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story.lead_photo.caption Maggie Benton is crowned Miss Arkansas 2017. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

Emotion flooded Maggie Benton's face as she stood on stage at Little Rock's Robinson Center Performance Hall in the moments after it was announced that she had won the 2017 Miss Arkansas Pageant.

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
The 10 finalists for the 2017 Miss Arkansas crown greet the crowd Saturday night at Robinson Center in Little Rock.

Congratulations to Maggie Benton! Miss Arkansas 2017! #MissAR2017

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Photos by Stephen B. Thornton

Scraps of gold confetti fluttered in the air as the other 43 contestants stood on stage behind her. The audience rose to its feet and broke out in applause for the reigning Miss Greater Jonesboro, who waved back at the crowd, trying to process that she had just won.

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"I honestly kept shaking my head," Benton said. "I was telling myself to compose myself, there were so many things going through my brain, and I did not want to be an emotional basket case on stage, but I am just absolutely honored and humbled."

She felt emotions of all sorts, but mostly joy and relief at the culmination of a weeklong competition.

Benton tied for first place for the preliminary Artistic Expression and Talent Award on Wednesday night, and won the Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit preliminary award on Thursday.

Benton, 22, is from Jonesboro and is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She sang "Music of the Night" in the talent competition.

She is the 80th winner of the pageant and the first winner since the competition moved to Little Rock from Hot Springs, where it had been held for the 58 previous years.

Benton's platform, titled "Giving is a Gift," promotes kindness, philanthropy and community service.

"I really want to take Miss Arkansas to communities that she has never been to before," Benton said. "I hope that if you are watching this, you will book Miss Arkansas this year so that I can come and talk about our organization, scholarships, service and philanthropy with certain projects you have."

"I am just so honored to be here at this point," Benton said.

Jessie Ward Bennett, the executive director of the pageant, called Benton "a perfect product of the program."

The 44 contestants were trimmed to 10 on the pageant's final night, and later down to five before Benton was crowned. Miss University of Arkansas Darynne Dahlem was first runner-up and Miss Arkansas Delta Ashley Ehrhart came in third place.

"There are 43 other girls that I have become wonderful friends with this week," Benton said. "They could all be here right now, and I do not want to let them down."

This year's pageant was the first to have the final night televised live. KATV streamed the entirety of the show.

The 43 contestants embraced Benton on stage in the moments after she was named the winner and offered their congratulations as a large celebration kicked off.

"They're all now my really great friends," Benton said.

Benton is awarded a nearly $24,000 scholarship. The pageant disbursed $167,500 worth of scholarship money to the contestants throughout the week.

Benton will represent Arkansas at the Miss America Pageant in September in Atlantic City, N.J.

Savvy Shields of Fayetteville, who won last year's Miss Arkansas pageant, was later crowned Miss America.

"I am absolutely honored and very humbled," Benton said. "I am taking this as a responsibility to represent the girls that I was here with this week and the state of Arkansas at Miss America."

A Section on 06/18/2017

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