My dad told me once, ‘if you love what you do, it never feels like work. Every day, you go to do something you enjoy, and you just get paid for it!’
I’ve been interviewing and writing about Miss Nebraska contestants for three years now. Many have said they are competing for a JOB. You’re about to meet a young woman proving every single day that is EXACTLY what this honor is.
Photo courtesy Matt Boyd Photography and the Miss America Organization
Betty Cantrell is Miss America 2016. To anyone who thinks all beauty queens do is wave their hands and smile.. STEP BACK.
“A normal day for me is getting up super early, putting on a lot of makeup, making sure my hair looks nice, and doing a full day of events,” Betty told me earlier this month. “Usually a full day is about 12 hours; I’m always ready to crash by the end of the day.”
Betty’s journey to Miss America started in 2013, when she entered a local pageant in her home state, hoping to become Miss Georgia. Betty finished as 1st or 2nd runner-up three times before winning a local title, and went on to place 2nd runner up at the 2014 Miss Georgia Pageant. Betty tried again just weeks later, becoming Miss Warner Robins 2015. Representing her hometown, Betty was crowned Miss Georgia 2015, winning $15,000 in scholarship money and a ticket to compete at Miss America.
Photo courtesy Matt Boyd Photography
“I decided to begin competing in pageants for the scholarship opportunities offered by the Miss America Organization and because I love to sing and I really enjoyed competing in talent competitions,” said Betty. “I just really loved everything this organization stood for: Scholarship, Service, Style and Success. (Those are the four points of the crown, the 4 S’s.)”
Betty had less than three months to prepare for Miss America; she tells me she prepped the same as she did for Miss Georgia (just stressed out a little bit more.) Immediately, she caught the attention of the Twitterverse that follows Miss America, and everyone following the chatter at home, by winning one of only 3 preliminary talent awards with her powerful vocal performance of ‘Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!’ from Madama Butterfly.
“I loved winning preliminary talent at Miss America,” said Betty. “If I hadn’t won the competition, winning talent would have been enough for me. I love to perform, so being validated on my talent on a national level was amazing. I also made SOOO many friends at Miss America and I’m so grateful for those friendships because I know they will last forever.”
The 2016 Miss America Pageant titleholders surprising Betty with a birthday treat; she celebrated her 21st birthday while she competed at Miss America. (Photo courtesy the Miss America Organization)
FINALS NIGHT.. with approximately 7-million people watching across the country, Miss Georgia Betty Cantrell was crowned Miss America 2016. She is only the 2nd Georgia representative to win the title, taking home $52,000 in scholarship money.
Photo courtesy The Miss America Organization/Bruce V. Boyajian
“I couldn’t believe that I had just won,” said Betty. “I was so thankful to the judges for picking me and for seeing through my imperfections. They saw that I’m the real deal and could be a good role model for young people everywhere.”
Those ‘imperfections’…. during her final moments before she won the title, Betty took on a complicated question on stage regarding ‘Deflategate’, and had a minor trip in her evening gown.
First, let’s take a step back. How many times have you tripped in the office, at the mall, or anywhere else… we all do it! Second, all of the Top 7 finalists at this year’s competition were put on the spot about some of the hottest topics and issues we face today.. and they had courage under fire in front of 7-MILLION people!
Photo courtesy the Miss America Organization
Still, haters gonna hate.. and Betty (like many Miss Americas before her) faced almost immediate criticism that the judges made the wrong choice. Despite an overwhelming, and sometimes hateful social and mainstream media storm, Betty IMMEDIATELY got to work, ready to make a difference as Miss America 2016.
Literally, from New York to LA, Betty Cantrell set out to cover the country and impact as many people as possible. She accepted countless interviews, she visited the New York Stock Exchange, she rubbed elbows with Hollywood celebrities, and always made time for the children that matter to her most, pediatric patients in Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“I always love doing events with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals,” Betty told me. “CMNH is the official platform of the organization and I love kids, so anytime I get to work with them is just awesome.”
Then in December, just three months into her reign, Betty did something jaw-dropping..
