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Pageant Talent: The Complete Guide

04, March 2019

Pageant talent is one of the hardest areas of competition. You need to be both technically proficient and highly entertaining. From deciding what pageant talent to perform to picking out the perfect outfit to highlight your skills, how do you know what the judges will love? It's a lot to decide on, so we wanted to make this area of competition easier to navigate. That's why we've created this comprehensive guide and a pageant talent coach database so you can find professional help need you!

How to pick your pageant talent

How to pick your pageant talent music

How to pick your pageant talent outfit

How to perform your best pageant talent

Miss Massachusetts at the 2015 Miss America competition. Photo: Miss America Organization

How to pick your pageant talent

What is a “pageant talent?”

Pageant talent is a "talent" that is performed onstage during a pageant. These talents can range from speed painting to singing to karate to just about anything you can think of. One Miss America 1955 contestant, Carol Jennette, even talked about how to pack a suitcase for her pageant talent.

The talent portion of a pageant gives you a unique opportunity to express yourself in a way not found in any other portion of competition. It allows you to showcase what skills you have to entertain an audience. This is the moment where you can show the judges your ability to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary. One of the purposes of talent is to demonstrate to the judges how well you can connect with others through entertainment. It’s your chance to shine and to be totally in your element!

But, not all pageant competitions have talent segments to be scored. For example, Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA are famously known for not having a talent portion. 

In the Miss America Organization, 35 percent of the contestant's overall score for the Miss America national competition and 50 percent on state level competitions. Each contestant will wear her own personal choice of fashion wear, but it must be approved by and registered with the National office, with a designer, style number and photo of the selection.

 

Miss Georgia Monica Pang at the 2006 Miss America competition. Photo: Ethan Miller/getty Images 

Additionally, some pageants, like National American Miss, Miss American Coed and USA Ambassador, have optional talent competitions. This means that a contestant can enter the talent competition for the chance to win additional prizes but traditionally does not go into the contestants overall score. 

The answer for why some pageants include it and others don't is simply dependent on the organization's preference. The presence and weight in the talent portion. In 2018, Miss America changed the weight of the talent portion's score in the contestant's overall score when it eliminated the swimsuit competition. 

Miss Teen USA 2018 Hailey Colborn. Photo: Miss USA Facebook

Most importantly, make your pageant talent your own. Be unique. If you see something on TV you would like to try, try it. Always look for feedback from other people when you're picking a talent though; whether it be friends, family, or a pageant coach, they will tell you the truth if your talent is pageant perfect.

When asked what she would say to a pageant girl looking for a talent to pursue, Miss West Virginia 2012 Kaitlin Gates said, "It's very important that a contestant can relate to their song or their talent in general. When the natural emotion and feelings start coming through during her performance, that's when you know it's real."

Your talent is the time to reflect you in a powerful way. It can show how athletic, how wonderful and how gifted you are, not only with beauty, but with brains. Talent is also so much fun. You get to be free and let out the special part of you that no one else can be. Never worry about anybody else, because your biggest competitor will always be you. Good Luck!

Miss California during prelim talent at Miss America 2010. Photo: Miss America Organization 

Hannah Roberts, Miss Mississippi performs on stage during the 2016 Miss America Competition. Photo: Miss America Organization

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?

Technical Skill

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.

Miss America 2016, Betty Cantrell, performing her talent during the Miss America 2016 pageant.

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.

Entertainment Value

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.

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. She was 1st Runner-up in Talent at Miss World

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.

Both

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, Pageant Planet'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."

Miss Ohio 2014, Mackenzie Bart, performing ventriloquism at the Miss America 2015 pageant.

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.

What types of talents are “pageant talents?”

Nowadays pretty much anything can score you big for a pageant talent. With different talents being added pretty much daily, we have compiled a short list of talents that contestants have already scored big with. If you don’t see your passion on this list, don’t fret! It would be almost impossible to cover all of the amazing capabilities of pageant queens. Be sure to always pick a talent that you are comfortable with, have time to prepare and that you always check with your director for safety and rule guidelines (I’m looking at you, fire baton twirlers!). Without further ado, here is a talent list to get your creative juices flowing!

Singing

Singing, a pageant all time favorite, has been in the pageant industry since the beginning of pageantry itself. Contestants have sang songs of all genres from broadway show tunes, pop hits and spiritual songs to name just a few. Some contestants may dance while they sing, or play an instrument and sing. While others can do just as well with just their amazing vocal abilities. Even the amazing current Miss Universe Catriona Gray sang for her talent portion at Miss World 2016.

When choosing a song to perform, one may try to sing the most difficult song possible in the hopes that technical points will earn them a higher score. Be careful if you choose this path as it is one to not take lightly. While I wholeheartedly believe that with proper singing techniques and guidance it is not impossible to sing a difficult song, you may receive just as many, if not more, points for singing something that is in your vocal range, comfort level and most of all, a song that you are passionate about.

Reaching out to a vocal coach to build up your skill set and a choreographer to help with stage presence are two ways to ensure you will put on a crown-worthy performance! Again, make sure to check your pageant guidelines for rules regarding length of talent, what medium to put background music onto (if needed), if background vocals are allowed and what type of microphone you will be using.

Catriona Gray's Miss World 2016 performance in talent

Dancing

Another crowd pleasing talent option is dancing. With so many different types of dance out there from lyrical, ballet, hip hop, jazz and so many more, it’s not difficult to see why so many contestants love to show off their fancy feet.

The amazingly talented Silviya Taseva used a combination of flexibility, choreography and awe for her dance during the 2013 Miss Bulgaria talent competition. While watching her performance it is not hard to see why she took home the ‘best talent’ award. Her talent performance did not feel like a pageant but rather a show that one would pay for a front row seat. Talent like that is why so many contestants dream of taking home a crown.

