When Carly Mathis won Miss Georgia, she took her family's pageant legacy to the next step.
Mathis is one of the few Miss Georgia winners whose mother also competed. Her mother, Wendy Mathis, won Miss Albany in 1985 as Wendy Gillespie, but was unable to make the top ten. After 22 years attending the Miss America competition, Wendy will finally have the privilege of watching her daughter compete.
"It's still overwhelming," Wendy Mathis said. "We're just so proud of all her hard work. She put 110 percent in the organization this year. I guess you can say this is her first job interview, so we're proud she got her first job out of college."
Bedecked with her crown and sporting her winner's sash, Carly Mathis was beaming with excitement and pride Sunday in the Columbus Mariott. She said she got little sleep the night before, but was energetic to get started on preparations for the Miss America competition in September.
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"I'm just ready for the ball rolling and start preparing for Miss America," Mathis said. "I obviously have to perform my duties as Miss Georgia, and that's a full time job, but I'll be preparing for Miss America pageant and that will be full time as well. I'm excited and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Mathis, 22, came close to the title last year, when she was named as first runner-up. She doesn't regret the loss, however — she was excited to be given the chance to improve her performance in the following year, and to support the 2012 winner, Leighton Jordan.
"I just really wanted to do well," Mathis said. "I was so proud of Leighton Jordan. She is an incredible person and it was her time. And I knew God had a plan for me. I got to go back to school and graduate. I couldn't think of a better time for me to be Miss Georgia."
Losing the title last year also gave her the chance to grow closer to Jordan, who she supported through the Miss America competition.
"Sometimes that doesn't happen with a first runner up and a winner," Mathis said. "There are girls that get a little jealous, I guess, but I was so incredibly happy for Leighton. I knew how great of a heart she had and how passionate she was about the organization."
Mathis hails from Leesburg, a small city near Albany. She shares a singing talent with American Idol winner Phillip Phillips and country singer Luke Bryan, and hopes one day to add her name to the list of people who have made her town more recognizable.
"They went to Lee County High School. I went to Deerfield-Windsor in Albany," Mathis said. "They are both so talented, and though they're a little more famous than I am I hope that one day I might be just as famous as they are. I'm excited to say that I'm from the same town as them."
But law, rather than vocals, may one day be Mathis' claim to fame. The Miss Atlanta representative graduated from the University of Georgia in May with a degree in digital and broadcast journalism. She hopes to be a political or law correspondent, and plans to use the $15,000 scholarship she won when she became Miss Georgia to achieve her goals.
"I plan to continue my education with the money that I've won in the Miss Georgia scholarship," she said. "I want to attend law school and hopefully will start law school next fall. I'm not allowed to go back to school or take up other employment for the next year while I'm Miss Georgia, but with the scholarship money it would be silly not to continue my education."
Until the Miss America competition begins in Atlantic City, New Jersey in September, Mathis will spend much of her time in Columbus. The stay will give her the opportunity to visit area family more, and to become more familiar with the city she considers a second home.
"My aunt and my uncle live here and some of my cousins," she said. "My grandfather is a retired minister, and he was a minister here before going to Augusta and Albany. Since I will be here for a lot of my reign I will have a comfort and a familiarity to turn to while I'm here."
She'll also be working on her platform of heart health with the American Heart Association and Children's Healthcare in Atlanta. Because several family members have suffered from heart complications in the past, the cause is close to her.
"Most of my family has struggled with some sort of heart issue," she said. "My grandfather died of heart disease. My grandmother had a heart attack. I suffered from high cholesterol when I was a little heavier than I am now. I've seen what it can do to a family and how it can influence people."
Though she will be busy with preparations until the Miss America competition, she hopes to be an approachable competitor that will catch the eyes of judges in the Miss America competition.
"I think I'm a very approachable person and I love talking to people," Mathis said. "I can only go there and do my best. I may be what the judges are looking for or I may not but I can only be myself. It's given me so much confidence and shaped me in who I am today, so I hope girls will continue in this organization."