..she chopped off all the long, gorgeous hair so many associate with beauty queens. With Miss America. Betty did it to donate to pediatric cancer patients who needed it, and with that, inspired countless teens and women after her to follow her lead.
Betty Cantrell has advocated for farmers and 4H. She’s taken part in the USO tour, singing for men and women around the world serving our country. She’s performed for school after school after school, dazzling children everywhere with her INCREDIBLE rendition of ‘Let It Go’.
And in a time where people seem to increasingly have a negative connotation of pageants, Betty Cantrell has brought the Miss America brand back into the forefront. She’s spoken and performed in front of the Georgia legislature. She’s drawn 65,000 followers on Twitter. She’s presented and/or performed at some of the country’s biggest events and awards shows, making friends with some of America’s most popular performers.
Red carpet photo courtesy Getty Images
“My favorite appearances so far have been the CMA’s and the ACM awards shows,” said Betty, who was also featured in People Magazine’s Best Dressed list after the events. “I’m an aspiring country singer, so hanging out with all of the country artists I look up to is always pretty thrilling.”
Every time someone sees Miss America at a respected event, I’d argue that’s one more person who might think ‘hmm, what’s this Miss America thing all about?’ and maybe find out a little more about the thousands of young women competing, earning thousands in scholarships, and making a difference in their communities. Betty, for example, partnered early on with Team FNV to promote her platform ‘Healthy Children, Strong America.’ Joining her mission.. actresses Jessica Alba and Kristen Bell, NBA star Stephen Curry and singer Nick Jonas.
“I have now partnered with the American Farm Bureau to help spread the word about kids eating healthy, exercising, and learning about where their food comes from!” said Betty.
The one thing NOT mentioned in my interview with Betty… a break. Because she rarely gets one. As Nebraska prepares to crown a new titleholder in just weeks, Miss America 2016 is preparing to hand over her crown, and resume life as simply, Betty Cantrell.
“I am looking forward to having a normal life again!” said Betty. “My plan is to move to Nashville and work on my country singing career.” (Click here to follow Betty’s new professional account on Twitter!)
Maybe you’ve watched Miss America your whole life. Maybe you’ve tried to AVOID Miss America your whole life.. not wanting to feed into a culture that subjects women to swimsuits, high heels and objectification.
If you’re the latter, Betty Cantrell has a message for you.
“This is a fun and philanthropic way to be a role model and earn scholarships to further your education,” said Betty. (Quick recap: Betty, a Mercer University student, has made more than $67,000 in scholarships competing in the Miss America Organization.) “Another reason to compete is for the friendships you make that will last a lifetime. I was skeptical at first, too, but when I really learned what the organization is all about, I was so happy I chose to be involved.”
To the women hoping to become Miss Nebraska.. dreaming of becoming the woman Betty crowns Miss America in just three short months, a reminder.
“My number one piece of advice to every contestant in every state is just to be yourself,” said Betty. “Show those judges what makes you special and unique. Be confidently and unapologetically, you!”
And Miss America 2016 has no apologies. She’s a farm girl, a Georgia peach, perfectly imperfect, a Mercer Bear, a country star-in-the-making, a daughter, granddaughter, and friend. She is Baciliky Andris ‘Betty’ Cantrell, a girl given a name meaning’royalty’.. a woman showing her country what being a queen is all about.
“I want people to remember me as the different Miss America,” said Betty. “The Miss America who didn’t care what the haters had to say. The one who chopped off her hair and donated it. The one who grew up on a farm and became Miss America. I just want people to remember me as a Miss America that changed the stigma of what Miss America is and should be, forever.”
My sincere thanks to Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell for taking the time for our interview, and to the Miss America Organization’s Chelsea Mineur for facilitating this!
To learn more about Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell, click each link to follow
on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram. You can also CLICK HERE to visit the Miss America Organization Facebook page for a full list of resources and information about Betty and the program. The 2017 Miss America Pageant takes place September 11 on ABC!
CLICK HERE to meet the 2016 Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants!
The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska. Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.
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To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!