NAME: Morgan Matlock | AGE: 24 | HOME: Lamesa | QUALIFICATIONS: Winner of the 2005 Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant • Participated in her first talent show at age four • Will compete in the 2006 Miss America Pageant, in Las Vegas, on January 21

Growing up, my teeth were so crooked they were practically growing out of my nose. I had to wear this horrible contraption called a Jones Jig. It has two metal prongs that stick out from the side of your face, and you spit when you talk. But good teeth are worth it. A smile can say a lot about you.

What you see on television the night of a pageant is, if we’re really honest, all tricks. Oh, yes. We’re all kinds of, you know, pushed up and squeezed in.

At a pageant, I like to see my competition. If I can take a look at what I’m up against, I can get that eye of the tiger. My blinders go on, and I know what I have to be.

The swimsuit event is definitely the most awkward. It’s not comfortable standing around at a backyard barbecue in your swimsuit, let alone being in front of an audience. But it can be easier to look good onstage than up close and personal, because you can slather on self-tanner and do all kinds of makeup tricks.

I know what it’s like to be told you’re not the ideal. I had an “awkward phase” from the fifth grade till about the eighth. I was chubby, and my classmates made fun of my teeth. I was bullied every day. My platform, the issue I’ve spent the year talking about as an activist, is a direct result of all that. I speak about putting an end to verbal abuse.

I’ve never answered, “World peace.” Never will.

I have a public appearance nearly every day, so I wear the crown all the time. I’m convinced I’m going to have a permanent indentation in my skull because of it. It’s funny the doors that shiny piece of metal opens. The people at Starbucks give me free coffee and stuff.

My hometown put up this big billboard of me as you come into town. It’s huge. It’s cool to drive past it, and it’s so flattering. But I don’t linger. I mean, who really wants to see their nostrils that close-up?

People do treat me differently as Miss Texas. I kind of resent it, because inside I’m still the same dorky, nerdy girl I was in middle school. The people who treated me so awfully then now act like we were the best of friends. I guess that’s the way society is.

Sometimes I’ll work out and eat right and brush and floss and all that. Other times I really just want a piece of chocolate cake.

If you’re having a fat or ugly day, stick it out, because it will pass. Put on your best pair of black pants and a black turtleneck and just strut your stuff.

I don’t let any of this go to my head. I know better. I’ve seen myself at six in the morning.