When choosing to dance for your talent portion, stretching, preparation and guidance are key. Talent like Silviya’s is not learned overnight and comes with many risks like injury. Do not take this lightly, even the most skilled dancers can get hurt. Also, seek a professional to guide you through. If you are the brink of learning to dance, lean on your dance teacher to help you choose the correct song, style and level of difficulty for your talent performance.

Silviya Taseva's "Best Talent' winning performance at "Miss Bulgaria in USA  2013"

Musical Instruments

One of my favorite choices for talent is playing a musical instrument. Some of the most popular instruments to pick from are the violin, guitar, piano and clarinet. These are just a few of the many, many options! Violin player, Ariel Blackwood beautifully showcased her violin playing skills in the 2016 Miss South Carolina pageant.

Like any talent, a lot of hard work and determination goes into playing an instrument. I believe the key to putting on a crown-worthy instrumental performance is the song you choose. Most contestants will choose a song with background music but the man melody will be lead by the instrument player itself. Picking a song that is more popular may hit you with bigger points whereas a classic song may not. Judging panels are typically very well versed in all different types of music, however, there is something to be said about the power of an audience. If an audience can recognize a song and cheer you on for that reason, that may pep up not only your passion onstage, but the earbuds of your judges as well.

Ariel Blackwood playing the violin at the 2016 Miss South Carolina

Monologue

Monologues are just as popular in pageant world as they are in the show business industry. While it may seem an easy task, properly performing a monologue takes a lot of practice. Not only does execution of your words and phrasing have to be memorized, but you have set your monologue apart from a speech. The correct way to monologue takes part memorization and part acting!

Picking out a monologue may be the most difficult part. Will you go the road of a clip from a popular movie or perhaps a Shakespearean blurb? Whatever one you choose, inserting passion, acting and yourself into the piece is what will set you apart from other talents. Take a look at how much stage Zoebell Jane Flores uses during her monologue at the 2016 Philippine Independence Day pageant. Not only does she keep you focused by utilizing the entire stage but she uses different facial expressions, breathing techniques, correct pauses and phrases.

To perform your best during a monologue, reach out to an acting coach, interview coach and perhaps even a choreographer to ensure you cover all areas of your unique talent!

Zobelle Jane Flores performing her monologue

Speed Painting

Ok, now THIS is a talent that is crazy cool to watch! If you are already a skilled painter then this would be a really amazing talent to showcase. Jessica Haas performed her speed painting ability in 2013 wearing a navy blue jeweled jumpsuit, jazz shoes and blasted a very uplifting Christian song. Not that she needed to add to her already jaw dropping skills, but by adding in a song and the very suspenseful turn of the canvas, she won talent and was the first ever speed painter in the Miss America organization! She has just won ‘The Gong’ show with her amazing talent and is the first female speed painter!

Miss Collierville Jessica Haas performs her speed painting ability in 2013

Ventriloquism

What’s better than one puppet singing with a pageant queen...TWO PUPPETS! That’s right! Miss Dallas used her unique skill to manipulate two puppets, sing and maintain her cool with her ventriloquism act during the 2015 Miss Texas pageant. What is so neat about this form of performance is that it was pretty much only used during children’s shows up until comedian Jeff Dunham made us all laugh using puppets not too many years ago. Since then, ventriloquism has been a phenomenon on pageant stages, comedy clubs and arenas across the world.

While this type of performance may be all laughs and giggles, it is not an easy feat! The key to performing this correctly is to create an illusion of multiple characters competing at once, all while having your mouth shut and not missing social cues that a human would have but with only your hands to do them! This is one tricky skill but done right, will evoke a lot of laughs and points!

Miss Dallas performing her ventriloquism act in 2015

Magic

Magic is not just for the circus or your niece's birthday party anymore, folks. Any form of talent can be made a pageant talent, and at ANY age! Magic is not an exception here. Magic can encompass many facets of skill including card tricks, illusions, sleight of hand and so much more. To perfect a magic performance your key is to practice in front of an audience. Also recording yourself like sports athletes do can really benefit your set! Take a look at how this little firecracker wows her audience during the National American Miss talent portion in 2015 here:

Martial Arts

If you’re a kick butt kind of queen, then martial arts is for you! Gone are the days of a long drawn out martial arts form, in pageant land, everything is better! Let’s examine Ebony’s beautifully done performance for the 2009 Miss Black Sacramento Scholarship Pageant. Here she not only exudes pure skill, talent and passion but adds her own little twists. The crowd goes wild for her music mix and energy. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a kick butt queen? To top it all off, she was only 15 at the time of this pageant! Hi-Ya! 

Science

With possibly the cutest and shiniest lab coat I’ve ever seen, Miss Vermont 2016 Alayna Westcom used her passion for science to create a talent showcase all her own. As mentioned before, almost any talent or skill you have can become a pageant worthy talent. All it takes is practice, passion and the correct execution! Let's relive Alayna's eruption worthy showcase here:

Signing

Usually a tear jerker for this writer, using sign language as your talent can involve a lot of thought and hard work. Tamara Vukomanovich proves this during her heartful signing performance of “Imagine” during the 2010 Miss Sierra Vista pageant.

As someone who took courses in American Sign Language, I can tell you first hand that there is more than just moving your fingers while signing. Facials expressions, body language and exact finger movements are crucial to getting across not only the correct words but the image you want to project as well!

I dare you to watch Tamara signing and not cry! Seriously, she's amazing.

Archery

Ready, aim, FIRE! Archery is always a hair raising talent in pageantry. Whether you use a arrow on fire or you are hitting an apple on top of someone’s head, it’s sure to be a judge pleaser!

Army veteran and former Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, is so passionate about her archery skills that she has hosted and even has her own program about archery!  While she did not get to roferm her archery skills on the Miss America stage, she has broken many traditional stereotypes that have held back pageant contestants.

Archery takes a lot of character traits along with physical and mental skill to pull off. Focal skill, arm strength and core control are just a few of the qualities one will use to pull off an intense and slightly dangerous talent skill.

