grow from every experience.” On the whole, her entire pageant experience has been positive, a journey on which she has learned communication skills, self discipline and personal skills.
She worries that many girls get into pageants as a way of affirming their own self-worth, without first accepting themselves for who they are. The pageant system has taught her the value of being herself, instead of fitting into a mold of the stereotypical “beauty queen.” Stereotypes abound when it comes to pageants, Brittany acknowledges, but she isn’t concerned with what people think of her. People who think that all girls in pageants are dumb blonds, shallow or all want “world peace” are ignorant for buying into the stereotypes. “At the end of the day, all that matters is the people you surround yourself with who really know you,” she says.
“At some point you have to stop being a perfectionist. Who wants to be perfect, anyway? That’s boring,” she declares. It’s one of the beauty secrets this queen recommends to all Fayette Woman readers.