Miss America experience of a lifetime

Published 11:22 am Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The mirror image of Amanda Tapley’s fingers reflects off the front of a beautiful Steinway piano on the stage of Brock Hall at Samford University.

“Wow, you can tell I haven’t practiced in a while,” Tapley said.

Tapley’s hectic schedule of appearances continues to keep her away from these ivory keys even after returning from the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas earlier this month.

“I would have never imagined a year ago that I would even be Miss Alabama, let alone be competing in the Miss America pageant,” Tapley said. “But it was the experience of a lifetime.”

Tapley said she’s grown a lot by serving as Miss Alabama — learning to handle a hectic schedule and plenty of pressure. The pressure was definitely on during competition for Miss America. Tapley said contestants rehearsed daily and taped the reality show until 1 a.m. some days.

Every contestant travels to Las Vegas to win, Tapley said, but she just focused on being the best representative for the state she could be.

“It’s important to realize that it’s not just about the person wearing the crown,” Tapley said. “It’s about all the other girls whose lives are changed just by being there.”

Tapley didn’t walk away empty handed. She was named one of four America’s Choice winners, which landed her in the Top 15, and she was the second runner-up for the Quality of Life award.

These awards come as quite an accomplishment for a first-time competitor.

“I grew up as a tomboy, playing football in the yard with my cousins,” Tapley said. “In high school I was more focused on piano and tennis. Pageants, I never even considered until a few friends decided to compete in Shelby County’s Junior Miss.”

Junior Miss ended up being Tapley’s only pageant until she competed for the title of Miss Samford and then Miss Alabama last year. She made the decision to go after that title when she realized how much scholarship money was up for grabs.

“I just thought how incredible it would be to have the chance to win scholarship money and promote community service,” Tapley said.

Even though pageants weren’t necessarily on Tapley’s radar screen in high school, community service was. She often made trips to Children’s Hospital where she would visit with kids in the hematology and oncology units.

When she saw what they were going through, Tapley said she asked herself, “Why wait until medical school to start helping these kids.”

So, she didn’t wait.

Tapley co-founded Music for a Cure with her brother Jeff. The siblings had been heavily influenced musically by their grandfather, , who at one time chaired the department of music at Samford. They started the project off by selling CDs of their favorite piano pieces.

From that first CD alone, the two raised $4,000 for pediatric research at St. Jude’s hospital.

Tapley eventually adopted the project as her platform for Miss Alabama and has now raised almost $27,000 for pediatric oncology research.

Raising the money for oncology research not only helps others, but has put Tapley closer to her dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist. She’s received about $25,000 in scholarship money as Miss Alabama and has had the experience of meeting kids at both St. Jude’s and Children’s Hospital, while raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network.

Tapley has a few words of advice for future contestants: pray to have the heart of a servant and take advantage of every opportunity thrown your way.Tapley has four months left on her reign. After that she looks forward to re-enrolling in school at Samford.

She will crown a new Miss Alabama in June.