SHERIDAN — A few hours after she received the Miss Wyoming crown in late June, Sheridan resident Becky Bridger was basking in the glow of her victory when she was informed that the contest judges wanted to see her.
Bridger didn’t know what the meeting entailed but soon found out it had massive significance. One of the judges, Hugh Hayes, told Bridger she had the potential to win Miss America 2019 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September.
Hayes, who has worked as a Broadway producer for 30 years in New York City, said he wanted to help Bridger achieve the lofty feat. Over lunch the next day, Hayes explained the training process, noting that it would entail more than two months of intense work. Would she still be interested?
Bridger quickly agreed.
“It was kind of scary because the day after I was crowned, I had all this pressure and it was a big decision to say, ‘Yes, I want to do this,’” Bridger said. “This could be a crazy opportunity for my whole future. It was one of those ‘now or never’ things and I had to think about it for like 30 seconds and I was like, ‘Here we go.’”
The past seven weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for Bridger that included trips to New York and Orlando, Florida, with a trip to Hawaii possibly in the future.
The 22-year-old Bridger has met with Miss America sponsors and potential business partners; stuck to a rigorous exercise and diet program; worked on her adoption platform; learned about pageant makeup and hair techniques; practiced mock interviews; rehearsed her song for the talent portion of the contest; made appearances as Miss Wyoming; worked as an office specialist at the Sheridan Recreation District; and stayed in consistent communication with her sponsors, advisors and Miss Wyoming board members.
Bridger returned from her travels earlier this week but her schedule appears to be just as hectic. A normal day in Sheridan means an early morning workout; breakfast of eggs, carrots and almonds; work at the rec district; contest preparation and meetings; working out from 3:30 to 5 p.m.; more meetings until 8 or sometimes 10 p.m.; filling out Miss America paperwork; and then doing it all over the next day.
Bridger said the support has been overwhelmingly positive, although the funds, time and attention recently given to her has felt odd.
“People really believe in me, and that’s enough for me to work hard and try to win this title,” Bridger said. “I won’t be devastated if I don’t win because I’ve put in the work, but if I do win, that would be absolutely amazing.”
Amy Hayes, a Mary Kay independent executive senior sales director, serves as Bridger’s Miss America makeup sponsor. She was also one of the judges at Miss Wyoming.
Amy Hayes (no relation to Hugh Hayes) said Bridger’s extraordinary vocal talent, authenticity and natural beauty stood out.
“As a group (of judges), we just said, ‘There’s something about her,’” Amy Hayes said.
Hugh Hayes agreed, saying he immediately saw Bridger’s potential during the Miss Wyoming preliminary interview process.
“I could tell right away that this is the contestant that clearly is operating from a very healthy vantage point,” he said. “Within two minutes, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness. Could this be? Is this really what I think this is?’ And I think it is.”
Bridger’s uncommon genuineness struck the judge.
“You get these coached, programmed robots, and that’s not what it is anymore,” Hugh Hayes said. “I think that what [Bridger] has done is sort of capture the future of what contestants are going to have to be.”
Indeed, this year marks a turning point in the history of Miss America. The 51 contestants will be the first group to perform with no swimsuit and leisure competition. Instead of walking in a bikini and heels, each woman will have a live conversation with the judges about her past highlights and how she will use them as Miss America.
The evening gown competition will also get revamped this year. Rather than walking out in a dress, competitors will wear an outfit of their choosing and speak about their social platforms.
Bridger is adopted and her platform focuses on issues of identity common but not limited to adopted children and adoptive families.
Hugh Hayes said working with Bridger and seeing the passion she has for her platform has been refreshing.
“She really thinks she can change this,” Hugh Hayes said. “Perhaps that’s naive. Maybe she is a little gullible. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that she has conviction in her beliefs, and, God, how rare is that?”
With Hugh Hayes’ assistance, Bridger recently spent five days in New York City with him, her manager Jenni Reed and Amy Hayes. Hugh Hayes introduced Bridger to a wide variety of entertainers, fashion designers and vocal instructors.
As an observer, Amy Hayes was extremely impressed with Bridger’s personality and composure.
“She was so in the moment with those people,” Amy Hayes said. “She was so interested in who they were and interested in their story.”
Reed agreed, and said most people agreed to help Bridger shortly after meeting her.
“She really likes connection,” Reed said. “In everything that she does, she wants to have purpose, she wants to have an impact … She’s so sweet and so real and authentic. That’s just kind of who she is, but it’s also purposeful on her end. She wants to grow.”
Reed will spend the next few weeks with Bridger preparing for the private judges interview and onstage conversation. Reed is also attempting to organize a public viewing party in Sheridan for the Miss America television broadcast on ABC, which begins Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.
Bridger hopes to advance far enough to perform her version of the song, “At Last” on ABC, which could open doors all across the entertainment industry.
Despite the praise from others and Bridger’s usual self-confidence, she is sometimes surprised by what her supporters see in her.
“People really think I’m capable (of winning),” Bridger said. “That’s the one thing where I’m still like, ‘Are you sure?’”
If Bridger performs well and finishes at or near the top, Hugh Hayes believes she could strengthen the Miss America organization — which has dealt with significant leadership turmoil over the past year.
Bridger leaves later this month for the Miss America competition and must maintain a strict focus during that time.
“I can’t afford a candy bar right now,” Bridger said. “I can’t afford to eat, like, 10 pieces of pizza like I want to. It’s go time.”
Bridger’s Miss America performance will entail a delicate balance of being polished yet true to herself. The preparation process has propelled full-force ahead since late June, and the rest of the country will soon meet Miss Wyoming.