During high school, Carter was a performer in multiple bands. Then she attended Arizona State University, but ultimately dropped out to pursue a career in music. After performing in a San Francisco hotel for janitors and hotel guests, she returned to Arizona in 1972. While there, she won a local Arizona beauty contest and eventually went on to win the titles of Miss Phoenix, Miss Arizona, and then Miss USA, representing Arizona.
In 1972, she travelled to London to represent USA at the Miss World contest, where she gained international attention. But this wasn’t something Carter enjoyed too much, telling Express, “It was all so silly, wearing a crown and banner when it was the 1970s and the women’s liberation was everywhere.”