Take a look at her message to others (including a short example of her amazing aiming skills) in this Youtube clip.

Lip Sync

I know what you are thinking, lip sync, a talent? Yes, friends, lip sync! Come on now, you can’t tell me you don’t use your hair brush as a microphone and pound out your favorite Whitney Houston song when no one is looking! If Lip Sync wasn’t a valid option then the app made just for those who want to sing, but won’t, ‘Musical.ly’ wouldn’t be around. Hey, it is even the deciding factor for portions of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Afterall, most movies and music videos are actors and singers mouthing the words to their own songs!

To properly lip sync you will need to learn a song in the most particular of ways. This goes beyond just learning the words. One has to mouth the words exactly the way the original vocalist does, by listening to their breathing pauses and all the intricacies that go into singing. Put yourself inside the song, inside of the vocalist. To create the perfect rendition of a song without being able to implement your own vocal ability, you have to step up the performance aspect. This isn’t karaoke folks, it’s a stage performance. Just like any other talent, your objective is to draw in your audience and your judges, make them fall in love with your spin on the talent. Place your passion in the spot where the vocal ability lives and you can match any other talent with hard work and a lot of preparation.

What combines drama and music all in one? Lip sync! For an exampleof this talent we turn to no other than Jazelle Barbie Royale competing at the Miss Duval pageant in 2011.

Comedy routine

Who doesn’t love a good laugh? I know this girl does! So why not try your hand at a comedy skit? After all, if you look at life in a optimistic way, everything can be comedic!

Deciding what you want to rehearse for your skit may be the hardest part. Do not be surprised if you change your mind on your delivery and wording a million times before getting it right!

Honing your comedic skills can be a lot of hard work. While practicing, change out your audience to get real time feedback! Remember, a comedy skit should feel like it’s a one-sided conversation about real events, including feelings and comments from anyone involved in the story. Adding in a personal story will always bring in your audience. If an audience feels they can connect with you, then they are easier to please than with some obscure story about something that never happened or that seems too far fetched.

Acrobatics

One pageant talent that will have you tossing and turning, is acrobatics. Now, depending upon the guidelines and venue, one can go as far as they’d like with their acrobatics routine! You can also stay tried and true to showcasing an already incredible talent with just your gift! Take for example this gymnastics routine at the 2017 Silicon Valley pageant. Incorporating dance, choreography and gymnastics was the way to go for this well put together performance.

Gymnastics and acrobatics go hand and hand, and require a lot of skill, technique and patience. Without the proper guidance and hard work, the risks of taking on this talent lightly are great. So if you are going to approach this for your pageant talent, be sure to reach out to all of the professionals and practice space that you need.

Miss Silicon Valley Pageant Talent 2017

Baton Twirling

Baton twirling, or twirling for short, has been used in many different venues from military, to dances and of course pageantry! This talent requires a bunch of skills including, but not limited to dance, rhythm, hand manipulation and way more multitasking capabilities than I could ever handle. Twirling skills are not just limited to a baton! The versatility of this talent is one to admire. Although I don’t recommend knives or sticks of fire (however they have been done before), ribbons and hula hoops are a perfect way to change up an already exciting talent.

Perdue’s golden girl and Miss Indiana 2012, Merriebeth Cox is one of the best twirlers in the pageant world! In 2012, she visited her alma mater in the Perdue Stadium to showcase her skills

How to choose a talent if you don’t have a “pageant talent”

Maybe you missed the bus on the gift of natural talent, or maybe you just haven’t quite figured out yet which talent suites you best. Just maybe, you think your talent isn’t pageant worthy and perhaps your talent isn’t quiet polished enough for a judging panel. Whatever the reason, I can assure you that there is a talent out there for you.

No natural talent

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a large amount of pageant girls start off in pageant land because they want to showcase their talents. This was the case for me. At the age of three I was plopped into a pageant to showcase, what my mother so delicately described it as, my ‘diva-tude.’ This isn’t always the case however, and since you are still reading this portion, I bet this applies to you. Don’t lose hope! You MAY be surprised to find out that there are a larger amount of contestants that have had to grow a passion for a talent that they weren’t naturally born with the ability to do. Trust me, friends, this is one hundred percent possible.

“Hustle beats talent when talent doesn’t hustle”

So what does that mean? Listen to me, queens. Even people who are naturally talented have to work to be perfect. So, you can absolutely work to gain a talent. Although it may not be a naturally born ability, with a lot of hard work, guidance and passion, you can find the perfect talent for you.

What talent suits you best?

Let’s start by looking at the above list from the ‘What types of talents are “pageant talents?’ portion. Take a really good look at that list. There is a preconceived notion that pageant talent is either singing, dancing or playing an instrument. As you can see, that is far from the truth. With modern day television programs like ‘America’s Got Talent,’ it is easy to see what crowds and judges are drawn to. With a quick Youtube search, you can find a beginners tutorial on talents from magic (cards, disappearing tricks and more) to easy and crowdpleasing songs to strum on a guitar.

If you truly don’t have a talent to go off of, then by using our list, how much time you have to prepare and what guidance is available to you, you may be able to determine what talent to pick. Let’s say you have a passion for laughter and maybe your favorite genre of movies is comedy. You can take that love for laughter and visit a local comedy club to possibly get the inside scoop on how to present a funny skit as your talent. I truly believe everyone has a talent, you just have to work a little bit to figure it out and to make it yours.

Perhaps there isn’t anything on our list that tickles your fancy. That just means you were born to be a trailblazer. Take that list and throw it out of the window. Think about it, someone had to be the first to break open the talent list. We all have something we love-maybe it’s making jewelry or pottery, styling hair or playing checkers, whatever it is, as long as you add an ‘it’ factor, you can make your passion into your talent. Take for example Miss Vermont Alayna Westcom’s performance in 2016 showcasing her scientific specialties by creating stage-worthy eruptions! Westcom graduated from Bay Path College with a bachelor of science degree in forensic science and is currently a medical examiner and medical technologist! So you see, any passion can become your talent!

