Talent is one of the most competitive parts of any pageant. On a national stage, like Miss America, contestants have often trained for years at their craft. Those years of long afternoons spent practicing show as contestants leap miles across the stage, effortlessly glide their fingers across an instrument and sing their hearts out. After all, the national stage has the potential to be the starting point for a long career in show business.
In addition, talent often counts for a major proportion of a contestant’s final score. For example, talent counts for 35 percent of a contestant’s score during the preliminary competition at Miss America and 30 percent on the final night of competition.
With the stakes this high, it is easy to crack under pressure. However, some contestants feed off the pressure of the national spotlight and have produced performances that still have us talking! (Read: 3 Tips to Help Choose Your Talent)
Top 10 Pageant Talents Of All Time
10. Miss America 1989, Gretchen Carlson
Call her Madame President. The Miss America Organization recently announced that Gretchen Carlson would be taking over as the chairman of the organization. This comes after former CEO Sam Haskell was forced to resign after The Huffington Post released an article revealing e-mails between Haskell and other board members trashing former titleholders. However, before leading the organization, Carlson was a contestant herself. (Read: What You NEED to Know About the Miss America Email Scandal)
At the 1989 Miss America Pageant, Carlson played “Zigeunerweisen” by Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate on violin. The moving performance not only won her a preliminary talent award but also the title of Miss America 1989, making her the third woman from Minnesota to capture the crown. The moving performance allowed Carlson to feature a variety of skills within a relevantly short amount of time, a key for every successful pageant talent.
9. Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan
At just 17 years old, Teresa Scanlan became the youngest woman to win the title of Miss America since Bette Cooper in 1937. Scanlan played her rendition of White Water Chopsticks and stunned the nation with her outstanding skills on the piano. As her hands moved down the keys, her points climbed up in the talent competition with her own rendition of “White Water Chopsticks.” Combined with a stunning red gown, the performance wowed the audience and judges.
Many believe Miss America to be Scanlan’s first pageant because of her young age. However, she actually competed for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. She never won the state title, but her maturity and incredible public speaking skills made her the perfect contestant to represent the state at the Miss level. (Read: 6 Tips on How to Successfully Transition from Teen to Miss)
8. Miss Oklahoma City University 1991, Kristen Chenoweth
While she never made it to the Miss America stage, Kristen Chenoweth gave a performance more than worthy of a national pageant. Chenoweth represented Oklahoma City University at the 1991 Miss Oklahoma Pageant where she placed second runner-up to Gina-Lynne Smith. I even managed to dig up a video of her performance below. Thank you, YouTube.
Chenoweth showed from an early age she was meant to be on stage. Performing “Art is Calling for Me,” Chenoweth brought the house down. With a voice like this, it is no wonder she has a Tony award. (Read: How to Use Your Title to Get Acting Jobs)
7. Miss Ohio 2014, Mackenzie Bart
Ventriloquism is not easy. It takes hours of practice to master, just like spelling “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
MacKenzie Bart tackled both of these when she took the Miss America stage accompanied by a blonde diva puppet named Roxy. The act earned her a preliminary talent award as well as a thunderous applause from the audience. (Read: Should You Perform a Traditional or Nontraditional Talent?)
6. Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri
Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, shattered dozens of ceilings during her time in the Miss America system. She was the first Indian Miss New York, the first Indian Miss America and the second of three consecutive Miss New Yorks to bring home the national title.
Davuluri made history again with her talent. Embracing her culture, she performed an energized Bollywood dance to “Dhoom Taana” from the film “Om Shanti Om.” It was the first time Bollywood dance was seen on the Miss America stage. The electric routine had the audience on their feet. (Read: What to Do Before You Walk on Stage For Talent: A Dancer’s Guide)
5. Miss America 1984, Vanessa Williams
Vocal powerhouse Vanessa Williams represented New York at the 1984 Miss America pageant. She became the first African-American to win the title, part of which was due to her killer performance of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Unfortunately, Williams was forced to resign her title after the magazine Penthouse published unauthorized nude photographs of the titleholder. However, Williams did not let the set back stop her. She went on to release multiple albums and star in dozens of televisions shows, including “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives.” After finding such success, the Miss America Pageant publicly apologize to Williams on stage at the 2016 Miss America Pageant. (Read: Pageant Question of the Day: Apologizing to Vanessa Williams)
4. Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields
In one of the sassiest dances ever to sashay across the Miss America stage, Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, leaped her way into the hearts of pageant fans everywhere. Shields capitalized on her spunky personality and went with a jazz dance to “They Just Keep Moving the Line” from the NBC show “Smash.” The performance, like many Miss America’s, earned Shields a preliminary talent award.
Shields is an incredible dancer. Her technique is amazing. Since her technique is so strong, she went for a very simple style that allowed it to shine. (Read: 4 Amazing Dance Costumes From Miss America 2017)
Her white leotard is simple but still has some sparkle for the stage. Shields is barefoot with her hair neatly pulled back. There is no ornate costume or gimmick. You are watching her and her alone, which makes her raw talent the star.
3. Miss America 2016, Betty Cantrell
Representing Georgia, Betty Cantrell had one of the best classical opera performances ever seen on the Miss America stage. Cantrell won over the judges and America with her rendition of “Tu? tu? Piccolo iddio!” from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.” Her voice was beautiful yet powerful. The performance also earned her a preliminary talent award.
Aside from an incredible voice, Cantrell’s talent was successful because she connected to the piece. Let’s face it, how many of us really understand anything she is singing? After all, it is in Italian.
However, Cantrell clearly understands the story of the song. She conveys the emotion of the piece with her face and body. This keeps the audience engaged even though they might not understand the language. (Read: Is Technical Skill or Entertainment Value More Important in Pageant Talent?)
2. Miss Florida 2013, Myrrhanda Jones
Twirl three batons at once.
Twirl three batons at once in front of a panel of judges, a live audience and on national television.
Now do all this on the Miss America stage…
Oh, and you have a torn ACL.
This is the exact situation Miss Florida 2013, Myrrhanda Jones, found herself in at the 2014 Miss America pageant. On the third day of the preliminary competition, Jones was practicing her baton routine to “Big Noise” when she tore her ACL and MCL. She went on to compete that night, sporting a bulky leg brace and flats. To everyone’s amazement, she performed her slightly adjusted routine flawlessly and was awarded a preliminary talent award.
Jones then performed the routine again on the final night of competition when she was called into the Top 10. Sporting the same bulky brace, which had acquired a new layer of rhinestones, Jones nailed the routine and made the Top 5. She walked away with a third runner-up placement.
1. Miss America 2010, Caressa Cameron
If you are going to sing Beyonce, THIS IS HOW YOU SING BEYONCE!!!!
There are certain artists whose songs are hard to use for pageant talents. This is because the artist’s sound is so unique, like Beyonce’s, that your performance is automatically compared to the original artists. So, if you want to sing a big song like “Listen,” your performance has to be so flawless that the judges go, “Beyonce who?” (Read: Talent Songs that Pageant Judges Are Tired of Hearing)
Miss Virginia 2009 and later Miss America 2010, Caressa Cameron, did just that with this bone-chilling performance. Cameron brought out every vocal chop she had to give one of the best talents to ever cross a pageant stage.
Now, it is nearly impossible to fake this amount of emotion in a performance so the only question I have is…
Girl, who hurt you?
From vocalists to instrumentalists to dancers, these ladies brought it all to the talent competition. While the pressure may be great, the feeling of nailing your talent routine is unlike anything else. There have been so many stellar talents in recent years, it is hard to pick only 10!
What do you think? Did your favorite talent make the cut? Comment below!