The crowd loved Miss Clemson Rachel Wyatt – and so did the judges, as she was crowned Miss South Carolina 2016 Saturday in the 80th anniversary pageant at The Township.
From her dance routine in a cotton candy pink confectionary ensemble, to showing off her toned physique in a turquoise Azure bathing suit, to answering “people holding the guns” are the issue in the gun control debate, the audience roared their approval.
The statuesque blond looked radiant in a bejeweled champagne floor length gown as she was crowned. She will next travel to Atlantic City, New Jersey for the the Miss America pageant on Sept. 11.
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“It was my pleasure to crown Rachel for a second time,” said Daja Dial, Miss South Carolina 2015. “In 2014 I crowned her Miss Clemson University and then again last night as Miss South Carolina. We are sisters on so many levels. I’m so proud of you and I’m so excited to go to Miss America and watch you compete. Welcome to the sisterhood.”
We sat down Sunday with Wyatt and talked about what she was thinking moments before the big announcement, how she plans to use her platform and why she decided not to celebrate this win with a “Tebow.”
What went through your mind when your name was called as Miss South Carolina 2016?
Wyatt: I prayed for peace and that’s exactly how I felt in that moment. I knew no matter what the outcome was, God has a plan. So either I was going to go back to Clemson to continue being a Rally Cat or I’m going to be Miss South Carolina. So I just felt strangely calm and at peace and when it happened. ... I was overjoyed but I could not even comprehend it in that moment, the amazing opportunity that was just handed to me.
Your platform is “life without limits,” which is your work with special needs adults. How did that change you or prepare you for the competition?
Wyatt: All of my special needs friends are so inspiring and it kind of came about through dance and my journey with them. I’ve been dancing since I was 5 years old and began teaching dance to special needs adults and loved doing that all through high school, but when I left for college I wondered what becomes of them. It was then that I realized that there aren’t a ton of opportunities for further education for life after 21 for special needs adults. So I started volunteering for an organization at Clemson called “Clemson Life” and it’s a two-year program where students with special needs can learn independent living skills and they get to experience everything on a college campus. I really hope to promote that for other colleges in South Carolina and hopefully in our nation. I love my friends. They’re truly inspiring and they teach me that no matter what obstacles you face in life, you can always overcome and there’s always a reason to smile.
With (Miss South Carolina 2015) Daja Dial’s connection to Clemson as well as (Miss South Carolina 2014) Lanie Hudson’s, were you nervous the judges weren’t going to choose another winner with ties to that city?
Wyatt: They’ve crowned three Miss New Yorks in a row in Miss America, so I’d like to think this system crowns the girl who is most deserving. Your title or where you’re from, even at the national level, isn’t that important to them. And these judges maybe didn’t even know that we’ve had so many girls from Clemson, because this is the first time that the title of Miss Clemson has been used in a few years. So even though Daja was a Clemson student, she didn’t represent as Miss Clemson. So it wasn’t something that entered my mind, but I’m thrilled that we have this great legacy of Clemson girls, for sure.
Let’s talk a little about your heritage.
Wyatt: My grandfather is Japanese and he is my mom’s dad, which makes me a fourth Japanese. So my name is Rachel “Yuki” Wyatt (Yuki means happiness in Japanese). Granted I don’t speak any Japanese but our Thanksgiving is pretty hilarious. We have fried rice next to the sweet potato casserole and green beans. We have a kimono in our living room. It’s quite a mixture and it definitely makes its way into our daily lives and it’s something I’m proud of. It makes me unique and it meant a lot that my grandfather – who lives in California – was here and I was able to represent the way that I did. Winning was icing on the cake. They were thrilled!
During a commercial break, one of the hosts jokingly asked contestants before they took the stage in their bikinis about the first thing they would eat, and you said a cinnamon roll. So, did you get your cinnamon roll?
Wyatt: Not yet! My friend has one ready for me, but I do have another dear friend who brought me a cupcake a few nights ago and I was saving that, so I did dig into that. But I’m still waiting to get my cinnamon roll.
When you were crowned Miss South Carolina Teen in 2012 you went viral for “Tebowing.” Were you tempted to do it again this year?
Wyatt: Now I know I can give the glory to God in other ways but that was me doing it in a very bold and profound way. This time I still acknowledged him and I still give him the glory but handled myself a little differently.
What does being Miss South Carolina mean to you?
Wyatt: I haven’t had long to process it, but beforehand I thought that this would be a chance for me to use the blessings the Lord has given me to bless other people. This crown allows you the chance to take it to the next level. The crown catches people’s eye and then you’re allowed to capture their heart through that. So it’s really special what this organization does and that’s really what I hope to do as Miss South Carolina. ... I hope to inspire people everywhere I go because I think great leaders do that.