Alayna Westcom showing off her scientific knowledge on the Miss America stage.

Pageant Worthy

We have all heard it before, the ‘it’ factor. Any good talent should incorporate an ‘it factor. What I mean is, What can you do to breathe life and passion into something to make it noteworthy, your own and phenomenal? Since you have carefully chosen a talent, you are training hard and spend all your energy and time into perfecting it. To win a talent or even just to do it justice, you have to find a way to add pizzazz. For speed painter Jessica Haas, she added pizzazz to her 2013 performance by painting upside down. Perhaps even adding a pack of performers will add to your showcase (if your system allows it) like Miss Gay America contestant Jenna Skyy chose to do in 2011.

Take a look at how Jenna Skyy added to her talent in this video!

Too many talents

While I wish I could say that this was my problem, I’m an one trick pony. Many pageant contestants however, were blessed with multiple passions and talents. If this is you then I suggest trying out each of your talents per pageant, until you find the one that fits you the best. As many of us may already know, each pageant just like each contestant is unique. No two pageants are the same. So if you were granted the gift of multiple talents then you may have the opportunity to showcase all of your skills depending on what talent you have next! With any luck you will be able to utilize all of your skills!

How to pick your pageant talent music

Whether you’ve been working at your pageant talent your whole life, just picked it up or are still in the process of choosing, which music you have along with your talent is very important. Always keep in mind that the music you choose will be played for your fellow contestants, the judges, director, audience and of course, yourself.

As a judge, you want to hear music that meets the criteria of the type of talent you will be performing along with the guidelines of the pageant system set by the director or board. Your fellow contestants will want something they can relate to and hopefully something they aren’t also using! Directors may sometimes have guidelines on what music is appropriate in regards to time and language. They may also have a list of songs not to use or songs that other contestants are using. Pleasing your audience is also very important, as you want to get as many cheers afterwards as possible!

Picking your song is just as important as picking your outfit or talent skill. Music can fill in the gaps of time and help promote your passion. If you’ve chosen a talent that doesn’t directly use music like dance or singing (except acapela), you may think that music isn’t necessary or helpful. While that may be true for some talents, like monologue or a comedy routine, instrumentals and background music can not only provide a filler but can introduce concepts about yourself that you may not be able to hint at while performing.

For example, Jessica Haas used a Christian Pop song during her speed painting in 2013. With using a song like that, she was able to put together her painting of Jesus Christ along with music that fit her skill and that she enjoys.

You see music can do a lot more than just give us something to bop our heads about. It’s like choosing your hairstyle or gown for formal wear. What song you choose can say a lot about not only your talent skills but also your personality, religion, favorite genre, etc. Make sure to take ample time to choose music that fits not only your skill but that says something about you.

Does music move you? Is there more than one type of music that you love more than others? Do you have a favorite artist or group? Or maybe you prefer music to not drown out your skill and talent? These are all good questions to ask yourself when choosing which music to utilize for your onstage performance. Other things to consider when picking out a background song or song to sing/dance to is; time length, audience, degree of difficulty, language and popularity (do you want to introduce a new song or stick to a crowd favorite)?

Whichever song you choose, make sure to bring your song in the required format for the pageant and label it. It’s also good to have a backup on a CD, flash drive or on your phone. Always check with your director, rule book or paperwork for information on how the music will be played.

Songs to sing

Being a vocalist is a talent that I’m well familiar with. As a contestant myself singing was always my favorite talent from the age of three. While I wouldn’t recommend singing ‘Put down the ducky’ as I did as a child, it was the right choice for my age and probably my favorite song as well. When formulating what song to sing, there is a lot to consider. For starters your age, genre, vocal range/tone and degree of difficulty, are the biggest points to consider. After all, we can’t all just belt out an Opera song in Latin. Take a look at our short list of popular songs in all genres to get your imaginations going on what song to sing!

Opera

One of the classic opera songs is “Nessun Dorma” by Giacomo Pucccini. While you may be sick of this song, it is a fan and pageant favorite all around. Featured in movies of all types from The Sum of All Fears, New York Stories to Bend it like Beckham, this song has a popular following and can be changed to many keys for almost any operatic singer.

Check out this clip of the elegant Dr.Veronica Hilyard, Ms. Missouri 2012 singing her version of Nessun Dorma.

Broadway

When choosing a song from this genre, make sure the song not only works in the context of the show but is a show stopper alone as well. It’d be a bummer to not have the work-up to a famous song that may help set the stage for the song itself. If you’d like to perform a pageant favorite, then songs like “Gimme Gimme” or “Astonishing” from Little Woman are your go-to. One of my favorite pageant Broadway songs is “Think of me” from The Phantom of the Opera. What makes this song one of my favorites is the versatility that a singer can showcase during the song. This song evokes a sweetness and vulnerability that any singer would be eager to project. Emmy Rosum, although not a pageant contestant, sings this song just perfectly in the 2004 film version of The Phantom of the Opera which you can watch here:

Movie favorites

Who doesn’t love that red headed firecracker, Ariel, from The Little Mermaid? Oh that’s right, no one. Honestly though this cult classic is a favorite for pageant girls across the board. This is an awesome choice for younger contestants like 10-year-old Katie Carson. Katie chose to showcase a medley from the Little Mermaid, because let’s be honest...no one can pick just ONE song from this pop hit! Beware however, if you choose to go with a movie classic, that the song has not been overdone in the pageant industry. Click this link to watch Katie’s rendition of this Disney favorite.

Country

Country singer Taylor Swift is knowing for sending clear messages in her lyrics and “White Horse” is no exception to this standard. While you may need to listen to the message closely, this song paints a realistic and positive story for girls around the world. Miss Kentucky America Preteen Presely chose this country hit for her talent portion. This song is lyrically easy and the vocal range is a wise choice for a beginner, just be aware of the message of the song and the age of the contestant. Checkout Presely singing her heart out in this clip.

