Yes, Ali Nugent’s bio clearly states that she won the title of Little Miss Gingerbread when she was 18 months old. But the current Miss Texas USA was no toddler in a tiara — you know, the spray-tanned, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo-type child who’s often seen on television smothered by sequins and demanding a sippy cup filled with “special juice.”
“That throws people off, I think, when they read it,” Nugent said. “They probably assume I did a ton of pageants when I was little, and then I was a Teen, and then I was a Miss.”
In reality, Nugent’s early victory was followed by a long hiatus. She didn’t compete in another pageant until vying for the Miss Dallas USA title during her senior year at Highland Park High School.
Although shorts and T-shirts had been Nugent’s uniform of choice throughout high school, she decided to re-enter the pageant world at the encouragement of a family friend. It would be cool, after all, to give a demure beauty-queen wave in the hallways of HPHS as a newly crowned titleholder. But as the youngest competitor in her division, Nugent found the Miss Dallas USA 2011 experience to be “extremely intimidating.”
“All the girls above me had already been local titleholders and had already competed at Miss Texas [USA],” Nugent said, “and this was my first pageant as a senior in high school. So that was kind of nerve-wracking.”
Although Nugent was ready to hang up her heels after failing to win a local title or place at Miss Texas USA 2012, her mother, Jamie, surprised her by submitting the paperwork needed for her daughter to give the state competition one last shot, as Miss North Texas USA.
“I’m thankful now, obviously, for my parents really pushing me and encouraging me to go back and compete for a second time,” Nugent said. “My goal was top 15.”
If she made the top 15 at the 2013 competition and enjoyed herself, Nugent reasoned, she’d come back the next year with her sights set on placing within the top 5, ultimately aiming to take home the 2015 crown.
“It’s funny how if you make a plan, God completely laughs in your face,” Nugent said with a laugh. “I mean, I was called first for top 5. I didn’t even pay attention to the choreography of what we were supposed to do in top 5.”
Nugent’s come-from-behind win at the Miss Texas USA 2013 competition guaranteed constant allusions to the proverbial “dark horse running.” Even physically, the description seems to fit, as Nugent has intensely brown hair, which she recently dyed to cover up a few strands of experimental highlights that caused an online frenzy among her fans.
In just a few short days, Nugent may find herself in the midst of a much bigger change than that of the hair-color variety — the kind where Donald Trump becomes her boss; she gains a New York apartment; and the Diamond Nexus Miss USA crown becomes her most-often-worn accessory.
Now that she and her 11 suitcases have settled in at Planet Hollywood in Vegas, Nugent feels confident that she’s ready for the pressures of the Miss USA competition, which NBC will broadcast to millions of viewers on June 16.
“[Ali’s] not easily intimidated,” said Miss Texas USA state director Gail Clark. “She’s met all kinds of celebrities and people, and nothing ever seems to intimidate her. She is very relaxed, and she has a lot of substance and content.”
Together, those ingredients combine to give Nugent a quality that’s difficult for any beauty queen to master: relatability.
“It’s hard when you have someone come in who’s been a ‘Pageant Patty’ for so long, and then they win; it’s hard to relate to someone like that when you’re someone like me,” Nugent said. “I just hope my story can get out there and inspire other young girls.”
Even if she doesn’t capture the Miss USA crown, Nugent is well on her way to making an impact that reaches far beyond her reign as a state titleholder. She’s joined with Helping a Hero to establish her own organization, Crowns for Heroes, which helps build homes for wounded troops. She’s received well wishes from admirers living as far away as China. And she’s gained the respect of those closest to her in the process.
“No one’s reached their full potential at 20 years old. But she’s growing … and I think that a lot of what she’s done has prepared her for the rest of her life,” Clark said. “The stars are the limit for her.”
Karley Osborn was a contestant in the 2012 edition of the Miss Texas pageant, which is a separate competition from Miss Texas USA.