SOCASTEE, S.C. (WBTW) — This year’s 2022 Miss South Carolina has some local ties to the Grand Strand.

Jill Dudley grew up in Socastee and graduated from Socastee High School. She attended college at Coastal Carolina University, and now holds the title of Miss South Carolina after being crowned last week.

“I was so in shock and I was so happy. I had to tell myself, ‘Jill, stand up, they [have to] put a crown on your head,’” Dudley said.

Mostly an athlete growing up, pageants weren’t top of mind for the Socastee native. During her junior year of high school, she decided to compete for the first time, choosing the Miss Socastee High School pageant.

“I did the high school pageants, but nothing really ever came out of it,” Dudley said. “I didn’t really win.”

It wasn’t until later down the road when Dudley was a sophomore at Coastal Carolina University that she took to the stage again. To try and make money to pay for her books, she decided to enter CCU’s Miss Teal and Bronze pageant.

“I entered the pageant, and I won and they told me it was a preliminary to Miss South Carolina,” she said. “I was a little bit nervous, a little bit hesitant, but I decided why not try it out?”

Dudley said competing in her first Miss South Carolina pageant lit a fire under her. She came back each year with more experience and more determination. She most recently competed as Miss Hartsville. On her third and final year, she won.

Leading up to that moment, Dudley spent months doing interview prep, getting involved in the Hartsville community and practicing her talent — singing.

“I sang ‘Never Enough’ from The Greatest Showman and I actually sang that song at my first prelim when I was Miss Teal and Bronze,” she said. “I was very hesitant at first about it, but then I realized that it is a piece that really showcases just my voice and I have the ability to just give the drama with the song.”

Little did she know that song would win her overall talent. After three nights of preliminaries; evening gown, talent and private interviews, it was time for the finals.

Dudley advanced to the top ten, then to the top five. The competition came down to her and Miss Florence, Berkley Bryant.

“Once they called my name, I just dropped down to the ground,” Dudley said. “They put the crown on my head and gave me the flowers and I just started to walk and it was honestly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”

Before heading to Miss America in Connecticut this December, Dudley will be busy making appearances, attending leadership conferences and promoting diabetes awareness. That is her social impact initiative for the competition. It was inspired by her younger brother who has Type One diabetes.