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5 Ways to Make Your Traditional Pageant Talent Stand Out

Justine Ker, Miss Louisiana 2016 - Photo: Steven Palowsky Photography
Justine Ker, Miss Louisiana 2016 – Photo: Steven Palowsky Photography

The talent portion of a pageant can be one of the most entertaining and the most boring portions of a pageant. Girl after girl walks on stage to typically do one of two things: sing or dance.

If you want the crown, you have to find a way to stand out. (Read: Is Technical Skill or Entertainment Value More Important in Pageant Talent?)

If you don’t have killer technique or a powerful voice, this can be difficult. Even if you do, someone else may too. You want to take every step possible to make sure you’re the one who takes home the top honor at the end of the night.

How to Make Your Traditional Pageant Talent Stand Out

1. A Killer Costume

Miss Florida 2013 talent. She injured her knee in rehearsals.
Miss Florida 2013 talent. She injured her knee in rehearsals.

When you’re on stage you need to make sure the judges are watching you at all times, so if you don’t have a voice like Betty’s (notice that she wore a solid red gown with no sparkle), your costume can help you shine.

If your music is slow, even with amazing technique, add a bit of shine to keep the judges’ eyes on you.

If you’re playing piano, typically your back is turned to the judges or you’re to the side of them. Odds are you’re looking down throughout the majority of the performance. Make sure your talent costume keeps their eyes on you even when your eyes are not on them.

Many judges are not classically trained dancers, so they aren’t looking at your feet and turnout. They are looking at you. So, make sure that your costume isn’t distracting. (Read: Does it Help of Hurt You if Your Judge is an Expert in Your Field of Talent?)

Some ballet costumes, like those with the pancake flat skirts, are great in a ballet performance. However, on a pageant stage, the bloomers underneath can be distracting and all the judges will be looking at them, especially when they are seated below or level to the stage floor. You want them looking at your beautiful performance, not the different colored and frilly bloomers under the skirt.

Want some honesty on your costume? Ask a child what they think. If what they spot is negative, pick a different costume. If a kid caught it, then a judge will too. (Read: How to Pick Your Pageant Talent Costume)

2. Add An Instrument

Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015, performing her talent at the Miss America 2015 pageant.
Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015, performing her talent at the Miss America 2015 pageant.

With budget cuts in schools, many kids never have the chance to learn an instrument, let alone master one. So, performing one in a talent is becoming rare. Adding your voice to an instrumental performance, like piano or guitar, can also help switch it up a bit. (Read: What To Do For Pageant Talent When You Don’t have A Traditional Talent)

Kira Kazantsev made everyone realize that they don’t need to have a traditional instrument. She added a regular cup to her vocal talent to help her stand out. It worked, and she won Miss America 2015.

Jessi Gradillas, Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen 2015, sang with a guitar at nationals. She was a talent preliminary winner and 3rd Runner-up to Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2016.

You can even add an instrument to a dance. This is done in Irish step dance but can be done in other genres, too. On America’s Got Talent, one contestant performed a “Hip Hop Violin” routine.

When adding an instrument or vocal to your instrumental performance, make sure that the combination makes sense and isn’t just two things thrown together on a whim.

3. Perform Solo

Kelley Johnson, Miss Colorado 2014, Monologue performance during the Miss America 2016 pageant.
Kelley Johnson, Miss Colorado 2014, Monologue performance during the Miss America 2016 pageant.

Sometimes accompanying music can overpower the performer. Background tracks are often louder than the instrument being played by the contestant and can drown her out. So, try eliminating them entirely.

Singing a cappella is raw and unnerving. It’s literally just you. But because of that, you take away all of the elements that could go wrong. (Read: Can You Sing Acapella for a Pageant Talent?)

Not hearing the music, the music over powering your voice, the music skipping, the wrong track being played or the track not working at all can all hinder your performance. Instead of worrying about all of that, just go out and perform. If you can hit that high note, hit it. If not, don’t. Nothing will give you away.

The same goes for an instrumental talent. If you have a background track and something happens to it or it is too loud, your talent will become overshadowed. Take it away and go out and perform your song solo.

If you are a tap, clog or step dancer, make sure your track doesn’t overpower the sound of your feet. Stripped down performances of these genres of dance are often more fun to watch than those with music because we can hear you and can appreciate more the true talent it takes to move that quickly.

4. Perform a Culturally Significant Piece

Miss Connecticut 2013 Talent
Miss Connecticut 2013 Talent

Depending on your system and where you are from, performing a culturally significant piece may be risky. But it can pay off, too. It is also a great way to break the ice in your interview as the judges will undoubtably ask you to explain your talent.

At Miss World 2015, Miss Scotland performed a traditional vocal piece and was tied with Miss Malaysia until the final night of competition when a new panel of judges selected Miss Malaysia as the talent winner.

Kaitlyn Tarpey, Miss Connecticut 2013, placed in the Top 10 at Miss America 2014 with her Irish step dance routine. Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, won her crown while performing a Bollywood Fusion dance.

5. Add a Modern Spin

Meg McGuffin Performing her talent, a ballet routine to The Matrix at Miss America 2016.
Meg McGuffin Performing her talent, a ballet routine to The Matrix at Miss America 2016.

We love beautiful routines, but the same music over and over can get boring. So, add a modern spin to your piece.

Kira Kazantsev did this at Miss America 2015. No one knew what to expect as she sat on the stage with bare feet and holding a plastic cup. But, then she sang the song of the summer that got everyone on the Boardwalk clapping along.

Miss Alabama 2015, Meg McGuffin, danced among a sea of traditional pieces to the soundtrack from The Matrix at Miss America 2016.

On numerous talent shows, contestants start off with traditional pieces and then rock the stage when something more modern comes on. The judges are stunned and their attention is squarely on the performers.

Performing a modern song with an instrument or vocally can be intimidating, as people will want it to sound exactly like the original. So if you change it up, or perform the original version, make sure that it is better or equal to the original we hear daily on the radio.

Going Forward

Mallory Hytes Hagan, Miss America 2013, performing her talent.

Above all, have fun. If you are having fun, the judges and audience will too and ultimately that is what they are looking for. A titleholder should be engaging in any aspect her appearances and the people she represents ask her to be.

Embrace who you are and let it shine through your talent. Now, go boldly in the direction of your dreams! Best of luck!

Which dress do you like better?

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