“For Miss America, It’s a Busy Life … and a Missionary Opportunity,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 109–10
She knew Miss America was always busy, but Sharlene Wells didn’t know it was going to be quite like this. “I’m going from morning till night,” said the twenty-year-old Salt Lake City woman, crowned Miss America 1985 at the culmination of the annual U.S. pageant September 15.
That first week was an eye-opener, she said, reflecting on her activities. “All week in New York City, I was in TV interviews, press conferences, photo sessions, and shopping trips,” she recalled. Then there was the whirlwind weekend trip to Portland, Maine.
Her schedule will be just as crowded throughout her year-long reign. At a press conference in Salt Lake City the Monday after she was crowned, her parents—Elder Robert E. Wells of the First Quorum of the Seventy and his wife Helen—explained that their daughter will be able to come home during the year for only two weeks at Christmas and one at Easter. “I’m already lonesome,” her mother said.
“Personally, I look on it as any parent sending a missionary into the mission field,” Elder Wells commented.
Sharlene Wells believes she will have ample opportunity to discuss gospel-related standards. “Wherever I go,” she explained in an interview for the Ensign, “people say, ‘Now tell me about this aspect of your Church, because I’m a little confused …’” Those direct questions allow her to share the gospel one-on-one.
But Miss America can also “influence thousands, even millions, of people” by example, she noted. Many will be among her peers—college students and young adults—and she said she hopes to show them it is easy to enjoy life without engaging in immoral activities on dates or finding excitement through mood-altering substances.
“I’m really happy about the opportunity to share my life-style. I have been stopped by many people on the street, even in New York City,” she said, who tell her they are “thrilled” that she is representing basic moral principles on which the United States and many other nations are founded.
As her reign began, she faced what her father called “tough questions” from the press. Miss America 1985 handled them with aplomb. As expected, the moral views of the young woman selected to wear the crown this year were very much a public issue. Reporters for national media examined her closely on her beliefs. In answer to their questions, she reaffirmed that she does not smoke, drink, or take drugs, nor does she believe in premarital sex.
“I represent the traditional woman, because of my values, but also the woman of the ’80s,” she told reporters, explaining that one of her goals is to be a role model, showing young women they can hold to values similar to hers and still live in society.
She said she could live without fear of embarrassment because of the principles that guide her life, and made it clear she could not separate her religion from the rest of her personality. “I live my values seven days a week.”
Sharlene commented that her views on morality are not very different from those of most of the other contestants in this year’s Miss America pageant. During their week together in Atlantic City, New Jersey, she explained, the young women had ample opportunity to share their feelings and ideas; she found most were “very conservative.”
A junior at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, she had previously been Miss Utah Junior Miss in 1982, winning the overall talent portion of that competition. She was second runner-up to Miss Utah in 1983. Later she won the title of Miss BYU. She was selected as Miss Utah Valley, and then Miss Utah. From there, she went on to Atlantic City.
For her talent performance on nationwide television as one of ten finalists for Miss America, Sharlene played a medley of folk songs on the Paraguayan harp, singing to her own accompaniment. Her victory in the pageant made the front pages in Paraguay; she was born there while her father worked in that country as a banking executive, a number of years before he was called as a General Authority. The fifth of seven children, she lived in South American countries for eleven years while she was growing up. Already, there have been inquiries about having her visit those countries, her father said.
“In a sense,” he added, “she’s a Miss America for the Americas.”