As a little girl, Taylor “Tally” Bevis could have never imagined entering the world of Miss America as Miss Tennessee, or leading a conversation on voter registration and participation across the state.
“I was a total tomboy. I did not wear dresses. I hated all of that. I grew up in athletics and dance and never in the pageant world,” Bevis said. “I was not your ideal candidate for the Miss America organization, that’s for sure.”
At 9:15 a.m. Friday, July 29, at the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Bevis will speak on her experiences as Miss Tennessee, as well as her social impact initiative, Vote with a Vision. Bevis spent a year of service as Miss Tennessee advocating for voting rights in 2021.
“I’m looking forward to talking about the setbacks, the challenges, but also just the conversation that I hopefully started. I’m the first Miss Tennessee that’s really ever worked on voter advocacy, civic literacy and education,” Bevis said. “I think that a big part of my year, naturally, is breaking through misconceptions of what Miss America is, Miss Tennessee is, what we stand for as an organization, and why it matters anymore.”
Bevis will share a behind-the-scenes look into her life and advocacy through her presentation for the Chautauqua Speaks series.
“When you take the crown off, when you take the sash off, and you are you, and you’re an advocate, and you’re a brand ambassador, and you’re working, and you’re really making an effort — that’s where the magic happens,” Bevis said.
Bevis first entered the pageant world seven years ago, winning local titles before competing for the title of Miss Tennessee. She competed three times before winning the title in 2021; her first year competing she received last place, and in her second year she was a part of the final four. For Bevis, 2021 was the perfect moment.
“When I walked into the interview room, as Miss Nashville going into the Miss Tennessee job interview, I talked about the fact that I would be Miss Tennessee heading into a midterm election year,” Bevis said. “So not only did I think that what I was doing was important, but I also felt like the timing was right.”
In 2016, Tennessee ranked 50th in the country for voter turn out. This sparked Bevis’ focus on voter advocacy.
“I was walking into a year working on voter registration in a state that’s historically very low in voter turnout. That means that even when you’re registered, we are, as Tennesseans, the least likely to show up,” Bevis said. “The first hurdle is registration. The second hurdle is actually voting.”
Bevis spent her year as Miss Tennessee traveling the state and speaking to thousands of students, lobbying in Washington with U.S. Senators and speaking in front of the state senate.
“My goal as Miss Tennessee was to start the conversation. So I traveled over 20,000 miles alone across the state in my trusty red Jeep,” Bevis said.
Across those miles, Bevis faced both challenging and rewarding experiences; she believes that if you can fail forward, you aren’t really losing.
“I always say 90% of the job of Miss Tennessee is behind a computer screen booking, managing, emailing, scheduling, advocating, logistics, building partnerships, making the tough phone calls, and making an impact yourself — not just expecting someone to do it for you,” Bevis said. “Ten percent of your job is what people see. It’s the crown. It’s the sash, it’s the glam, it’s whatever people expect to see. So, much to my mother’s chagrin, I rarely wore the crown. I felt like I could do a lot more without it on.”
One of Bevis’ most challenging moments was the time she spent speaking in front of the Tennessee Senate.
“I got to literally look my state senators in the eye and remind them that Miss Tennessee isn’t just a crown. It isn’t just the sparkles. It isn’t just whatever their parents’ Miss Tennessee looked like — that Miss Tennessee stands for something a lot bigger,” Bevis said. “…I called for information, and I called for equal access for voters in those minutes.”
Bevis, a member of the NOW Generation and lifelong Chautauquan whose nickname “Tally” spawned from the restaurant The Tally-Ho, feels her history as a Chautauquan prepared her for a year as Miss Tennessee.
“Chautauqua taught me to just pursue it and see what happens, and to be a lifelong learner, and be willing to be bad at something so that you can be good at it at some point,” Bevis said.