CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Dozens of young women from across the Volunteer State are heading out to Clarksville Thursday with dreams of winning the title, as well as the dazzling crown, of Miss Tennessee USA.

Out of the 48 contestants competing for the crown, there is one who has not only won pageants in the past, but who also followed in her mother’s footsteps by winning a state title and competing in Miss America.

Tatum Sheppard is the daughter of Miss Tennessee 1986 and Miss America 1987, Kellye Cash.

Even though Sheppard was not a lifetime pageant participant, she said she cheered on her older sister as she competed in pageants, including several times for the Miss Tennessee organization. 

Then, during Sheppard’s junior year of college, she reportedly transferred to Liberty University, realized she needed the scholarship money, and decided to compete in the Miss America system.  

(Courtesy: Tatum Sheppard)

Sheppard said she first competed in Miss Piedmont Region in 2019 and ended up as fourth runner-up in Miss Virginia that year, winning a $4,000 scholarship. Then, in 2021, she competed again in Miss Virginia — this time as Miss Central Virginia, which came with a $500 scholarship — and received a $20,000 for winning the crown, as well as $500 for winning the overall evening wear category.

According to Sheppard, those scholarship funds allowed her to pursue her passions practically debt-free after graduating with a musical theatre degree from Liberty University.

In addition, as Miss Virginia 2021, Sheppard was able to compete in the 100th anniversary of Miss America, as well as spend a year promoting her social impact initiative, “Mentoring Matters,” before crowning Miss Virginia 2022, Victoria Chuah, last summer.

With Sheppard being a Tennessee native, she decided to return to the Volunteer State following her reign in Virginia.

Then, after she chose to compete for the title of Miss Tennessee USA as Miss TN Waltz, Sheppard spoke with News 2’s Colleen Guerry ahead of the state pageant in Clarksville:

CG: It’s been nine months since you passed off your crown as Miss Virginia. How have you been spending that time?

CG: What inspired you to compete in Miss Tennessee USA?

CG: What did it take to become Miss TN Waltz?

CG: What is the difference between a Miss America competition and a Miss USA competition?

CG: Given your history competing in Miss Virginia and Miss America, how does that affect you going into Miss Tennessee USA?

CG: What would you say is your strongest part of the competition?

Sheppard said her strength lies in the interview portion of the competition, adding that she has always been comfortable in her own skin. On top of that, she loves to talk!

“The interview is only two minutes, and so, I wish it was 20,” she said with a laugh. “I could really talk forever, I love meeting new people, so I think that’s probably the most comfortable part of competition for me.”

CG: Is there any part of the competition you’ve spent more time preparing for?

Since Miss USA competitions include a fitness element, Sheppard told News 2 she has had to discipline herself by going to the gym every day and eating healthy, which includes taking a break from eating Hattie B’s hot chicken in Nashville.

“It’s been great because it’s taught me taking care of yourself is a mental decision, and you’re a lot more disciplined than you think,” she explained.

Even thought the fitness element has been the hardest element of the competition with regard to how much time and discipline it requires, Sheppard said it’s worth it.

CG: Given your family history when it comes to pageants, both in Tennessee and on the national level, have your mother or sister offered any advice leading up to Miss Tennessee USA?

CG: Since there are going to be 47 other contestants on that stage, what do you want people watching the competition to remember about you?

CG: How will your life change if you win Miss Tennessee USA?

If Sheppard is crowned as the new Miss Tennessee USA, she said she’ll have to venture outside Nashville and travel to other cities around the Volunteer State, as well as make a lot of appearances.

However, Sheppard told News 2 a bulk of her time will be spent training for Miss USA so she can make Tennessee proud on that national stage.

CG: If you don’t win, what are your plans for the future?

According to Sheppard, even if she does not win the Miss Tennessee USA competition, she will still walk away with an amazing experience, along with plenty of time to train for next year’s pageant, if she decides to do so.

Sheppard also said she “will go back to work,” adding that, win or lose, she plans to continue her career as a fashion consultant and social media manager.

| READ MORE | Latest headlines from Clarksville and Montgomery County

The Miss Tennessee USA and Miss Tennessee Teen USA competitions are set to take place at Austin Peay State University from Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11.

