When Sharlene Wells (BA ’88) walked across the Wilkinson Center stage as BYU’s 1983 Homecoming queen, she thought she had just qualified for the Miss Utah Pageant.
The 19-year-old had already competed once for the Miss Utah title and placed third. Happy with the results, Wells thought she and pageants were finished. Three judges, however, urged her to compete again.
“I decided to give it another shot and entered the BYU competition,” she says. “I believed it was a Miss Utah preliminary pageant.” After being crowned, she learned that BYU did not affiliate with the Utah program. So she had earned a front-row seat for the Homecoming festivities but not a place in the Miss Utah Pageant.
Rather than give up, Wells found her way to the state competition through another pageant. This time, when she competed for Miss Utah, she won. Later that year she was crowned Miss America.
Since then Sharlene Wells Hawkes has commanded many stages, whether as a professional speaker, an author, a commentator on the Kentucky Derby, a recording artist, or an executive addressing military generals.
She received ample attention as Miss America, with its press conferences and appearances, and, for good or ill, the crown stays with her a bit.
“No matter what I accomplish, I’ll likely always be known as a former Miss America,” she explains. “I could walk on the moon and the headline would read ‘Former Miss America Does Moon Walk.’ It’s been an asset and a liability. I call the title my Miss America card, and I have an instinct about when it will help me get in a door or when it is better left unused.”
For example, she did not use it when an agent saw her on a KSL sideline show and thought of her for ESPN. “You never know what lenses an interviewer looks through when it comes to pageant participants,” she says. “I wanted to be taken at face value.”
She got hired, signed a contract, and married. Hawkes eventually asked ESPN for part-time work that allowed her to live in Utah, and ESPN agreed. Hawkes was an award-winning ESPN sportscaster for 16 years, covering such world class events as World Cup Soccer, World Cup Skiing, the Kentucky Derby 1995-2004, the French Open, and Big 10 College Football 1990-1995. She has interviewed such celebrities as Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, Larry King, Donald Trump, Pele, Tony Bennett, Troy Aikman, George Strait, even Alice Cooper.
She graduated magna cum laude from BYU with a BS in Communications, and holds a master’s degree in integrated marketing communication from the University of Utah. She has also produced two albums, and has written two books.
Hawkes is partner and chief marketing officer for StoryRock, the leading provider of core technology for interactive and print historical archiving for both consumer and military use. She is also president and founder of the Remember My Service Division of StoryRock, the only company in the country to provide a full historical record service for both military units and corporations. This division also includes RMS Productions, a Department of Defense Commemorations contractor to manage and produce commemoration events and broadcasts, including the upcoming Vietnam War 50thCommemoration Opening Proclamation on Memorial Day in Washington DC.
—Charlene Renberg Winters (BA ’73, MA ’96), BYU Magazine, Fall 2006