Story by Karen Petit
A 12-time national clogging champion who has appeared on NBC-TV’s America’s Got Talent is the new Miss Lander University.
Anna Joy Hulsey, 19, of Gaffney, danced her way to the opportunity to represent Lander at the Miss South Carolina competition in June 2022. Wearing a gold-sequined costume with layers of fringe for her clogging routine, Hulsey danced to “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars and won the talent competition of the program. She was sponsored by her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha.
“This is amazing,” Hulsey said after the competition as enthusiastic ZTA supporters waited for photos with her. “I never thought that I would have the chance to share my talent with my University. Now, I’m hoping to compete in Miss South Carolina. This is such a great honor.”
First runner-up was Emily-Ann Whitaker, of Bamberg, who sang “All I Ask” by Adele. She was sponsored by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Kayden Danielle Douglas, of Mount Croghan, sponsored by Gamma Phi Beta, was second runner-up.
Emcee Damion Moragne announced two special awards – Miss Congeniality, voted on by the contestants, and the People’s Choice Award, selected by a vote of students. Whitaker was the recipient of both awards.
Other contestants included Mya Rose-Xiaomin Atten, of West Columbia, sponsored by LINK; Aislinn Labra-Artega, of Spartanburg, sponsored by Somos LU, and Amber Elise-May Ballenger, of Abbeville, sponsored by the Lander English Club.
In addition to the talent competition, contestants were judged in the categories of professional wear, formal wear and on-stage questions.
Hulsey, a sophomore nursing major, is the daughter of Bruce and Sheila Hulsey. She is a graduate of Gaffney High School, where she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in swimming, and also won the school’s Best Sportsmanship awards in cheer and swimming.
At Lander, she plays intramural volleyball, is a videographer for ZTA and is the assistant to the recruitment chair for the sorority.
Dancing has long been a part of Hulsey’s life, said Mrs. Hulsey, who waited patiently after the pageant for her daughter to be photographed and greeted by friends.
“She’s taught dancing overseas in Prague and Amsterdam, and other places,” Mrs. Hulsey said. “Her dance troupe even had the chance to perform on America’s Got Talent in 2016.”
Hulsey said the academic reputation of nursing program led her to Lander. But her interest in nursing as a career came when she was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 14 and was hospitalized. “I had such a bond with the nurses taking care of me, and I wanted to have the chance to impact lives the way that the nurses had done for me.”
She said her grandmother Mollie Peeler, of Mooresboro, N.C., has been an inspiration, too. “She never fails to exhibit positivity even during the hardest of times. She keeps her spirits high as she endures the struggles that come with growing as a person and a woman.”
Kara Love, who was Miss Lander 2019 – 2020, shared her own words of wisdom for the contestants before crowning the winner. “One, be courageous. Two, hold on tight to your goals and aspirations. Three, never lose sight of what’s important to you.”
Love represented Lander in the Miss South Carolina Pageant this past June and was the recipient of a Talent Preliminary Award.
NAfME was the Miss Lander University pageant sponsor, with Dr. Lila Noonkester, chair of the Department of Music, serving as advisor. The Lander University Jazz Combo provided entertainment for the pageant.