Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
HIGHLAND Katie Millar was really an outside-the-box contestant for Miss America.
Not only was Miss Utah the only one to wear a one-piece, modest swimsuit in the physical fitness segment, but she played her electric violin with only three working strings. (The fourth broke just as she started the fast-paced "Souvenir d'Amerique.")
She put her $700 beaded gown up against dresses that easily cost $10,000 or more. It wasn't slit or low-cut, and where it criss-crossed in front, she sewed it up.
She's not accustomed to wearing makeup or flashy jewelry.
Add that to the fact that she's young only 19 at the time of the competition and this is her first time competing in any beauty pageants.
That didn't stop her from securing a place among the top 10 or from winning over not only judges but fellow contestants at the January event. (A number of the other women told the TV cameras they would vote for Miss Utah for Miss Congeniality.)
She was fine with fielding the traditional "Mormon" questions from pageant judges: What do you think of polygamy? What's your opinion on abortion? Would you vote for Mitt Romney for president?
Millar knows the path she is pursuing is different, maybe even seen as odd by the rest of the world.
"I wanted to represent BYU, my church, my family and be who I was. I told them at the pageant I'm probably the meatloaf mom from Utah," Millar said.
She was surprised to find herself at the Miss America Pageant. It was never one of her original goals.
"I'm not title-hungry," she said.
In real life, she is a brainy, disciplined college student with a bent for all things neuroscientific and child-related.
She's the concerned sister of a sibling diagnosed with juvenile diabetes thus her choice for her platform.
She's a good daughter who's willing to pull weeds for her sister's backyard wedding reception the day before she's scheduled to compete in a state beauty pageant.
And she's very sure of herself.
She recognizes that graduating from high school at 17, being a senior at Brigham Young University and competing in the Miss America pageant at 19 is unusual.
"I would say (to girls out there interested in beauty pageants) to definitely try if it's what you want but have a purpose for being there. Have a reason for running and make sure your motivation is pure. It's a hard job," she said.
Her parents say she's handled the competition and the demands of the past year beautifully.
"I think she's wonderful," said her dad. "I'm really proud of what she's stood for. You knew her qualities would shine through."
Her mother said 120 people traveled to Las Vegas to support her.
Lynne Smith, executive director for the Miss Utah Pageant, said Millar is truly remarkable.
"She's so composed. She is so well-spoken and so well-read. She was able to let those judges see who she is in a short 12-minute interview."
Smith said she supported Millar's decision to stay with a conservative wardrobe even when that meant she had to pull together new outfits at the last minute after a disagreement arose between the former director and Millar.
"I've never been the kind to think clothes or makeup make the girl. It's more about who she is," Millar said. "I was fine with it."
Before she entered the Miss Utah Pageant, Millar never wore makeup. In fact, she had to carefully watch the other Miss Utah contestants to learn how to apply it.
Because she's allergic to metals, she built her own long, diamond clip earrings.
She and her mother and a seamstress built sleeves and a bodice piece into the little black dress the pageant provided.
On stage, she transformed her talent number to a three-string arrangement after her string broke.
"I've learned you make plans and you make plans and then you adjust your plans," Millar said.
"I was actually more nervous that she might make Miss America," said Bret Millar, looking over at his wife, Rita, who agrees. "We like having her here.""I like being home, and I'm looking forward to getting back to school," said Katie Millar, "although it's great going to elementary schools to talk about juvenile diabetes. At one school, when I was done, a little 6-year-old boy stood up and shouted, 'I have diabetes!' like it was a badge of honor. If it's even for this one little kid, It's worth it."