Petal’s Miss Hospitality Annaleigh Buckley has spent the last several months traveling the state with family members, including her Little Miss Hospitality, in what has become known as #FieldTripFridays. These excursions from Vickburg and north Mississippi, the Delta, Gulf Coast, and all points in between have helped her prepare for the 70th annual Mississippi Miss Hospitality Pageant taking place Friday and Saturday nights at the Saenger Theater.
“I’ve been traveling all over our great state and learning all about Mississippi,” she said. “We’ve toured the state by visiting museums and historic landmarks while learning about our people, history, and culture. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for our state.”
Buckley and two other locals, Miss Hattiesburg Ariana Craft and Miss Lamar County Blakely Baudoin, are enjoying showing the other 40 contestants the warm hospitality the Hub City offers.
Contestants arrived Sunday and were welcomed by Mayor Toby Barker and others during a news conference on Monday.
“We hope you’ll like it so much here you’ll consider coming back to Southern Miss or William Carey,” he said.
The girls’ days have been filled with rehearsals, a tour of the city, providing community service at Edwards Street Fellowship Center, painting bowls for this year’s Empty Bowls fundraiser and visiting Forrest General Hospital, while having a good time each evening with parties and meet-and-greets.
An autograph party is scheduled from 2-4 p.m. Friday in the food court at Turtle Creek Mall and brunch on Saturday morning will honor Mississippi’s First Lady Deborah Bryant.
Contestants have had one-on-one interviews with the judges and will be narrowed down to a Top 10 by the end of Friday night’s competition. On Saturday, those 10 will compete for the title, which is currently held by XXXXXXXX. Saturday’s show is already sold out and just a few tickets remained for Friday night’s competition.
During the week, competitors are also honoring the memory of Starkville’s Miss Hospitality Lake Little, who was killed in a plane crash earlier in the month. Each of the contestants is wearing a pair of pilot’s wings on her sash. The wings have the Miss Hospitality crown in the center and the words, Fly High Lake Little, across the bottom. A portion of the official program is also dedicated in memory of Little.
“I know this week is a little bit heavy, given that one of your colleagues is not here to go through this experience with you,” Barker said, “But I hope that in memory of her and in honor of her and in celebration of the 42 best friends you’re going to walk away with, you’ll find a meaningful experience this week, because we need you to come alive for your state and live a life of passion.”
Miss Hattiesburg Ariana Craft has been busy preparing for this week’s competition by practicing her speech and commercial daily for the last several months. “For interview, I have researched topics that interest me and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with our judges,” she said.
Not familiar with the state pageant when asked about competing, Craft got busy learning more about what she’d be doing. “I decided it was now or never,” she said. “I’m so glad I took the change to try something new and learn and grow new skills.”
She’s eager to show her fellow contestants what she already knows about the Hub City – “that this city has it all.”
Craft said from her favorite food to entertainment and atmosphere, Hattiesburg is something special. “I can’t wait to share the beauty of my hometown with the other contestants and experience it in a completely different way alongside them during competition week.”
In her commercial for the Hub City, Craft takes her audience on a ride through Hattiesburg.
“I will highlight the amazing activities, restaurants, and shopping, as well as our very own Southern Miss.”
In the fall, Craft will be a freshman at The University of Southern Mississippi where she will major in biochemistry with hopes of going on to medical school and becoming a psychiatrist.
She is the daughter of Kevin and Jennifer Craft and is an only child, which she loves.
Her Little Miss Hospitality is Emily Calhoun.
“During my senior year I picked up her and her sister after school every day and babysat them,” Craft said. “If I could have both as my littles I would have. They are both too sweet and I love them equally.”
Since being chosen her county’s representative in the state pageant, Blakely Boudoin has been learning all about her home state. “I have loved traveling and getting to see all of our beautiful state throughout this past year,” she said. “Participating in local events has also helped me prepare for the pageant because I get to experience all of the different projects and businesses in my area.
Her decision to participate in the pageant stems from this state where she’s grown up.
“I honestly believe there is no better place to spend your life,” she said. “I wanted to participate in this program because I want to show others just how amazing not only Lamar County is, but how amazing Mississippi is. I have so much pride for this place and its people that I just want everyone to know about it. I feel so honored to have been allowed to represent my home town and to be involved in such a wonderful program as Miss Hospitality.”
She’s excited to be so close to home to have the hometown crowd of family and friends there to cheer her on. “They’ve all been so supporting and very encouraging,” she said. “I definitely won’t be as nervous knowing that my “village” is in the audience.”
Boudoin is a 2019 graduate of Sumrall High School and will be entering Mississippi State University in the fall where she will major in biomedical engineering with a pre-medical emphasis. Because of her love for children and a passion for helping others, she believes a career as a pediatric surgeon is the perfect route for her.
In her 20-second commercial, Baudoin will highlight both small and local businesses
“Businesses that were created here are such a large part of our economy and I love to emphasize that,” she said. “As far as my Mississippi Speech, I will be talking about an area that is so close to my heart: Care! Mississippi loves and Mississippi cares! I’m going to make sure everyone knows it.”
The daughter of Blake and Ashley Baudoin, she has two siblings, Hampton and MacKinnon.
For her Little Miss Hospitality, Baudoin chose Austyn Eades, who she describes as fiercely independent, extremely smart, and very outgoing.
“She is the perfect example that Mississippi is a great place to start a family and raise your kids,” Baudoin said. “Our schools are better than ever, our communities are growing, and people love it here— I can see these things at work through her. She also reminds me a little of myself when I was her age, I can see my own sassiness when I talk to her.
In addition to her travels around the state, Annaleigh Buckley has also been reading and researching tourism and economic development in the state.
“I participated in Mississippi’s Distinguished Young Woman program in 2018, where I represented Petal,” she said. “Growing up in Mississippi I have always had a love for our state. I grew up going to the Miss Hospitality pageant and even dancing in it as part of the entertainment. I always looked up to Miss Hospitality, but I never quite understood what it was until a couple of years ago.
Buckley said she loves her home state and she wants to bring as many people here to show them everything we have to offer.
“It’s an honor that our area is the home of such an incredible program as Miss Hospitality,” Buckley said. “I hope that the contestants can see while being in the Pine Belt that the hospitality they experience while they are here reflects the tradition of the program. I hope each contestant not only leaves with great memories from the week but also with the hospitality we have to offer.”
Buckley will be a junior this fall at The University of Mississippi pursuing a degree in exercise science. She plans on going to physical therapy school and hopes to one day be a physical therapist at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson.
The daughter of Steve and Kristi Buckley, she has one older brother, Slade.
Buckley chose someone pretty special as her Little Miss Hospitality. While Anne Makay Fairley is Buckley’s cousin, she’s more like a little sister. “There’s no one else I would want on this journey with me,” she said of the 10-year-old who enjoys dancing, singing and drawing. The daughter of Jay and Kristie Fairley, Anne Makey has traveled the state with Buckley during her #
Field Trip Fridays. “I’ve enjoyed learning about the state with her and I think it’s awesome that she’s learning this much at such a young age.”
During her Petal commercial, Buckley will highlight the many things the Friendly City has to offer – in just 20 seconds. “I talk about our amazing school district, the traditions that Petal has, how livable our city it and of course, about the people.”