Hawkes (née Wells), was born in Asunción, Paraguay and spent most of her childhood in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador. She was the first foreign-born, bilingual Miss America. She spent most of her teenaged years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. When she won the Miss America title, her parents were living in Holladay, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. Being crowned Miss America was seen by some as an antidote to the scandal associated with the prior year's winner. In 1985, Deseret Book published a biography of Wells, written by Sheri Dew.
Hawkes is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). She attended Brigham Young University (BYU), from which she graduated in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in communications.
The choice of Wells as Miss America was widely seen as a way to overcome the scandal connected with her predecessor. Wells publicly stated her support for the reelection of Ronald Reagan, support for pro-life positions, opposition to pre-marital sex, and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.
Hawkes is the author, or co-author, of several books. This includes a book written by Hawkes and Barbara Barrington Jones entitled The Inside Outside Beauty Book (1989), Living in but not of The World (1997), and Kissing a Frog: Four Steps to Finding Comfort Outside Your Comfort Zone. She is also a singer and has released albums called When We Will All Believe (1994) and Songs of the Morning Stars (1996).
Hawkes holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications from the University of Utah.
Hawkes was a horse racing and college football reporter with ESPN from 1987 to 2002.
Since 2007, Hawkes has worked to help veterans and their families. This includes a program to bring wives and daughters of veterans killed in the line of duty to the Miss America Pageant.
In 2015 Hawkes was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Armed Forces.
As of August 2016, Hawkes is serving as executive vice president of Story Rock Electronic Publishing, and as president of its military division, Remember My Service, producing historical records for military personnel.
Hawkes is slated to serve as a judge for the Miss America 2017 competition.