Sure, the accolades are nice. And the perks aren’t bad, either.

But South Dakota’s latest leading lady finds her platform the best part of the job.

Miss South Dakota Anna Simpson, who claimed the crown in June, appreciates the opportunity to share her first love with audiences across the state.

“I love volunteering,” she said.

The 21-year-old Rapid City woman uses her title to promote a social media network that informs and enlists would-be volunteers across the state. Give Back employs a website, Facebook and Twitter to link users with volunteer opportunities that fit their interests, skills and schedule. Give Back teams operate in Aberdeen, Brookings, Rapid City and Sioux Falls.

Simpson, a business economics major who aspires to work at a nonprofit group, encourages South Dakotans to do what they can with what they have.

“It doesn’t have to be you giving 20 hours a week to something,” she said.

Simpson emphasizes talent and money aren’t prerequisites to making a difference.

Giving back is as simple as donating that extra blanket to a family that just lost everything in a fire or flood.

“Each one of us can volunteer,” she said.

When Simpson’s not promoting volunteerism in South Dakota, she’s preparing for the 91st Miss America Pageant in January. She took a year off from her studies at South Dakota State University to prepare for the event, which will air live on ABC from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Simpson devotes several hours a day to polishing her interview skills, playing the piano, hitting the gym and fine-tuning her overall presentation.

Veteran pageant host Mitchell Olson coaches Simpson on communication substance and style.

“He’ll fire random questions at me,” she said. “You can never know too much. I want to have as much knowledge as I can have going into the Miss America Pageant.”

Simpson’s no stranger to public speaking. Her family has strong ties to the broadcasting business, so she’s spent plenty of time on both sides of the camera.

“I’ve grown up in the television business,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”

Simpson practices the piano as much as three hours a day in preparation for her turn to wow the judges with her talent.

She won the preliminary talent competition of the Miss South Dakota Pageant with the classical Spanish piece “Malaguena.” She wouldn’t disclose what piece she’ll play at the Miss America Pageant, but she said her performance will convey a more contemporary vibe.

Organizers have encouraged Miss America contestants to choose modern selections with broad appeal to TV viewers.

Because she’ll have so little time to practice her music when she arrives in Las Vegas, Simpson is trying to get her piece down perfectly now and “internalize it in my soul.”

Despite its rigors, the talent competition remains Miss South Dakota’s

favorite part of pageantry.

“I’ve been playing since I was little, so it allows me to let my emotions out,” she said. “It’s an extension of me.”

It’s also the scariest, she added, because there’s no stopping and starting over if she misses a beat.

A local fitness club sponsors Simpson so she can get in daily workouts to prepare for the swimsuit competition.

It’s not the highlight of her evening, but Simpson said she has adopted a more forward-thinking attitude about stepping out in swimwear.

“It’s getting into that routine of working out and making a priority of eating well,” she said.  

She’s working to build muscle, improve her posture and pay close attention to how she carries herself.

Contestants wear high heels with their swimwear to help elongate the legs and tighten muscles. The higher the heels, the leaner the appearance of the legs, Simpson said.

That’s why Simpson added one more routine to her practice schedule.

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“I practice walking around in my house in heels,” she said.

 No one wants to be the girl who biffs it on stage.

“There’s always that fear in the back of your mind,” she said.

The 53 women prepping and primping for their shot at the 2012 crown take

nothing for granted. Every footstep, gesture, note and word — it all must be perfect.

“It’s intimidating,” Simpson said. “A lot of girls have lived the pageant life.”

Miss South Dakota entered her first pageant at 17. That makes her a late bloomer compared with some of the women she’ll compete against in January.

“I have to focus on being the best I can possibly be,” she said.

Simpson competed in the 2008 and 2009 Miss South Dakota pageants, but she was only a spectator at the 2010 pageant.

With the family business and her studies demanding more of her attention, she felt it was time to take a break from pageants.

It was also time to examine herself and her priorities.

“I decided that if I really wanted to be Miss South Dakota, I needed to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.

Serving people and empowering others to do the same is Simpson’s passion, so she made it her platform. She returned to the pageant scene, eager to give it her all. Her efforts earned her the right to represent South Dakota on the national stage.

Simpson said she has grown so much from the experience. She’s more confident, more articulate and more disciplined. But most importantly, she found her voice.

“It’s not just about looking pretty,” she said. “You learn a lot about who you are and what you want to do.”

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