Just seconds before being crowned Miss America, Betty Cantrell told host Chris Harrison how she was doing.
“I’m having bad luck with my earrings tonight,” Cantrell said. “One fell off just now and one in ‘Top 15.’ I don’t know what that means.”
“That’s good luck,” Harrison prophetically told her. “It’s gotten you this far.”
When calling her name as one of only 15 women who would compete Sunday night in Atlantic City, Harrison proclaimed her as “Lucky No. 13.” Later, she appeared to slip during the evening gown competition.
Being No. 13 was more likely a positive omen for her family.
Cantrell’s father, Mike Cantrell, is a fitness guru who launched the “It Starts With the Heart” campaign years ago on WMAZ, Channel 13.
Her aunt, Dodie Cantrell Bickley, a former general manager and news director at the station, was in the audience to cheer on her niece.
The drama of naming Betty the last talent contestant had the family clasping hands to help cut the tension.
“By golly, they made a TV show out of it,” Bickley said Monday after flying back to Georgia on two hours of sleep.
With adrenaline still pumping following her crowning, Cantrell gave her first interview as Miss America.
“I can’t believe it. I thought I blew my onstage question. I don’t know what he asked me,” she said.
Social media was abuzz with Miss Georgia’s perceived fumble on whether New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady was guilty in the “Deflategate” scandal.
After asking singer Brett Eldredge to repeat the question, she vacillated a bit.
Cantrell said she needed to see and touch the footballs, but if there was any question of cheating, she declared Brady guilty and worthy of punishment.
“That’s not fair,” she said.
While breaking ground in a two-piece white gown with blue trim, possibly with a nod to her Greek ancestry, Cantrell seemed to get her heel caught a couple times on the runway, but she shook it off with a shake of her head and went on to win the pageant.
As Cantrell continually hugged contestants through the competition, Bickley saw how much the little girl who grew up on dirt roads in Peach County was enjoying herself and relishing the opportunity she had to get to know exceptional women from across the nation.
“I thank God for this opportunity. I’m so excited to be your new Miss America,” said an emotional Cantrell.
She stopped and stooped down at the end of the runway to embrace her father and mother, Tassie Cantrell, who was jumping for joy with her hands in the air.
Their daughter advocates for 10 jumping jacks every 10 minutes of television watching, but an audience back home at the Cantrell Center in Warner Robins sprang from their seats when her name was called.
Following the pageant, Cantrell explained how she plans to use her newly found fame.
“Kids light up when they see a crown walk into the room,” she said from the Miss America podium. “Kids will listen to what I say about being healthy and exercising and having fun with it and not only being physically healthy but being emotionally healthy.”
In an interview following her preliminary talent win, Cantrell explained how she channeled the pain of her parents’ divorce into her opera performance that propelled her into pageant history in a flowing red, strapless gown.
Cantrell will take a break in her studies at Mercer during her reign as Miss America and will have $50,000 in scholarships to further her training to fulfill her dream of performing on Broadway.
Those who love her say she will do it.
“What Betty dreams of, she goes after,” Bickley said. “This is a game-changer. Who knows what she will do?”
Writer Alline Kent contributed to this report. To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and follow her on Twitter @liz_lines.