Miss Alabama wears the crown to teach young girls their dreams are possible

Lauren Bradford plays violin at Miss Alabama

For months, Lauren Bradford ’21 woke up to her 6 a.m. alarm every day to get ready for her morning classes. She drank black coffee, slung her backpack over her shoulder and walked to Lowder Hall class. Like most Spring 2021 graduates, she walked across the stage in Jordan-Hare stadium to receive her diploma, but only a few weeks later, she was crowned Miss Alabama 2021. Now, instead of waking up for finance classes, she wakes up for interviews with FOX news and al.com.

Auburn Magazine: You won Miss Alabama on June 12, 2021, and since then, you moved from Gulf Shores to Birmingham. How are you doing? Are you getting much sleep?

Lauren Bradford: I’m doing well! Last night, I got a solid four hours of sleep because I got back late from an event and had to wake up early for an interview. I didn’t realize I would be traveling so much, and I didn’t know that it takes 30 minutes to get around Birmingham!

AM: When did you know that you wanted to compete for Miss Alabama?

 LB: I grew up in Gulf Shores, Ala., where pageants are almost non-existent. I grew up as a tomboy, a skateboarder and a member of ROTC at my high school. I didn’t know about the pageant world until I competed in Miss Gulf Shores High School, where I somehow won as a freshman. Even in that small process, what drew me in the most was my personal growth and representing something bigger than myself.

AM: In 2018, you won the title of Miss Auburn University after being on campus for only one monthwhat did you learn from that experience

LB: I competed at the Miss Auburn University pageant as a freshman because I knew the scholarship opportunities were awesome—I never expected to win when I was just 18 years old! It was a gift to be challenged as a freshman on Auburn’s campus, and it showed me what it means to represent a group of people—not just the students, but the intergenerational family that came with it. To represent something so special was what first gave me a taste of what it’s like to be Miss Alabama. When I represented Auburn University at Miss Alabama in 2019, I did all of the legwork, but this past year, I got to focus on preparing my heart for the possibility of stepping into this role.

“This past year, I got to focus on preparing my heart for the possibility of stepping into this role.”

Lauren Bradford shakes Governor Kay Ivey's hand as Miss Auburn University
Bradford meeting Alabama Governor Kay Ivey ’67 in 2021

AM: Over the past several years, you have had to give up your time and energy for Miss Alabama, even if that meant saying ‘no’ to social events and vacations during college. Would all of that sacrifice and hard work have been worth it if you didn’t win the crown this year?

LB: No matter what would have happened this year, I would have walked away feeling like a winner because I have [felt] myself grow so much. And, I have earned more than $86,000 in cash scholarships through my time competing in the Miss Alabama program, and it has allowed me to graduate debt-free and to pursue my masters of finance at Vanderbilt, and this would have been true regardless of winning the crown. I’ve also learned skills that I will be able to transfer into the professional world of finance, and I will have confidence going into my career field. 

Walking into Miss Alabama this year, I already knew [because of that] that I was a winner—I’m so thankful that the Lord took away the mindset of ‘needing’ to win, because that takes away what you gain from the experience as a whole. I was at peace during the week leading up to Miss Alabama because of this new mindset—it was all because of Him!

AM: You’ve played violin since you were 10 years old. Tell me about your violin talent and the song that you chose to perform at Miss Alabama this year.   

LB: I had to hone in on playing my violin this year because I was playing a new piece, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic.” It was a challenge because I had never played anything like it before. I chose that song because I learned the true story of the string quartet that unanimously decided to keep playing their instruments as the ship was sinking, and I think many Alabamians feel like we are in a time where our ships are sinking after the pandemic. I wanted to bring a message of hope and encouragement to the Miss Alabama stage. I needed to make sure that I was not only able to play the song well, but that I could effectively showcase the message behind it.

Lauren Bradford is crowned

AM: A big part of your job is speaking to people. Did you always have this skill, or did you have to learn it?

LB: My three siblings and I grew up without a phone until we go to high school. Waiting to get a phone allowed me time to dream and focus on things that are important to me, like gaining social skills, and I might not have learned this if I had a phone that I was glued to. I remember when I was a freshman in high school, I was at a tennis match and I saw a family friend on the opposing team, and we had a five-minute conversation. I went back to my team, and the girl sitting next to me looked at me with wide eyes and asked how I had a conversation with an adult.

I didn’t realize that that is a challenge for my generation, so that is something that I’ve learned to fight for with my social impact initiative ‘UNPLUG: digital diet plan’, which raises awareness for the need of having a technologically balanced lifestyle and avoiding technology overuse. I might not have developed my conversation skills if I had a phone that I was glued to!

AM: You have spent two years with a younger girl that you mentored through the Miss Alabama Rising Stars program. What have you learned through this role?

LB: I have been changed by the mentorships that the organization has given me, and now that I am in a place to mentor younger girls, I understand the weight of it. They are human beings who are at a pivotal age, and I love that I get to carry the title of ‘role model’ for them!

AM: At Miss America this December, what do you want the judges to see in you?  

LB: I want them to see that I am anchored in my values, and that I’m not afraid of ambition. We live in a culture where youth are scared of ambition, and it might even be unpopular to be seen as ambitious. Young people don’t have to be afraid of their ambition, or afraid to chase their dreams, regardless of what their peers are doing. I want to be the Miss Alabama that champions ambition and shows that on the Miss America stage.

“I want to be the Miss Alabama that champions ambition and shows that on the Miss America stage.”