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Smashing: Hager wins Miss Asheville, Möwer is Miss BRV

Melody Hager is joyfully stunned, upon hearing she is Miss Asheville. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- Persevering amidst a loud explosion that turned out to be harmless, Melody Hager sang on mightily en route to securing the Miss Asheville crown Saturday while Rachel Leigh Möwer was also brilliant vocally and vibrant overall to win Miss Blue Ridge Valley.

Maggie Effler also prevailed — as Miss Blue Ridge Valley (BRV) Outstanding Teen 2017. The top Hendersonville teen was Katelyn Ledbetter. The Miss Hendersonville scholarship pageant returned after a seven-year absence — Kathlene Beam was crowned its new queen in the four-hour, triple-pageant extravaganza in sold-out Flat Rock Playhouse.

Möwer, Hager and Beam each get $1,000 scholarships. They can compete for Miss North Carolina June 21-24 in Raleigh; the winner goes for the Miss America Crown.

Hager described her triumph as “surreal” and “exciting.” Möwer also looked initially stunned, then grinned.

Savannah Maynor of Asheville, who won for community service, shined in swimsuit/fitness. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Ten contestants were in a combined Miss Asheville/BRV pageant on Saturday, generating a winner for each. It is open to those who live, study or work in the state’s 17 westernmost counties. Most pageants are open statewide, Miss N.C. Exec. Dir. Beth Knox told The Tribune after seeing the show. She said only two other pageants are triple-headers.

Knox said the BRV and Asheville winners and will be strong contenders for the Miss N.C. crown, and $20,000 first prize. She has been with Miss N.C. since 2002. Knox lauded strong vocals of Möwer and Hager, Beam’s dancing, and their assertiveness, grace and stage presence. “They’re talented, incredibly smart, and civic-minded young ladies.” Knox said “this area cultivates creativity” in the arts.

Möwer and Hager shared the pivotal talent award, both singing soulfully. Möwer was the people’s choice overall. As contestant one, she led off each segment and gladly set the bar. Hager was ninth out of 10.

Hager matched Möwer’s vocal prowess and intensity, and spunk in answering questions. It seemed fitting to have two titles for them to split. They said they could have won either title. Miss Asheville’s winner was announced just ahead of the BRV victor. Hager was relieved to get that first one. Hager wore a bright red gown, and Möwer purple. Many at the show marveled at how they resemble each other in looks and skills.

Rachel Möwer sings Adele’s “One and Only.” Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hager qualifies as a UNC-Asheville student. The Charlotte Catholic 2014 grad majors in psychology. Her platform is “Music Therapy and Awareness.”

She was quite aware as a loud sound boomed during her singing of 1941 love ballad “At Last,” which blues legend Etta James made a hit in 1960. Hager instantly turned rightward toward the sound. Yet she kept singing — in tune, not missing a beat.

Hager promptly unleashed a huge grin. This was a crowning moment, as Hager turned a potential routine-halting distraction into a triumph of confidence and focus.


Melody Hager sings blues standard “At Last.” Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By chance a worn stage light on the far right side off-stage burst much louder than they usually do, the FRP house manager explained. Hager smiled while realized it was merely a bulb, seeing “granules of glass” rain downward off-stage.

She quipped to The Tribune it was a relief it was not a gunshot, feeling thankful “I’m alive.” She said “it seemed funny. I was intent to keep going.” Further, doing so helped “release anxiety” of performing under pressure.

Melody Elizabeth Rose Hager first took the stage at age three, her mother Elizabeth Hager recalled. As soon as Elizabeth began singing “Under the Boardwalk” in a gig, spectator Melody joined her. “She rushed onto the stage, grabbed the mic, and sang the rest of the song,” Elizabeth said. “She then dropped the mic, and walked off.”

Backstage Saturday night, upon hearing the boom Möwer wondered if Hager stepped onto something that broke while singing.

Möwer sang for the first time publicly a fairly obscure love song by R&B goddess Adele — “One and Only” from six years ago. Möwer said “the song fits my voice.” Oft-tear jerking Adele has called it the first happy love song she wrote, a plea to a man who has a girlfriend. Möwer said the theme is expressing being “worthy” of adulation. Singing it so emotionally helped make Möwer worthy of a crown.

Amazingly, she sang heartily despite not eating since an early breakfast. “Adrenalin kept me going,” she said. “Muscle memory” from rehearsals helped her relax, and automatically “let the words flow.”

Möwer, a 2015 Kings Mountain High grad, is a Gardner-Webb sophomore. She is switching majors, from nursing to public relations. She was Miss Shelby 2016.

She is administrator of Breathe Hope: Raising Awareness of Cystic Fibrosis — her pageant platform. For four years she has posted pink plastic flamingos in yards, to mark each $2,500 donation for fighting the disease. She twice met then-Gov. Pat McCrory. Her proud parents are Mike and Robin Lingerfeldt Mower.

When asked on-stage about Pres. Trump’s feud with the national media, Möwer suggested Trump retaliate less and instead “roll on, more maturely.”

Hager was also very assertive, in answering a randomly-drawn social/political on-stage question. Hers was about Hillary Clinton’s email scandal as secretary of state. Hager called the uproar “blown up,” and calls for investigation a “joke.”

The Charlotte native enthusiastically represents Asheville, which she likes for “music, food and people.” Her love of music was destined. “That’s why we named her Melody,” said her mother, Miss Northeastern Ohio in 1986. Elizabeth sang in a beach music band, and has been a radio news director with 96.1 FM in Charlotte. Melody’s father Michael Hager is a longtime jazz guitarist.

Savannah Maynor of Asheville won for community service — among several $100 awards. The 2012 Erwin High grad, now a Mars Hill senior, had a platform of empowering girls.

Hannah Harvey won the swimsuit/fitness segment. Other contestants were Ashley Gossett, Alicia Green, Candice Holden, Jenna Huff, Camille Tyler and Alicia Wierzbicki.

Camaraderie was evident backstage, contestants said. The girls “were not catty and clawing at each other,” Möwer said. Instead, she noted, they helped zip up each other’s gowns in the dressing room they shared. Psych major Hager also lauded a good vibe.

BRV teen winner Effler sang Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” adding “my own twist.” Overall among teens, Hendersonville teen queen Ledbetter won talent and gown segments while Kaitlyn Burns was first runner-up. The people’s choice was Skylar Rock. Other BRV teen (ages 13-16) contestants were Jordyn Newell and Marissa Price.

Reigning queens who crowned successors and gave farewell addresses included Miss BRV Jordan West, first-ever black Miss Asheville Kahlani Cherie Jackson, and BRV ’16 top teen Savannah Coffey.

Show co-hosts were Miss Asheville 2007 Nicole Ledford Kiser and Miss BRV 2014 Kellie Pittman Jones. Pageant directors are Jeff Jones and Jon Vance.

For more on the local pageants, check and Follow two new queens’ reigns this year at: and

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