The Magnolia State has a new Miss Mississippi — Vivian O’Neal of Hattiesburg.
The former Miss Pine Belt was awarded the 2023 coveted title after achieving top scores for evening wear with a sleek, fully beaded scarlet gown with a halter neckline and in the talent portion with an energetic jazz dance performance to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” a 1987 chart-topping hit by Whitney Houston.
O’Neal, who currently works as a coordinator of recruitment and strategic communication at her alma mater the University of Southern Mississippi, was all smiles after receiving the crown and a bouquet from Miss Mississippi 2022 Emmie Perkins.
However, the fifth-year competitor almost didn’t return to vie for the title this year.
“And I think that’s just a testament to God and His plan for your life,” she said. “I just give all the glory to Him and I’m so excited to start this journey.”
O’Neal was also tapped as the winner of the Quality-of-Life portion of the competition for demonstrating leadership while serving her community. The award is based on a contestant’s platform, which the Hub City native used to bring awareness to her passion, a social-educational curriculum for children with disabilities.
Her social impact initiative is called CapABLE and it’s a cause she is proud to champion as Miss Mississippi. CapABLE is a registered non-profit organization with a goal to educate and empower all students. O’Neal has already expanded CapABLE’s mission reach to 20,000 people across five states.
“I plan to expand upon progress to the point where it is a nationally recognized non-profit and that CapABLE is implemented into every single school district in Mississippi and beyond,” she said, adding the organization was inspired by her brother Josiah, who has a disability, and she plans to work to help children find connections with their classmates regardless of their abilities.
During the final round, O’Neal was asked what Miss America can do as an organization to encourage and motivate young women to participate more in the competition.
“I think the number one thing we can do is tell our story,” she answered. “I can tell the story that the only reason I got my job on Capitol Hill right out of college is because of this organization. It’s because of this organization that I have a master’s degree in higher education, it paid for that degree, and it hopefully is going to pay for my Ph.D. So, I think it comes with telling our personal story and empowering other women to be a part of this organization.”
Now that O’Neal has been crowned as Miss Mississippi, she will soon be on an appearance schedule while representing her home state. And she will now go on to represent the Magnolia State in the Miss America 2024 competition. The date and location have not yet been announced.
As for the other 37 contestants, numerous scholarships were distributed to the four alternates and six semi-finalists. Here are the contestants ranked as runner-ups and semi-finalists in the 2023 Miss Mississippi competition:
- First alternative – Miss Leaf River Valley, Neeley Robertson
- Second alternative – Miss Metro Jackson, Becky Williams
- Third alternative – Miss University, Ally Hopper
- Fourth alternative – Miss Hattiesburg, Angel Gayle Lang
- Miss All America City, Krystle Hughes
- Miss Biloxi, Katelyn Perry
- Miss Jones County, Charity Lockridge
- Miss Vicksburg, Morgan Nelson
- Miss Southern Magnolia, Kat Adcox
- Miss University of Southern Mississippi, Karsyn Ulmer
The competition was held at the Vicksburg Convention Center on June 10. It was the 90th Anniversary of the Miss Mississippi Competition.