The 2022 Miss Alabama USA pageant will be held Friday, Jan. 14, and Saturday, Jan. 15, in Auburn. There will be 34 contestants competing in Miss Alabama USA and 47 contestants in the Miss Alabama Teen USA pageant.

The pageants will be held at Auburn University’s Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center.

One contestant stands out from the crowd, although she can’t stand at all. Lauren Gray, 22, of Huntsville, has been in a wheelchair since she was three years old. She said she’s ready for the challenge of competing in her first pageant and she hopes her participation makes a difference.

“I’m excited and I am good and ready for it,” Gray said.

Although her friends signed her up for the competition, Gray said she prayed about it before fully committing, and decided to go for it after reflecting and pondering the idea.

“They said, ‘We think that you’re just inspirational,” Gray said. “They said because of the positivity and because I have a message, then I needed to have a platform to do this on.”

If she’s looking to make an impact, you can consider that mission accomplished. She has created a Facebook page for Miss Flint River USA and has already received videos of encouragement from others, including celebrities who were commissioned via Cameo. Some of those celebrities are actress Maggie Lawson, actor Andrew Walker, actor Kevin Sorbo, country artist Sarah Evans, singer-songwriter Lauren Alaina, 

“I’ve already gotten a lot of love and encouragement from so many people,” said Gray. “I’ve been told that people are just encouraged that I’m doing this and they’re like, ‘We could not do this.”

Being encouraged herself is a plus for Gray but she hopes others are encouraged as well.

“I am a little bit intimidated,” Gray said. “I know that God has a purpose for this and so, I am just trusting that He is going to use this and encourage people.”

Spreading awareness about her disability, arthrogryposis, is important to Gray. Arthrogryposis, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, is a term describing a number of conditions that affect the joints. Gray said her bones are very weak and she has never been able to stand or walk. But that hasn’t stopped her from chasing her goals and from helping others who also face challenges.

“I have not let that stop me and I want to encourage other people that may have a disability, or maybe not,” said Gray. “Maybe they just have obstacles that have been thrown in their way in their life. I want to encourage them to not let that stop them from living their best life and to reach their goals.”

Gray is competing as Miss Flint River USA. She chose that title because the Flint River flows in her backyard.

Gray said she is most excited about the evening gown competition because she will "get to wear a really pretty dress." However, she is most nervous about the swimsuit competition.

“I’m not used to modeling in a bathing suit but it’ll be fine because I got a really cute one,” said Gray.  "So, I’m excited to show it off.”

Thousands of dollars in scholarships will be awarded and winners will go on to compete in the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA titles.

In the competition, contestants will perform an evening gown walk, a swimsuit/activewear walk, will be interviewed on stage and will showcase their talents.

You can vote now for People’s Choice, giving one contestant a spot in the semifinals. Voting ends on Jan. 15. Click here for information on how to vote and to meet the contestants.

Among her many goals for the pageant, Gray said she hopes leaders in Alabama see what she is doing and move to make a difference.

“I also want to help the great state of Alabama help these people,” Gray said. “To help them achieve their goals and do things that they haven’t been able to do before. Like, maybe doing an educational program from pre-k and on to adult age, saying, ‘Hey, just because that person might have a disability, they are just like you and me.’ They just have some extra steps that they have to take. I want to push that and help them become better for people like me.”