The pageant will be aired live from the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Lackey will be attempting to become just the second Miss America from Georgia since Neva Langley Fickling of Macon wore the crown in 1953.
Lackey’s journey to the Miss America Pageant has been something of a fairy tale. She said her family didn’t have a lot of money when she was growing up in east Cobb, a situation that was aggravated by the recession.
Her father, Doug Lackey, who’s retired, and mother, Sherri, a church staffer, at one point didn’t have health insurance when one of her two younger brothers became sick. But it only made the family more resourceful and grow closer together, she said.
But competing in pageants has created a lot of opportunities for her.
“I’ve done so many things that I thought I wouldn’t be able to do,” said Lackey, a 2008 Walton High School graduate. “I think that’s the beautiful thing about the pageant system for Miss America. I never had a car or computer. I’d always borrow wardrobe, and people now are like, ‘please let me help you’ … that just really humbles me that there are so many people out there supporting me. And they don’t look down on me for my background of not having money.”
Competing in local pageants, including Miss Cherokee Rose and Miss Heart of Lakes, has also made it easier for her to go to college. She earned a $15,000 scholarship for winning the 2011 Miss Georgia pageant on June 18, which she plans to use to pursue a contemporary dance degree from the University of North Carolina.
Lackey has had a passion for dancing since she was 3 years old. Her platform issue is P.A.S.S.I.O.N, or Performing Artists Serving Society in Our Neighborhoods, a dance outreach program she created. She wants to become a professional dancer and perhaps earn an MBA, she said.
In addition to attending state fairs and parades as Miss Georgia, Lackey has represented the Georgia Council for the Arts, a state agency that supports arts programming.
“Through the Miss America program, I’ve shifted my dream just a little bit,” Lackey said. “Instead of being just a professional dancer, I want to also continue to stay involved with the corporate world of performing arts, because I realize what a difference I’ve made as Miss Georgia in performing arts.”
In Las Vegas, she will be showcasing a red swimsuit in competition and then a black lace over nude evening gown with ruffles. For the talent competition, she will again perform a ballet en pointe to Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “Tournament Galop,” as she did to become Miss Georgia in Columbus.
She’s the third consecutive Cobb County resident to represent the state.
Chuck Fallis, a Miss Cobb pageant spokesman, said he believes Lackey has what it takes to make the third time a charm for Cobb residents. Christina McCauley and Emily Cook were the two previous Miss Georgia winners.
“They’re all good in their own areas and in their own right,” Fallis said. “Michaela is right at the top in every category. She’s prepared in every category and is consistent.”
Lackey said she isn’t nervous about tonight’s pageant.
“I’m really looking forward to being on that big stage with all of the applause and everything else,” Lackey said. “I’ve definitely been in withdrawals over the fact that I couldn’t be on stage. That’s home for me, like a second home.”
The 2012 Miss America national judges are Mark Ballas of “Dancing With The Stars;” Raúl de Molina of Univision’s El Gordo y La Flaca; Mike Fleiss, executive producer of “The Bachelor;” Kris Jenner of E!’s “Keeping Up With The Kardashians;” Teri Polo of ABC’s “Man Up;” Chris Powell of “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition;” and Lara Spencer of “Good Morning America.”