Fayetteville native Juliana Morehouse-Locklear grew up idolizing the competitors in Miss USA and other traditional beauty pageants.
It made sense: Her mother, Lynn Morehouse, was crowned Miss North Carolina USA in 1994, then placed as third runner-up at that year’s Miss USA contest.
More than a decade later, Morehouse-Locklear's seventh birthday party had a Miss USA theme, complete with its own pageant.
“I was Miss USA, of course, because I was the birthday girl,” Morehouse told the news website Insider. “And we did a little evening gown competition in my foyer at home."
Now she’s vying for the real Miss USA crown — and making history by doing it as a “Mrs.”
Morehouse-Locklear’s foray into pageant competition wasn’t just the product of adolescent make-believe. She competed in her first pageant — Miss North Carolina Teen USA — at age 16, finishing as third runner-up.
“I got bitten by the bug and I got hooked,” she said.
Since then, she’s competed in various Miss USA state pageants — she was a contestant for Miss North Carolina USA and Miss South Carolina USA in 2019, and Miss Maine USA in 2022 and 2023.
She won the latter pageant after having moved to Maine. But the pursuit of that title — she’ll represent Maine in Miss USA — created some unanticipated conflicts.
Morehouse-Locklear met Taylor Locklear at a family Christmas party in Fayetteville back in 2016. Locklear, also a Fayetteville native, attended Cape Fear High School and had just graduated from The Citadel. Morehouse was in her senior year at Fayetteville Academy. The two hit it off and began dating. She eventually moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to attend the College of Charleston, and Locklear moved, too.
He now owns a drywall installation company in Charleston. In time, he proposed to Morehouse-Locklear outside their church. Morehouse was overjoyed, but she almost immediately recognized a dilemma: Miss USA contestants were not allowed to be married during competition or during their subsequent yearlong reign.
So she had to make a decision: Marriage or the pageant.
The couple set a wedding date for April of this year, a few months after the Miss Maine pageant was to be held. If she won the Maine pageant in November, they decided they would move the wedding date so she could take part in this month’s Miss USA pageant.
If not, the wedding would go as planned.
In fact, the wedding went as planned, thanks to a surprise rule adjustment. Last year, Miss Universe — the organization that runs Miss USA — decided that for the 2023 pageant year, for the first time ever, married contestants would be allowed to compete.
It was a change Morehouse-Locklear described as a breath of fresh air. After winning the Miss Maine USA title in November, the couple married in April — in a way, a history-making event, since it technically made Morehouse-Locklear the first active state titleholder to tie the knot.
“I'm a living, walking example that it's possible to be married and be a state title holder,” she said.
Now comes her next chapter: competing on the national stage. Morehouse-Locklear arrived in Reno, Nevada, for the competition last week. She is spending nine days preparing for the biggest pageant of her life. The Miss USA final is scheduled for Saturday.
Ready for the competition
She comes prepared. She says she’s bringing “an entire rack of clothes” with her –– with enough outfits to allow for multiple wardrobe changes throughout the day. She has also trained with pageant coaches to perfect her stage presence and walk, and has been drilled to respond to almost any question she could be asked during competition.
Once contestants arrived in Nevada, there have been rehearsals, appearances and more as the 51 young women prepare for the national spotlight.
The Miss USA pageant is structured slightly different from Miss America. Contestants don’t have to compete in a talent category, but they do compete in evening gown and swimsuit. Each contestant also participates in a Q&A round, when they can be asked “pretty much anything,” Morehouse-Locklear said.
The entire pageant takes place over two days, with Friday as the untelevised preliminary round and Saturday as the primetime final.
The winner of Miss USA will go on to represent the United States at Miss Universe 2023 later this year. The competition, with title-holders from 90 countries, will be held Nov. 18 in El Salvador.
Beyond the competitions, Morehouse-Locklear said, being Miss Maine USA brings on a lot of responsibilities and the chance to make a difference. She’s made appearances around the state and met countless dignitaries, including former President George W. Bush.
She also is a strong advocate for a cause of her choosing: Alzheimer's disease research and awareness. Morehouse-Locklear has had the chance to lobby on Capitol Hill for approval of new medications to treat the disease.
“There's so much to learn from the older generation,” she said. “I feel like Alzheimer's robs us of that.”
She’s passionate about the disease because both her grandmother and aunt succumbed to it. So she not only advocates for treatment and research, but for caregivers of those with the disease. They’re often overlooked as a vital part of managing Alzheimer's, she said.
“People don't think about the caregiver,” Morehouse-Locklear said. “They don't think about the emotional and financial strain on whoever is caring for the sick people.”
She has seen this strain firsthand. Her mother cared for both Morehouse-Locklear’s grandmother and aunt.
Starting new in Maine
Morehouse-Locklear no longer lives in Fayetteville. After graduating from college in 2021, she moved to Portland, Maine. After not being able to study abroad because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she wanted a change in her life and decided to pack everything up to live somewhere new. She will live in Maine for the remainder of her reign as Miss Maine USA, then she plans to join her husband back in Charleston.
But she visits Fayetteville often, since her parents and many of her siblings still live in the area.
“I loved growing up in Fayetteville, and it will always be very special to me,” Morehouse-Locklear said.
After the Miss USA pageant, she plans to finish her master’s degree in clinical counseling.
Since the competition is judged subjectively, Morehouse said she has no idea how she’ll do in the competition. But she has high hopes.
“I feel like the Miss USA brand is kind of at a juncture,” she said. “And I think I would be good for the business, being the first married Miss USA.”
The Miss USA pageant will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. Saturday on the CW network. For more information on the competition, visit missusa.com.
Contact Char Morrison at email@example.com.