Ballad

Do you love artists like Whitney Houston and Christian Aguilera? If so, then a ballad may just fit your talent needs perfectly. While there are hundreds of ballads to choose from, not just any ballad will do. When choosing which song to perform from this genre, pay close attention to the message you want to project alongside with your performance abilities and vocal range. Take for example, Miss Fall River 2013 Jillian Zucco performing “Gold”:

Pop

If you want an upbeat song then look no further than “Happy” by Pharrel. While you may think that this song is for youngsters, think again. Miss New York Kira Kazantsev chose this song for her talent portion during Miss America in 2014. To add a bit of uniqueness she choose to sing and tap on cups, taking a note from the popular musical movie series Pitch Perfect. I remember watching this in absolute awe at how awesome she did this, bare feet and all. So take a note from Kira, originality will absolutely score you some big points! Be prepared to manually shut your jaw with this clip of Kira singing to “Happy”:

Gospel

From big pipes to a sweet seven year old, almost everyone can relate to the gospel favorite “Amazing Grace.” What this classic brings to the table is true and complete versatility as this song comes in many key ranges and versions. I’ve watched powerhouse vocalists tear down the house with this song and I’ve watched young skilled singers as well like seven-year-old Robynne. 2008 National American Miss talent competitor Robynne showcased her amazing vibrato with this song choice. If this is the song for you, then grab a bible and learn your lyrics well as this song has more verses than most people realize. Take a look at Robynne in this clip:

Jazz

Dean Martin may have made this song famous in the English-speaking countries, but contestants all over the world have made this Jazz song a industry favorite. “Sway,” originally written by Mexican composer Luis Demetrio, was converted to English in the early 1950s and has since found its way to stages across America. Miss New York Camille Sims chose this song in 2016 and wore a spanish style red dress to compliment the flow of her song choice. Click the link here to watch Camille sway her way across the Miss America Stage.

Soul and R&B

The 1963 original, “I who have nothing” by Ben E. King was Hayley Lewis’s pick for the 2014 Miss America talent portion. While this song has been redone many times, at its core it is an R&b song. It has all the power and drama a pageant song needs. While not an easy song to master, this song is great for someone with an alto to mid soprano vocal range and is beginner friendly. Take a look at Hayley performing her version on this clip:

Songs to play

Playing an instrument for talent is a wonderful gift. If you have grown up playing the violin, piano, guitar or even the french horn, you already have a great pageant talent. But if you have never played an instrument before and want to for your talent, don't worry! Learn a song on that instrument, just one song, and then practice it everyday until it is perfect! 

It all starts with baby steps. Similar to singing, it's important to find someone who can teach you to play your song properly, because many judges are musically trained and will evaluate your technique. You don't have to learn one hundred songs on the instrument you want to play before you perform with it. Just pick a song you think would be good for talent and something you would enjoy playing and really give it your all. You are the only person who can make it outstanding.

What you also want to think about is what type of song you should play. Choose your song's mood. While slow, sad songs are filled with emotion and often showcase a voice very well, they can bring the audience's mood down. A fun, more upbeat song is more likely to be a crowd favorite. I'm not saying one of these is wrong or right, just that when choosing a song, you should consider the impact you'd like to make on the audience. Do you want to leave a lasting impression with an emotional and moving song, get the crowd dancing and clapping with a funky dance party number, or something in between?

A great song causes a reaction. The listener is compelled to do something when they hear a great song. It might cause them to dance, laugh, cry, sing along, etc. – but they will do something in response to a great song. It's almost impossible to avoid reacting when you hear a well-written, great song performed beautifully.

On the other hand here are some tips on what types of songs to avoid:

1. Overdone Songs

We all know songs that are played way too much on the radio, so imagine if you’re auditioning people for a show, and all they did was sing the same five songs over and over. Songs that are definitely overdone are the most popular songs from WickedPhantom of the OperaThoroughly Modern Millie or any Disney film. This isn’t to say that you absolutely can’t sing these songs. If you have an incredible take on these classics, go ahead and rock the house. But, if your version of "Popular" from Wicked sounds the same as the last 10 contestants who performed it, explore other options.

Photo: Wicked on Broadway

2. Anything that is on Broadway right now

If there is a show on Broadway right now and you think you should sing a song from it to impress the judges, it's a risk to sing that song. Since it’s on Broadway, it’s easily comparable to the professionals and there is little room for mistake or ability to make it your own.

3. Any Signature Songs

Best described as songs that can be associated with a certain person. Ever heard of a little song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow?” Of course you have, because it’s iconic! That song is immediately associated with Judy Garland, which is another reason to steer clear of signature songs. Since they’re so well-known, there is also very little room to make it your own because the person who made it famous, basically, did it the best.

4. Songs You Don’t Know the Meaning Behind

Make sure that you do your research beforehand and get the full gist of the song before you try to play it. Sometimes, the audition panel can ask you what the song is about, and they will probably know if you’re making up some story that has nothing to do with the music itself. You would also be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t know what it’s about because then you can’t emotionally connect to the song and show the judges what you’re made of.

With a little creativity and a good attitude, the talent portion of a beauty pageant is what can set you apart from the rest of the contestants! Encourage the star within you to express herself through the talent. Simply choose something that showcases your unique personality. Don't take anything too seriously, and most importantly, have fun!

Songs to dance to

The first rule when picking your pageant talent is to choose one you can perform without appearing to be nervous. A talent that you have mastered all the technical skills and can perform consistently under pressure. If your talent makes you smile, it will make the judges smile too.

Choosing the proper music to go with your perfect talent will help with nerves, because being on stage can be intimidating. When choosing a song to dance to during the talent portion of a pageant, the song should create a bond between yourself, the audience, and the judges. A good performance is a memorable one. During the judges’ orientation, before the pageant,  judges are often told to score both the technical skill and the audience appeal of a talent routine. But, they tend to score a talent with low technical skill and high audience appeal higher than a talent with vice-versa because if the judges enjoy your talent presentation, they’re going to score you higher. After all, they’re only human.

