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Lehi teens excel in Miss Utah Teen competition

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Miss Lehi City’s Teen, Desiree McKinnon, and former Miss Lehi’s Teen, Kira Gardner, fulfilled their lifelong dreams on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Miss Utah Teen state competition held at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo. Gardner got her dream job, winning the title of Miss Utah’s Teen. Gardner served as Miss Lehi’s Teen in 2022 and Miss Timpanogos’ Teen in 2023. McKinnon was chosen as second runner up as well as the winner of the talent preliminary competition and the preliminary evening gown.

“I am ecstatic to be crowned as Miss Utah’s Teen 2024. This has been a dream of mine since I can remember. I cannot wait to represent the state of Utah this year and to spread more awareness of my community service initiative ‘Hope Through the Arts.’ I have been very emotional over this entire experience, and I am filled with gratitude,” said Gardner.

Gardner’s community service initiative is personal for her as she, during difficult times, has found solace through dance. She is excited to spread awareness of how the arts can offer a safe and creative space to grow.

“As Miss Utah’s Teen, I am so excited to continue to spread awareness about my initiative by holding workshops around Utah, as well as hosting ‘A Night of Hope.’ I have many plans and I can’t wait to get started. I am thrilled to work with the wonderful Miss Utah’s Teen board to accomplish my many goals,” Gardner added.

For the talent portion of the competition, Gardner electrified the audience with a hip hop dance. She received the Top Interview and Scholastic Achievement awards. She was also a recipient of the Point of Impact Award and a nominee for the Teens in Action Award.

Gardner is the daughter of Darren and Helen Gardner and attends Skyridge High School. Helen Gardner said, “What an awesome experience it has been for me to watch Kira grow so much throughout her years of service in the Miss America Organization. Kira has looked up to so many titleholders since she was three years old. Watching her dream of becoming Miss Utah’s Teen come true Saturday night was such a joyful moment, and I can’t wait to see what experiences she will have this year.”

McKinnon’s goals for the competition were to win the preliminary talent award and be named to the top five finalists. McKinnon achieved both of these goals and so much more. Besides winning the two preliminary awards, McKinnon was also the Top Evening Gown winner and a recipient of the Point of Impact Award.

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McKinnon’s ventriloquism talent delighted the audience and the panel of judges. After many hours of perfecting her puppetry, she also spent a great amount of time learning how to “walk” in her evening gown.

“Winning two preliminary awards was an experience I will never forget. I put so much time into practicing with my puppets. It felt so good to be awarded the talent award because it was a goal I had made. I am so glad that I put in all the time and effort,” said McKinnon. “Winning the Top Evening Gown award and the preliminary evening gown award was a bonus. I was genuinely shocked with the awards. A few months ago, I did not know how to move my hips when walking or how to pose correctly, but I had so much help in improving and it led to the amazing awards.”

McKinnon is the daughter of Noah and Ashley Mckinnon and attends Lehi High School. Ashley McKinnon said, “It was so fun to watch Desi represent her hometown of Lehi. She accomplished so many things this year with her service, and she has learned so much. She is such a resilient and caring person. I am so proud of the young woman that she is, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for her.”

Lehi City was well represented by both Gardner and McKinnon as they exhibited sportsmanship and found opportunities to encourage all the contestants and support one another. When both girls were named finalists, they found each other on the stage and embraced in friendship.

“I have had the opportunity to know both Desiree and Kira since they were children. Throughout their lives I have witnessed their character as they have overcome adversity and serve Lehi city with pride and love. I enjoy working with the Miss Lehi’s Teen organization because it empowers young women to see the possibility within themselves.

“The Miss America program fosters sisterhood, and both Desiree and Kira represent this in a beautiful manner. As Desiree was named second runner up at the state competition, Kira cheered with enthusiasm for her. As Kira was awarded the title of Miss Utah’s Teen, Desiree cried genuine tears of joy for her. That is my favorite quality about both teens, they have loved each other as they have worked side by side serving the Lehi community,” said Caitlin Thomas, co-director of the Miss Lehi’s Teen organization.

“I am so grateful for the Miss Lehi Teen organization and for the scholarship opportunities it has offered me. I have had so many unforgettable experiences. My favorite memory was being backstage at the state competition and standing in a circle together with all the contestants. We encouraged each other and prayed together. It felt so powerful to be there with all those girls and to know that any of them would make an incredible Miss Utah’s Teen. I am so excited for Kira and for the amazing year ahead of her. She is going to do an incredible job,” said McKinnon.

“The Miss America sisterhood is real and truly magical. I am so grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve met through this program. I want to thank my parents and my family who are my biggest supporters. I would not be who I am today without them,” said Gardner.

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