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Miss America entertains, but doesn’t reach full potential

Miss Georgia crowned as winner in 95th annual pageant

The Miss America Organization celebrated its 95th anniversary Sunday night with a pageant, which delivered a healthy dose of big hair, big earrings and big goals. Though better than expected, the pageant still left something to be desired. Miss Georgia Betty Cantrell was ultimately crowned the 96th Miss America after multiple rounds of competition.

The program began in the way these affairs normally do — with contestant introductions. As usual, this segment was teeming with awkward dancing and state puns. Miss Montana took an early lead with her introduction: “Though Rocky Mountain Oysters are our delicacy, I’m here to grab the bull by the — horns.”

The carefree fun stopped shortly after it started when Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1984 and this year’s head judge, took to the stage for a performance. Williams was force to give up her tiara after she took part in a well-publicized nude photo scandal. The CEO of the Miss America Organization, Sam Haskell, issued a formal apology to Williams for the circumstances surrounding the former pageant winner’s surprise resignation. This was intended to be a meaningful moment but didn’t have the intended effect, at least on those who aren’t familiar with mid-80s pop culture.

The apology, though, represents a step forward for the organization. It shows the organization recognizes their mistake in forcing Williams to give up her tiara following the scandal. It creates a cleaner slate for the pageant program and gives room for growth. As Miss South Carolina said, “Miss America is back.”

The top 15 contestants in the Miss America competition were selected based on preliminary competition, which considerably cut the field down from its original 52 participants. Miss Virginia Savannah Lane, a third-year College student, was unfortunately eliminated after the first round of swimsuit modeling.

The swimsuit portion of this year’s Miss America, while generally entertaining, was nothing to write home about. Each woman was confident, toned and tanned as they strutted down the runway to Fifth Harmony’s girl power anthem, “Worth It.”

The eveningwear segment followed the swimsuit portion, with only a few ladies taking a real risk with their gown selection. Miss South Carolina Daja Dial stunned all wearing a lace mermaid gown that perfectly complimented her skin tone. The new Miss America 2016, Georgia’s Betty Cantrell, wore an on-trend two-piece dress, which may have secured her victory. However, the evening’s best dressed had to be Miss Oklahoma Georgia Frazier who sported a white long-sleeved ball gown with a jeweled bodice.

Cantrell was a clear winner in the talent portion of the competition. Her operatic vocal performance of “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio” was refreshing and definitely highlighted her voice. Miss Colorado, Kelley Johnson, gave a meaningful monologue on her life as a nurse, a story complemented by her scrubs and stethoscope. Her performance gave the competition greater depth, as she tackled difficult subjects such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The field was further narrowed to seven candidates, and things got interesting during the on-stage question and answer portion. Pageants are famous for their controversial social and political questions and 2016 was no exception. Miss Alabama Meg McGuffin vehemently warned the Republican party of Donald Trump the “Entertainer” while Miss Tennessee voiced her support for the continued funding of women’s care through Planned Parenthood.

Cantrell, however, gave one of the worst answers of the night: When asked if she thought Tom Brady’s football scandal made him a cheater, she responded, “If there was any question to be had I think that he definitely cheated, and that he should've been suspended for that.” Her answer seemed less informed and more unsure than the other candidates’ and it could be said she had somewhat of an advantage in having her question repeated for her.

So why did Cantrell win? She has the beauty and the charisma crucial to a Miss America. Even her name is reminiscent of a “Mad Men” era beauty queen. However, what really made Cantrell likeable was her flaws. When she couldn’t hear her on-stage question, she recovered gracefully. When she stumbled while modeling eveningwear, she continued on with a smile, and she claimed she lost an earring twice during the competition. Who doesn’t want a relatable Miss America?

Though the pageant’s viewership has declined in recent years, the Miss Americas have been role models to many young girls and public figures. They garner media attention and have some influence within society.

The only thing missing from the Miss America 2016 festivities was a more focused effort to include each contestant’s community service platform and an emphasis on the scholastic opportunities intrinsic to their program. For an organization which touts service as one of its four main values, not much emphasis was placed on it for the live competition. Miss America has an opportunity to spread awareness about several great organizations to millions but instead missed the opportunity.

This year’s competition was entertaining, fun to watch and, in many ways, a step in the right direction for the organization. However, improvements still need to be made in order to give viewers a more well-rounded look into what Miss America stands for behind the scenes rather than just emphasize outer beauty.