On Sept. 20, Southern Utah University officially crowned its 2022 Homecoming Royalty at the annual Royalty Pageant. Ten students competed for the title of Royal T-Bird, and ultimately, Andelin Mbaki claimed the crown. Additionally, Addysn Kidd is the 1st Attendant, David Nguyen is the 2nd Attendant and Ryan Elbell won the People’s Choice award.
This year’s pageant marks the 125th year of SUU Royalty and is also the second pageant to be completely gender-neutral. The event was previously broken into two awards, Mr. SUU and Miss SUU, but was rebranded in 2021 in an effort to be more inclusive.
“Our contestants this year represent all parts of campus, and they all have such fantastic talents and personalities,” said Heather Garcia, director of STIL and one of the event’s emcees. “It’s so cool that we’re seeing more broad representation and celebrating what makes us the unique campus we are.”
The event was broken down into four sections. First, the group performed an opening dance. Next, each contestant performed a unique talent. They then did a quick change to show off an outfit that displayed their SUU pride. Finally, the royalty hopefuls donned formal wear and answered a question for the emcees.
For her talent, Royal T-Bird Andelin Mbaki performed a hip-hop dance routine. She has been dancing since she was five years old and is currently a dance instructor at Ignite Dance Company. During the spirit wear portion, Mbaki showed off a pair of SUU-themed angel wings and pom-poms.
The SUU Royalty competition wasn’t Mbaki’s first time participating in pageantry, either. The SUU freshman was crowned Miss Iron County in 2021. Mbaki explained that her experiences of the two pageants were both rewarding in different ways.
“At SUU, we are a global family,” Mbaki said. “Now, I’m not just representing Cedar City, I’m representing the world. I feel truly honored.”
First Attendant Addysn Kidd stunned the audience by singing a rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Carolina.” Her spirit wear included giant “S” and “U” letter posters, which she encouraged the audience to chant during her walk.
“If you ever have the chance to be involved in something like this, do it,” Kidd said. “You never know where it’s going to take you, and it’s so much fun.”
Second Attendant David Nguyen performed a lion dance drumming routine. Nguyen has been practicing the art since he was 10 years old.
“The talent portion was an opportunity to showcase a little bit of my culture,” Nguyen said. “I’m no stranger to performing in the limelight, but to bring it to SUU and Cedar City where not a lot of people know about it is what makes me so proud to be up here and exhibit it for everyone.”
Nguyen is also known for his business Lotus Tea, a boba shop open every Sunday in Cedar City.
Finally, Ryan Elbell claimed his People’s Choice award with a lip sync performance of “Great Balls of Fire” from the movie “Top Gun.” Elbell is notably an Air Force veteran and non-traditional student, but he explained that he enjoyed the Royalty Pageant regardless of the fact that he was the oldest one on the stage.
“I served seven years in the United States Air Force,” said Elbell. “I am non-trad by definition, but the claim I’ll take is that I’m affiliated with the Student Involvement and Leadership Center and the Veterans’ Center, and I’m trying to make life here for students as great as I can.”
The other participants included Gabe Small, Myles Murphy, Sydnee Gustin, Tyler Willis, Kamarie Dalton and Lucy Bills.
The SUU community will see the Homecoming Royalty again on Saturday, when they will be featured in the parade. More information on this week’s Homecoming events can be found here.
Story by: Aspen English
Photos by: Aspen English and Audrey Gee