Julia Herrin of Bluffton shows her overwhelming joy at being named Miss South Carolina 2021 during her crowning June 26 at Township Auditorium in Columbia. AMANDA FERGUSON

Fans of the Miss South Carolina 2021 pageant, held at Columbia’s Township Auditorium June 26, might have watched the contest on television, but one Bluffton resident experienced it from the stage.

At the end of the show, no one was more surprised than she was when the winner was announced.

It was her.

Julia Herrin, 19, daughter of Jennifer and Jeff Herrin of Bluffton, was visibly overwhelmed when her name was called. “If you saw it, you saw my disbelief when they called my name,” she said in a phone interview after returning home. Three days after the event, she was still exuberant. “I’m so excited! It’s been a dream of mine for a long time,” the Auburn University student said.

The new Miss South Carolina had competed in previous teen pageants and was first runner or second runner-up for three years. This was her first year in the Miss competition, “and I didn’t come to it to win. I just wanted to do the best I could and have fun,” she said.

Early in the evening, she was named to the top 16, then the top 10, then the top five.

The five finalists were given questions to answer on the spot, and then each had a chance to tell judges why she should be the next Miss South Carolina.

Herrin said she wanted to help grow the non-profit organization, raise more money for scholarships, and increase participation. “I have a three-, six- and nine-month plan,” she said confidently. She also credited the organization with her success so far. “I’m a product of this organization. I’ve been a part of the Miss America team for five years,” she said of her years in Miss Teen pageants.

As the top five contestants were named fourth, then third, then second runners up and escorted to the side, Herrin was still standing center stage with Lindsey Burrell, Miss Spartanburg. Herrin competed as Miss Clarendon County.

“When it got down to the two of us, I was thinking, ‘Oh no, not again. I’ll be first runner-up again.’ Because there was no way I was going to win,” she said.

But she was wrong.

“When they called my name, I kind of freaked out and lost control of my emotions,” she said. It took some effort to get the crown on her head, placed by the previous Miss South Carolina, Morgan Nichols. “They kept telling me I needed to stoop down a little bit so they could get the crown on my head.”

Moments later, there was a microphone in front of her and someone was asking her what she was feeling. Herrin recalled that moment: “I said ‘I have no words!’ but what I was thinking was more like ‘This is a dream – this isn’t real! It’s way too good to be true! Am I Miss South Carolina?! Is it me?’ My brain was just overflowing.”

Herrin said her parents were shocked too. “They have been on this journey with me for six years,” she said.  “They are so excited for me and are ready to help serve.”

Her mother, Jennifer, said that four days post-pageant, she is “starting to come back down to earth.” She and her husband, who own a piano business in Bluffton, are proud of their daughter’s hard work and accomplishments, especially this one, which took them by surprise as well. “It was incredible,” she said of her daughter’s win. “She performed so solidly. She relied on all the skills she had developed as a Teen, and brushed up her platform. She went in very relaxed, and I think that helped.”

Herrin’s talent was a piano performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 3rd movement. She won top scores in the talent portion of the event.

Some might wonder how a resident of Bluffton can represent another area of the state. The rules of the pageant allow contestants to compete in any pageant throughout the state, as long as they meet other requirements such as age and residency in the state.

Herrin said she has already hit the ground running with a media tour and interviews. Then the work begins on promoting her social impact platform – #realnotperfect, focused on empowering young people to use social media in a positive way, build self-esteem, and be a catalyst for change.

Herrin is excited also to start preparing for her next pageant competition: “The 100th-anniversary Miss America Pageant will be held in December,” she said, “and I will be working on preparations for that – my talent, wardrobe and such.”

At the same time, her life for the next year is dedicated to serving as Miss South Carolina, which is a full-time job.

“As you know, I’m a student at Auburn University, so I will be taking a year off my studies to fulfill my duties as Miss South Carolina,” Herrin said.

She expects to divide much of her time between home in Bluffton and Columbia, where many of her commitments will take place, as well as traveling throughout the state for appearances.

Herrin is eager and ready for all the work ahead. “I’m mostly looking forward to representing South Carolina and the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization,” she said. “I attribute the development of so many of my life skills to this organization. Having the opportunity to give back to them is so humbling.”