Picking the right song is so important. Although you may have your heart set on a song that has an emotional connection to you, that doesn’t mean it’s the best song for the stage you are presenting it on. 2011 Miss New York, Kaitlin Monte said, “make sure to pick a song the judges will be able to recognize and relate to. Also, age appropriate for the performer.”

2011 Miss New York Kaitlin Monte. Photo: Laurence Agron/PR Photos

General examples of songs to dance to

  • Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend – by Marilyn Monroe
  • Girls Just Want to Have Fun – by Cindi Lauper
  • Material Girl – By Madonna
  • Loverboy – by Mariah Carey
  • Dancing Queen – by Abba
  • Can’t Stop the Moonlight – by Leann Rimes
  • Get Into the Groove – by Madonna
  • When I Grow Up – by the Pussycat Dolls
  • The Rhythm of the Night – by Corona
  • I Love Rock and Roll – by Joan Jett

Songs specifically for lyrical dance routines:

  • Say Something- A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera
  • Stay- Rihanna featuring Mikky Ekko
  • To Make You Feel My Love - Glee: Although Glee isn't the original creator of this song, the cover that Lea Michelle sang on the show in tribute to her late love, Cory Monteith, tugged the hearts of many. Dancing to a song that is a cover can be in your favor because the song would be unique and fresh. No one else would have something like it and sometimes you may like the cover better than the original.  
  • Wrecking Ball- Miley Cyrus
  • See You Again- Carrie Underwood
  • All Of Me- John Legend
  • Let It Go- Idina Menzel
  • Maddness- Muse
  • Demons- Imagine Dragons
  • Human- Christina Perri
  • Invisible-Hunter Hayes

You can also always take a song and have it remixed to a different style, or perhaps use a cover to make these classic songs more original to you. Instrumental versions are great if the lyrics aren’t substantial but the song has a good beat. Boyce Avenue performs acoustic covers of current hits, often giving a slower, ethereal feel to the songs.

Quick Tip: Send your song choice in as soon as you can. Often times if two contestants have the same song, whoever sent it in first gets the song!

Remember the goal of your talent is to entertain everyone in the audience. Have fun, good luck!

When to go with no music and what to do instead

Sometimes, you just don't need music for your performance or maybe, you just need background music to make your talent pop.

Monologue

Miss Colorado Ellery Jones performing a poem at Miss America 2.0. Photo: Tim Hawk - NJ Advance Media

Monologues are more prevalent in modern pageantry as more contestants are determined to be unconventional and try to stand out from the sea of singers, dancers and more traditional talents. Many of these women are compelled to make their personal truth a part of their talent performance in an attempt to communicate to the judges more about who they really are.

As anyone who has ever done any acting knows, it is always easier to act opposite a partner, a reader or another actor as it allows you to build a rapport with that person. When you are acting out a scene, for instance, you are not just waiting for your turn to read your lines, you are actually listening to the other actors, just as you would in a real conversation. You listen, you react to what they are saying, you feel emotions and you respond to them with the words that your character is supposed to say in the script.

But with a monologue, you are completely on your own. These are always some of the most difficult talents to pull off successfully, because you do not have other actors to interact with or play off of. You must still fully become that character, even if that character is yourself, and you must deliver the words from the monologue and make it as real and full of emotion as possible. The audience may be the “person” or character that you are talking to, or they may not, but you still have to find a way to connect with the material as authentically as you can. Your goal is to not only entertain your audience and judges, but also consequently, connect with them as well.

When monologues are performed well, they are some of the most intriguing and memorable pageant talents you’ve ever witnessed. And, they have the added benefit of giving the judges an incredibly unique insight into that contestant’s life, way of thinking and sense of purpose.

Examples of great monologues for pageant talent

If you are going to perform a monologue for your pageant talent, you have to get educated on the points that make a monologue excellent and the things that you need to stay away from. We’re going to give you some examples of stellar monologues, as well as the do’s and don’ts of performing a great monologue, so that you will look like a pro and be highly successful in this genre.

Probably the most well known pageant monologue from recent years was delivered by Miss Colorado 2015, Kelley Johnson, during that year’s Miss America Pageant. Everyone remembers Johnson because she stepped on stage wearing her nurse’s uniform and it was such a staggering moment for the judges and the audience to see her in that type of clothing on a pageant stage. She immediately had everyone’s attention before she even opened her mouth.

Johnson’s monologue was about one of her patients named Joe, who was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's and often suffered from night terrors. The piece was intimate, heartwarming and honest and Johnson delivered it in a simple, straightforward and sincere manner. The reasons that this monologue worked so well for Johnson was that it was incredibly personal and the story and emotions were easy for her to connect with and communicate in a down to earth way. The message itself was clear and direct, and did not require intense emotion or drama to be entertaining and enthralling.

Finally, one of the most fascinating points of the piece was that it illustrated that Johnson experienced a drastic transformation in the way that she viewed the world and her place in it. That fact alone, communicated to the judges what her values and passions were, probably more than anything else that she could have stated in her paperwork or in her interview. Check out her brillant performance:

 

Do's

A good monologue:

  • Tells a story with a beginning, middle and end
  • Details a transformation or a learning experience
  • Delivers an inspiring insight or a call to action
  • Has a surprise ending or unexpected twist
  • Showcases your strengths
  • Showcases your weaknesses in a funny light, or in a way that makes you more appealing
  • Connects to your platform and delivers needed information about your cause and what you care about
  • Represents your personal brand as well as the brand of the pageant that you are competing in. If you are all about female empowerment, then choose a monologue that supports that idea. Or, if your pageant’s charity is centered on helping children who are sick or who are living in hospitals, then perhaps select a piece that complements that theme. Always keep the concept of branding in mind with whatever you do on stage, and choose something that you can connect with.
  • Move! Depending on what type of monologue you are doing, just standing at the microphone and talking, is not going to work. You want to deliver the piece as naturally as possible, even in character.
  • If you're able to, ask for a hands free microphone, but if one cannot be provided, improvise. If the pageant allows you to move around with the microphone, then take it with you and do what you need to do. If you need to sit on the stage, then sit. If you need to walk around, then walk.
  • Also, make sure that your gestures are natural and not overly large or forced. People talk with their hands and gesture or use their body to express themselves, so you don’t want to be stiff and awkward. Even voice artists who make commercials for the radio, act out what they are saying using their hands, facial expressions and their bodies. No one ever sees these types of actors, but they know that their words are more effective if they, themselves move naturally.

