Whitney Caldwell crowned 2024 KMLF Queen

Published 10:18 am Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Whitney Taylor Caldwell, representing the University of the Cumberlands, is the 2024 KMLF Queen. A native of Pineville, she becomes just the second local candidate to be crowned queen in the festival’s 93 years. Whitney is the daughter of Ronnie and Shannon Caldwell.

“It’s been a whirlwind, actually. I grew up here and you see it from an outsider’s point of view. Growing up I danced here with my little dance school, but it’s so different when you’re actually (a candidate). It’s a whole new perspective,” she said. “You gain a new appreciation for all of the people and what they put into everything.”

Caldwell said it meant a lot to her to get to wear the KMLF crown and to represent Pineville.

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“I just want to represent what this town is and what it means to me. I’ve never once wanted to show this town in a negative light,” she said. “I have the utmost respect for everyone here and love in my heart. No matter where I end up in life, I was born and raised here and I just love everyone here with my whole heart.

“It’s like you’ve got no words and at the same time you have so many things to say. You’re just so thankful for a community like this. It’s like I never left and went to college, they just all welcomed me back. Everyone was like: ‘Hey, how are you, love you so much.’

Caldwell was chosen as the queen over a field of 15 other candidates from colleges all across the state of Kentucky. She said her favorite part of the festival was getting to meet everyone and getting to know the other candidates.

“The other girls were just so amazing. I don’t want them to go home, I just want them to stay here with me. It was amazing,” she said.

This year’s KMLF General Chair Kristy Burnett was the first Bell County native to be selected as the festival queen in 2000. Though she has nothing to do with the judging to determine the winner, she said it was fitting to see another local candidate get the crown during her year as the the festival chair.

“It took them over 70 years to pick me as a local person in 2000, now 24 years later here we are at the 93rd and Whitney is the second local person to win it,” Burnett said. “I think that sticks to the tradition of this festival, we want the truest and most genuine person. I think the judges picked the truest and genuine person with Whitney. It was fitting that the first person to be the queen from here was able to be (the general chair) to see the second person from here be crowned queen. I’ll share my title with her any day.”

Caldwell joins the list of 93 special women to be crowned as the Queen of the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival and hopes to follow in their footsteps as a role model for the young girls in Pineville.

“The theme for this year is ‘Chain of Memories’ and the women I have met that have been queens are people that I can look up to. I hope I can continue that tradition of being someone that young girls can look up to and be a good role model for them,” she said.

The queen’s coronation was held Saturday afternoon at Pine Mountain State Park’s Laurel Cove Amphitheater. Gov. Andy Beshear was unable to attend, but he was represented by Lindy Casebier, the secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, who had the honor of crowning Caldwell as the queen.

“This was a great experience,” Casebier said. “It’s a great opportunity to represent the governor and be here at Pine Mountain State Park because it’s Kentucky State Parks’ 100th anniversary this year so this is a great milestone and I’m just honored to be a part of it.”