There She Is…

There She Is…

Miss Arkansas glad she never gave up


Darynne Dahlem is as down to earth as anyone wearing a crown could possibly be. And as soon as the photo shoot is over — while she’s still laughing like a delighted kid — the crown comes off. Being Miss Arkansas in 2019 means being a businesswoman whose job is to inspire younger women to follow in her footsteps.

Dahlem, who won the title June 15 in Little Rock, has a unique kind of credibility. It was her fifth try in the Miss America system, and the last time she intended to compete. That lets her tell young women they should never give up — and that sometimes getting what you want is better when you’ve worked harder and longer to get it.

“I was always told to never give up,” says Dahlem, who grew up in Greenwood, south of Fort Smith. “I never really felt like I wasn’t gaining from the Miss Arkansas system. Even if I didn’t leave with the title of Miss Arkansas for four years, I left with scholarships, friendships and learning experiences.

“Approaching this year, I really wanted to be confident in myself — in how I felt, in how I looked, and in what I said. As Miss Arkansas, I want to continue that and teach others that it is OK to be themselves.

“I’m really just a normal person,” she adds, having already proved it by her behavior on this Wednesday afternoon to two photographers, one online editor, The Free Weekly editor and her chaperone, Toni Lindsey. “I worked really hard to get to where I am today, both academically and in the Miss Arkansas Organization. I also have a genuine love of people, and I really want to show that to my state this year as Miss Arkansas.”

“Darynne will be remembered as a Miss Arkansas for everyone,” says Lindsey, who is the director of media and publicity for the Miss Arkansas Organization and was Darynne’s director when she was Miss University of Arkansas (2017) and Miss Northwest Arkansas (2018). “You can put Darynne in a power suit and send her to address Congress about any topic, or put her in a T-shirt and shorts in the floor with a child battling cancer, and she adapts to the situation, engages them and treats them as the most important person in the room.”

Always Working

Dahlem was not a girly girl growing up, she says.

“I was a blend of tomboy and theater! I spent most days after school out at a farm riding horses and cleaning stalls and working outside. But I also grew up loving Broadway and watching movies like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Oliver!’ and ‘Annie.’”

The rest of the time, she was working in retail stores owned by her parents, Ron and Traci Lewellen, she says, “since I was 12 years old.”

“My parents have been instrumental in my success,” she adds. “They’ve always pushed me to be better. To work harder. And to keep going when I thought I would never reach my goals.”

It was “scholarships, through and through” that got Dahlem interested in the Miss America Pageant system. “When I started, I figured I would never be able to become Miss Arkansas, but I hoped that I could earn a few scholarships to pay for school. I also really believed that the system would help push me out of my comfort zone, and I was absolutely right.”

“I met Darynne the first year she competed for Miss Arkansas,” Lindsey remembers. “She had just graduated from high school and was one of, if not the, youngest contestants there. Yet she handled herself with the poise and grace of one of the veterans. On and off the stage, she was so impressive — she had whatever the ‘it’ quality is that Miss America is looking for. That year she made the Top Ten and won one of the newcomer awards. I told my pageant friend that night that Darynne would be Miss Arkansas some day.”

Laina Jennings of the Miss Apple Blossom Pageant was Dahlem’s local director this year and has known her even longer.

“I first met Darynne in 2010 when she was 13 years old,” she remembers. “She was a contestant in our Outstanding Teen Pageant. She forgot her shoes for the fitness competition, so I took my shoes off for her to wear. My first impression of her was that she was a bubbly teenager. And that she liked to talk — like me!

“Her strengths have always been her interview skills and ability to express her self intelligently and eloquently,” Jennings adds. “She is very outgoing, enjoys having fun and has a great sense of humor. She will be remembered for her compassion for animals, her love of children, bringing awareness to her social impact initiative and being an amazing representative for the state of Arkansas.”

‘OK to be real’

A significant portion of the scoring in the Miss America system is allotted to interview, which includes the contestant’s platform — an issue on which she plans to speak during her reign. Dahlem’s is called “Know Who You Are.”

“I focus on addiction awareness and the root of where addiction begins,” she explains. “It’s important to understand that the younger generation needs to be equipped with the tools to stand up to the pressure to abuse substances like drugs and alcohol. This includes having conversations about goal-setting, understanding self-worth and being confident in who you are.”

She wants, she says, to encourage the young women who might be watching her journey “it’s OK to be real.”

“It’s OK to not always look Instagram ready,” she elaborates. “Being different is beautiful. Being yourself will always be good enough. I want young girls to know that if I can be Miss Arkansas, then so can they.”

“Darynne has one of the best interviews that I have ever seen,” enthuses Lindsey. “She has won the Overall Interview award more times than any other contestant (three!). This category is her favorite, and it shows. She never rests on her past work, though — she’s always reading, researching, learning and watching the news. She always participates in the mock interviews that are set up for her. She always works to better what could easily be said is already ‘the best.’

“I think one of her biggest strengths in life is her adaptability, and that translated very well to competing in the Miss America organization. No matter what changes have been thrown at her, she’s ready to accept them. No matter what a judges panel asks her in her interview or on stage, she is ready for it.”

Lindsey says she knew this was Dahlem’s year.

“During the process, and especially during competition week, I just felt a peace about it,” she remembers. “We’d talked a lot about this year, and though her dream was to be Miss Arkansas, this was going to be her last, win or not; she would pursue her master’s degree on her way to med school with all the scholarships she had previously won if it wasn’t her year. I would have been proud of Darynne either way because she’s truly left it all on the stage!”

Lindsey says the advice she’s given Dahlem for the national competition is “remember it is her walking on that stage — to be true to herself with what she wears, says and does — and to have the Miss America moment she’s dreamed about and worked so hard for.”

Dahlem says, “I really don’t find any of it to be scary.”

“I’m in a win/win situation. After the week of Miss America, I will either come home Miss America or I will come home as Miss Arkansas. Miss Arkansas is the dream that I have always wanted and dreamed about. I am so excited about representing the Natural State at Miss America.”



Miss America


Traditionally held in Atlantic City in September, the Miss America Pageant has not yet set this year’s location or date. Watch for updates here, at and at

Categories: Cover Story