Miss America judges reveal why they chose Betty Cantrell

Betty Cantrell’s rise to Miss America

Miss America's Betty Cantrell has been dreaming of Broadway nearly her whole life. Pageant highlights courtesy of the Miss America organization, Dick Clark productions and ABC. Cantrell's early video courtesy of Mickey Petrich and Mount de Sales t
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Miss America's Betty Cantrell has been dreaming of Broadway nearly her whole life. Pageant highlights courtesy of the Miss America organization, Dick Clark productions and ABC. Cantrell's early video courtesy of Mickey Petrich and Mount de Sales t

In post Miss America pageant interviews last week, nearly every judge mentioned Betty Cantrell’s passionate aria.

“She is an amazing talent,” said Vanessa Williams, a former Miss America who was invited back as head judge. “Her soprano rendition, aria, was amazing. She was on fire in that red dress.”

The pageant began with an apology to Williams, who was crowned in 1983, yet resigned after unauthorized nude photos were published.

Williams said it was a review of Cantrell’s recorded interviews with preliminary judges that helped seal the deal.

“She has the personality,” Williams said. “She’s amazing. She’s got the articulate nature, she’s witty, she’s bright, she’s effervescent and she’s got a long, hard year ahead of her, and I know she’s got the stamina to do it, and the grace and the poise that we saw ... on the stage.”

Actor, singer and model Zandaya also gave a nod to the behind-the-scenes footage.

“I think we’ve all seen ... what you’re made of and your character and I think that’s really the most important thing when it came to Miss America,” said the Disney Channel star who also performed on “Dancing with the Stars.” “It’s more than glitz and glamour and you definitely represent that.”

Danica McKellar, who rose to fame playing Winnie Cooper in “The Wonder Years,” said Cantrell made it difficult for her to keep a poker face when watching her sing.

“I had goose bumps and I had tears in my eyes,” said McKellar, who has written four books encouraging girls to embrace math. “They asked us judges not to reveal with our faces who we preferred or what we were thinking. I was like, ‘I can’t top the tears and the goose bumps.’ It was incredible. You were so amazing.”

She thought Cantrell had it all.

“You’ve just got the whole package, you’ve got poise, grace and intelligence. I’m just proud you’re our new Miss America.

Country singer Brett Eldredge also was moved by her talent.

“I started singing opera when I was young, but I’d never really seen it like that before,” said Eldredge, who also was the judge to question Cantrell about whether Tom Brady cheated in DeflateGate.

“When she was crying and kinda acting it out, I was feeling like I was going to cry, but like (McKellar) said, you can’t show your reaction and I’m getting chills up my spine,” he said looking at Cantrell in her crown and gown. “That’s what talent is, and you’ve got it and you’re amazing.

Paralympic snowboarder and actress Amy Purdy also said she was proud to call Cantrell Miss America.

“We all got so much insight on the amount of work that it takes to be Miss America ... just how grueling the schedule is and how much you give of yourself,” Purdy said. “You definitely have that.”

Investor Kevin O’Leary of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” sees the value of Cantrell’s crown.

“I look at this as an opportunity for an individual woman to be bestowed a platform that I hope and expect her to grown on and build,” said O’Leary, who noted the 95th anniversary of the pageant.

“This is a huge brand,” he said. “If you think about it, for the rest of her life, wherever she walks in a room, anywhere in the world, every eye will look at her because she is and was and still is a Miss America. It’s a huge deal,” he said, looking at Cantrell, who was about to receive her $50,000 scholarship.

“Now go out there and make some money with this thing,” he said. “Congratulations. You deserve it.”

Taya Kyle, widow of the “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, said by the time she got the microphone, most of the accolades had already been delivered.

“I noticed about you that you have this exuberance this energy that is almost overflowing, almost like it can not be contained,” Kyle said. “I think that will serve you very well. And like everyone else said, your talent was amazing. Your intelligence comes through and you’re drop dead gorgeous. So, enjoy your reign.”

Sam Haskell III, chairman of the Miss America organization, said he expected to be booking Betty to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“What Miss America is really about is service and that’s what we’re most proud of. That’s what we try to focus on,” Haskell said before introducing the new Miss America to the public. “Miss America has to have a servant’s heart and she has to have a heart for service.”

Once Cantrell reached the podium, thanked the judges and lauded the 51 other girls she was representing, she embraced her new role.

“I’m so excited to be a national ambassador for The Children’s Miracle Network hospital and my own platform,” she said. “I’m so excited to travel the country to all the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. And be an ambassador for such an incredible organization.”

The job fits right in with her platform advocating for children’s mental and physical health.

“My passion for children is going to drive me this year and I really hope I can bring home that message,” she said.

She might have to give Haskell a refresher course after he made this announcement: “I told Betty after her crowning, I’m so excited to get to go to a homecoming in Georgia. I want some fried chicken.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303, and follow her on Twitter@liz_lines.