Miss Nebraska Jessica Shultis performing her monologue at Miss America 2.0. Photo: Miss America Organization

Don’ts

  • Forget your lines. You must memorize the piece in its entirety and be so completely comfortable performing it, that you could deliver it backwards
  • It is not necessary to be overly dramatic or emotional just to show the judges that you can “act” or to try to win sympathy or points with the judges. Even if you are telling a personal story that is sad or moving, do not feel that you have to do things like cry or breakdown. Monologues that are humorous, silly or just straightforward are just as engaging as a dramatic or over-the-top piece.
  •  If you try to sell your monologue by relying on over emotionalism, it will come across as insincere and amateurish, and it will make the audience and the judges very uncomfortable. The key is to personally connect with the material, to be rigorously honest, sincere and confident in what you are communicating.
  • Do not discuss subject matter that is inappropriate for the setting or use foul language or curse words in any way. You may be an adult competing in an adult pageant, but the pageant system still strives to provide “family friendly” entertainment, and it is most definitely trying for a “G” rating, as much as possible.
  • There is no reason to perform material that is shocking, outrageous, overly sexual in nature or potentially offensive in some way. There is plenty of appropriate monologue subject matter available that is still very entertaining. Likewise, you may want to stay away from any hotly debatable topics or subjects that might be divisive like politics and religion.
  • Don’t try to play a character if your monologue is not from a play or a movie. In other words, if you are performing a monologue about your life or you are discussing real life material, do not try to play characters, as if you are auditioning for a part. The only part that you are auditioning for is for the role of “queen.” If you are sharing a story from your actual life, just be yourself and be authentic.
  • The other side of the “character” coin is to not take on a character that is outside of your acting ability if you do select a scene from a play or movie. It’s alright to perform an actual monologue that is part of a larger production, but you want to make sure that not only the material is right for you, but that the character is actually one that you can pull off.
  • If you have serious acting chops, go ahead and demonstrate your craft, but always keep in mind that your performance is ultimately about your brand and this pageant competition that you are in. You are not trying to land an agent or win a part on Broadway. You’re trying to win a pageant!

Comedy routines

Comedy routines are relatively rare talent choices for pageant contestants, probably because delivering an effective comedy routine is extremely difficult. Even professional comedians and actors will tell you that comedy is significantly harder to pull off than drama. Performing a comedy routine is not something that you should jump into naively, because if you don’t know what you’re doing, it could be disastrous. Being funny onstage is one of those talents that most people seem to just be born with, not something that you can simply take a class in, and then you’re good-to-go.

The other thing that can make comedy routines challenging to perform during a pageant is that different people find different things amusing. What you think is absolutely hilarious could be seen from a completely different point of view with a panel of judges. If you’re going to perform a stand up comedy routine or perform some kind of comedic scene, you really have to be gifted, have considerable training and ultimately know what you are doing.

That being said, if you do happen to possess the natural ability to make people laugh, and you are totally comfortable in this genre, then by all means, bring it on girl! If you think that comedy is something that you want to try and you are confident that you have something insightful to say, then don’t let anything hold you back. Most of the “do’s and don’ts” in the monologue section apply to you as well, so be sure to read through all of those points.

Most importantly, believe in yourself and your particular point of view. If you are telling the truth about something and you have a unique and funny take on it, chances are the audience and the judges will connect with you. Performing a quality comedy routine is such a fantastic way to stand out from the rest of the talent performances in pageantry. You will be such a breath of fresh air, and your wit and charisma will undoubtedly make the judges root for you and your originality!

Ventriloquism

One of the requirements for the talent portion in most pageant competitions is that each contestant is required to perform her talent by herself. But, some pageant contestants have found a way to include others in their talent performance so they’re not alone on the pageant stage. If you are a bit shy or you are struggling with the anxiety of performing a talent in front of other people, you might just benefit from having a friend on stage with you to hold your hand. Or, should we say, hold in your hand?

What we’re describing here is obviously the always entertaining and amusing talent of ventriloquism. Most ventriloquists have been practicing and performing their craft for a long time, because it is not an easy thing to master. But, when someone is really gifted, they can be so memorable and their talent always brings the house down.

Fortunately, ventriloquism is an art form that has never gone out of style in the pageant world, and many notable pageant contestants have thrilled audiences and judges with their ability. Take for example, Miss America 1965 Vonda Kay Van Dyke, who won the crown performing a charming duet with her dummy, Curly-Q.

Even though ventriloquism is one of those classic, old school talents that has been around a long time, it is also a talent that contestants of all ages can do quite successfully in today’s modern pageant arena. Chelsea Chilcott proved to the judges that teens can create hugely entertaining acts, when she performed her ventriloquism talent and won the Miss Kansas Outstanding Teen crown in 2009. In recent years, audiences have enjoyed seeing more fun, light hearted and upbeat entertainment during the Miss America pageant, and girls like Mackenzie Bart, who was Miss Ohio 2015, did not disappoint. Likewise, in 2018, Miss Louisiana Laryssa Bonacquisti showcased her prowess at ventriloquism when she performed during the pageant.