“We are thrilled and honored to welcome the Miss Tennessee USA pageant back to Clarksville for the 22nd year,” said Visit Clarksville Chairman Kyle Luther. “The long-term dedication of this event to our city is a testament to the community’s hospitality and Visit Clarksville’s exceptional customer service. It’s a wonderful way to showcase Clarksville and Austin Peay to visitors from all over the state.”

According to pageant organizers, on Thursday, the contestants will check in, have the chance to listen to a motivational speaker discuss becoming your personal best, and then spend the morning and afternoon rehearsing with the choreographer.

Then, Miss Tennessee USA contestants will participate in a two-minute preliminary interview with the judges on Thursday evening, followed by the teen contestants the next morning.

Friday, March 10 will also include the preliminary activewear/swimsuit competition and the preliminary evening gown competition.

If you want to make sure Sheppard, or any of the 47 other contestants listed below who are vying for the Miss Tennessee USA crown, gets a guaranteed spot in the semifinals, follow this link to vote for the 2023 People’s Choice Award:

  • Miss Bellevue: Natalie Van Noy
  • Miss Blues City: Jordyn McKenzie 
  • Miss Bluff City: Taylor Gipson
  • Miss Brentwood: Rosie Westerbeck
  • Miss Center Hill: Carly Tipton
  • Miss Chattanooga: Makayla Johnson 
  • Miss Cheatham County: Hailey Hackett
  • Miss Davidson County: Victoria Chittams
  • Miss Downtown Nashville: Regan Ringler
  • Miss East Nashville: Corrin Stellakis
  • Miss East TN: Angelina Gonzalez
  • Miss Franklin: Carley Fletcher
  • Miss Gibson County: Kay Johnson 
  • Miss Greater Nashville: Reed Steplowski
  • Miss Hamilton: Felicia Williams
  • Miss Heart of Nashville: Faben Zeleke
  • Miss Heart of the South: Lauryn Waldron
  • Miss Heart of TN: Emily Miller
  • Miss Historic Franklin: Christell Foote
  • Miss Historic Nashville: Camden Morris
  • Miss Humphreys County: Haley McClaran
  • Miss Jackson: Meghan Martin
  • Miss Johnson City: Bailey Parks
  • Miss Knoxville: Shaylyn Olinger
  • Miss Lebanon: Allyssa Weyant
  • Miss Madison County: Madison Kunst
  • Miss Marion County: Presley Powers
  • Miss Memphis: Kailyn Maclin
  • Miss Mid-South: Alexis Sanders
  • Miss Middle TN: Livi Self
  • Miss Montgomery County: Sydney Grace Young
  • Miss Music City: Sabrina Ponte
  • Miss Nashville: Emma Conn
  • Miss Rutherford County: Hannah Medley
  • Miss Scenic City: Ava Bailey
  • Miss Secret City: Jillian Bivens
  • Miss Shelby County: Amber Conner
  • Miss Smoky Mountain: Alli-Grace Gilstrap
  • Miss South Nashville: Kinsley Williams
  • Miss Southern TN: Alexandra Nabors
  • Miss TN Valley: Marissa Stacy
  • Miss Upper Cumberland: Maelybeth Young
  • Miss Volunteer State: Cassidy Holt
  • Miss Watertown: Delanney Hight
  • Miss West Franklin: Christian Bevere
  • Miss West TN: Emma Hill
  • Miss Williamson County: Demi Patonis

You can also vote for the People’s Choice winner for Miss Tennessee Teen USA by clicking here. Each vote costs $5, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Clarksville Area Urban Ministries. Voting ends at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

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The semifinalists, who will be announced on Saturday, will compete again in activewear/swimsuits and evening gowns.

After that, the judges will narrow the field down to the top five finalists, who will participate in an on-stage interview before reigning Miss Tennessee USA Emily Suttle, who reached top 12 in Miss USA 2022, and Miss Tennessee Teen USA McKinley Farese, who was the fourth runner-up in Miss Teen USA 2022, crown their successors.

If you want to watch the competition, follow these links to buy tickets or check out the livestream, which starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday.