Hannah Roberts, Miss Mississippi performs on stage during the 2016 Miss America Competition. Photo: Miss America Organization
The talent portion of a pageant is often one of the most daunting. It takes just as much guts and preparation to put yourself out there and show your stuff in talent as it does in swimwear. With that said, girls can often become discouraged if they don't feel as though they have a talent.
We typically see girls who have been trained in their talent for many years, allowing them to perfect their skills. Websters vaguely gives the definition of talent as "a special ability that allows someone to do something well." It defines skill as "the ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice." So perhaps they are a bit interchangeable. But with definitions aside, what is the most important element of a talent routine? Is it the technical skill or the entertainment value that will give you the score you need to bring home the crown?
I will never forget the preparation leading up to my second MAO Local. The director said to pick our talents wisely because judges look for technique. She described how judges would watch a dancer's ankles for proper technique. Cue the never ending nerves when it came to talent no matter what I was performing, and my sudden obsession with minute details that probably didn't matter. I was so worried the judges would notice EVERYTHING. "...I have competed and judged in pageants where they specifically had you analyzing technical skill," said Stephanie Sawyer, Miss California Nationwide 2015. It took me years to realize that only judges who are trained in dance would really know if you had the proper technique to begin with. But having only a few classes under my belt, most as part of color guard, I panicked and decided the only thing I had enough training in with a professional was spinning a flag.
Betty Cantrell, Miss America 2016, performing her talent during the Miss America 2016 pageant.
I've heard stories of girls learning one song on an instrument for talent and it's worked out for them. Recently we've seen a growth in unique talents that judges don't often see. But you still need to look like you know what you're doing. No matter how much training you have, if you look awkward in the performance, it's not going to go over well. In fact, at the 1993 Miss Arizona competition, Stacy Hedger then Miss Douglas, learned to play the theme song from Star Wars on trumpet. You can see her performance that went viral when uploaded to YouTube in 2007.
Skye Todd, pageant makeup artist and owner of Skye Todd Make-Up Artistry said, " also has to have entertainment value. But frankly, if you're technically, I don't want to watch your talent, no matter how entertaining it's supposed to be." Technique is what makes the piece look good, so if you have to, pick a talent in which you can "fake it 'til you make it," and start taking classes to perfect the talents and skills you have.
It's not shocking that playing a cup doesn't require a lot of skill. After the audience clapped along to Kira Kazantsev's performance of "Happy" while sitting barefoot on the Miss America stage playing a cup, people began to wonder if that was really all it took in a talent performance to win Miss America. After all, even Grace Heart played the water glasses. But success with a unique talent depends on you. "It depends on your personality if you want to try an out-of-the-box talent," said Jesse Ladoue, TPP's Queen of Fashion. "Kira was so successful with the cup because she was quirky, confident and relatable all around. She isn't this textbook super sophisticated person, who sat on the floor and played a cup - it all made sense to her cohesive image. If not, there will be a disconnect and the judges won't buy 'you'." The judges want to be entertained, but talent is also a huge spot where they get to see your personality shine. They can tell when you're having fun and love what you are doing.
Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015, performing her talent at the Miss America 2015 pageant.
"...I've also judged pageants where the purpose was to find the contestant who will do the best job entertaining an audience," said Sawyer. "Personally I believe you need to consider both. Pick something you excel at and find a way to express your passion and personality while you do it." That doesn't mean you have to be Barbie smiling and chassé-ing all over the stage. Being impressed by your vulnerableness in a performance or by your skill can be just as entertaining. See Miss Scotland's Miss World 2014 performance. She was 1st Runner-up in Talent at Miss World
Miss Colorado 2015 also performed a unique monologue talent, which became an anthem for nurses across the country and took her to the Ellen show. (Read: 5 Tips to Improve Your Pageant Monologue)
Kelley Johnson, Miss Colorado 2015, Monologue performance during the Miss America 2016 pageant.
Your talent has to fit you because you have to look comfortable doing it. You have to be passionate about it, because it will show. If you have been performing the same routine for years and are bored with it, switch it up. Your tiredness of the routine will show through and your heart wont be truly in it and that's what sells the performance and entertains the audience. "...The opera singer may be more trained and have more raw talent, but the girl belting out the slightly bawdy tune with a grin and a wink steals my heart every time," said pageant mom, Ginger McGarity. Her daughter competes in the Cinderella Organization in Arizona and performs a monologue.
Technical skill and entertainment value overlap, no doubt. A boring performance, no matter how well performed, is going to put the audience, and the judges, to sleep. This defeats the purpose. You want to be memorable and talent is going to help you stand out.
"It depends on the system and the set of judges," said Laura Pennington, TPP's former Queen of Editing. "While some judges will favor technique if they are trained in it, I think entertainment appeals to everyone. It's definitely possible for a person to allow great entertainment to overshadow a less than perfect technique."
Mackenzie Bart, Miss Ohio 2014, performing ventriloquism at the Miss America 2015 pageant.
The purpose of talent goes back to the old days when women were supposed to be able to entertain their guests. Think about it, part of schooling for women, in addition to home economics and preparing for marriage, was in the arts to ensure she would be able to entertain guests in her home. Not only could she cook a meal, hold a conversation, have the house spotless, and look effortlessly breathtaking, she needed the clincher: the ability to ensure a fun atmosphere.
Kira was shown throughout her reign with a cup in hand playing with children throughout the country, including those in Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. It really became a positive, that no, you do not have to be the next Edina Menzel to be Miss America. This year, Betty Cantrell's stunning performance clinched the crown.
Let's be honest, "Deflate Gate" did her no favors. But, we saw a carefree and human side to her throughout the pageant when she didn't panic, at least not on camera, when her earrings fell off. Like Kira's, Betty's reign has given her the opportunity to spread joy with her talent. The Miss America Organization has posted videos of her on social media, including one of her visiting a school in Atlantic City and singing "Let it Go," while a girl with disabilities held on to her hand and smiled from ear-to-ear.
Miss America 2016, Betty Cantrell, sings "Let It Go," with students at an appearance.
Don't be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve. You never know what is going to impress the judges. Be confident in your ability, go out there and show those judges you can be entertaining, and as Elsa discovered, just "Let It Go."
Her tip is: "Remember you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”Learn More