Miss Louisiana 2017 Laryssa Bonacquisti. Photo: Edward Lea/The Press of Atlantic City

Certainly, one of the most impressive ventriloquists that has ever appeared on the pageant stage is the stunningly beautiful and talented, Alyse Eady. At the Miss America 2011 Pageant, Miss Arkansas, Alyse Eady didn’t just perform ventriloquism, she also yodeled and sang, “I Wanna be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”, while looking stunning, we might add. Eady earned the 1st Runner-up position for her efforts.

What is equally incredible about Eady, is that she was also Miss Arkansas' Outstanding Teen, and performed a similar talent at the 2007 Miss America's Outstanding Teen competition. However, she decided that doing double ventriloquism, singing and yodeling wasn’t quite entertaining enough, so she threw in a bit of clogging, just for fun! This lady shared one of the most engaging, amazing and charming talents ever seen on the pageant stage, that is for sure!

Miss Arkansas Alyse Eady – Performing during the Miss America Pageant

How to pick your pageant talent outfit

Many pageant contestants spend countless hours thinking about their interview look and then even more time daydreaming about the fabulous evening gown they’re going to wear. But, when it comes to their talent outfit, they just go out and buy something off the rack that fits or purchase a costume secondhand from some other pageant girl that they know.

They don’t take the time to carefully plan out the details or think through the impact that this one outfit has on their overall score. They may have spent years learning their talent and practicing for months before the pageant in order to blow the judges away with their skill and artistry, but they give very little attention to what they are going to wear during that brief time onstage. Your talent wardrobe should never be an afterthought. Every detail of your talent outfit and accompanying accessories has to be as carefully orchestrated as the piece that you are performing.

Photo: Miss America Organization

You have worked so hard and invested so much of your time and heart into whatever talent that you are performing for the judges. You absolutely must showcase your creative abilities in the brightest light possible! Most pageant contestants who have participated in pageantry for a long time understand the basic theory of costume design in pageantry, but the girls who are younger, less experienced or new to pageantry might not always understand that pageants are not like an audition for a show and they are not like a regular performance.

When you are thinking about your talent, always remember that you are not trying to get a job as a singer, or a dancer or an actor. You are trying to get a job as a queen! One of the main purposes of the talent competition is to demonstrate to the judges how well you can connect and communicate with other people by entertaining them.

You do not have to be a future Broadway star or even the best performer in the pageant in order to do well in the talent portion of your competition. The judges are by no means expecting you to be on the same level as a professional performer, but what they do expect is for you to do your best. Part of doing your best in a pageant is knowing how to pick the very best talent outfit for yourself!

The points to keep in mind when selecting your talent outfit

When you are thinking about your talent outfit and what you should wear for your next pageant to really grab the judges attention, you want to keep three things in mind: the talent that you are performing, your age division and your personal style.

Miss South Carolina 2015 Deja Dial performing her winning ballad. Photo: Gwinn Davis

The first two points are pretty straight forward and hopefully, self-explanatory.

Your talent wardrobe should not only complement the particular type of talent that you are going to be performing, but it has to serve your talent performance in a practical way. What I mean is that if you are a ballet dancer and you are performing a classical piece that is dreamy and romantic, you would not want to wear an overly dramatic or ornate costume that might hinder your movements or a costume with vivid patterns or loud colors that would distract from the atmosphere that you are trying to create onstage.

Secondly, you must wear an outfit that is appropriate for the age division that you are competing in. It should go without saying that a teen should be performing a talent that is appropriate for a teenage girl. After all a teen is a minor, not an adult. But, sometimes due to lack of experience or confusion about what is appropriate material for a teen to cover, a young girl will end up performing some sultry torch song or an outrageously sexy dance number, and that is never good. When that happens, often that girl is not only performing material that is far beyond her level of maturity, but she is also dressed in a way that is representative of an adult woman, not a child. There is nothing more uncomfortable for the judges or the audience to witness, than a teen girl performing a talent that is meant for a mature miss contestant.

If you are a teen or you are a parent who has a teen and you are not entirely clear about what is appropriate material or wardrobe for your age division, then you absolutely must ask questions of your pageant director and get some clarity, or consult a professional pageant coach for help.

Let your wardrobe tell a story

Throughout the entire pageant, you are communicating to others about who you are through how you look, what you do and what you say. From orientation to crowning, your entire appearance is speaking for you and your clothing is communicating, too. You want your pageant wardrobe to tell a story to the judges about who you are, how you view yourself and the kind of queen that you will be. Therefore, choosing your wardrobe for the talent competition is no different from selecting your evening gown or swimsuit.

Miss California 2009 Jackie Geist completes in a preliminary talent competition. Photo: Miss America Organization

The talent competition gives you a unique opportunity to express yourself in a way that is completely different from anyone else. Even if you are a singer and 10 other girls are singers, your song, your voice and your emotional expression of it is uniquely your own. Your talent, regardless of what it is, is your personal statement about one of the things in life that you can do well, and oftentimes it is something that you are very passionate about.

The key to success in this area is to do your best to stay true to the person that you are. Then you want your identity to translate throughout every single one of your wardrobe pieces, your overall styling and even to your hair and makeup. Have fun with this concept and let your wardrobe tell a story from beginning to end! For instance, if you are a more introverted, quieter type of girl who is most comfortable in classically styled, conservative clothing, and you are singing a diva-esque style of song, do not feel that you need to don a red, low-cut, slinky gown with a thigh-high slit.

You can still be your true self and embody the character and emotion of that piece without putting on something that does not align with your personality. Your talent wardrobe is not just about your personal style, but it is also about your temperament, too. The judges really do long to get to know the real you. Don’t get so caught up in looking good, or looking better than everyone else, that you forget to look like yourself. Wear whatever you feel best in and keep your look consistent throughout all phases of competition. Doing so will help the judges remember you and connect with you!

Dance

Your dance costume is a very powerful part of your pageant arsenal. When you step on stage in whatever outfit you have chosen to dance in, you are creating an indelible impression for the judges. You haven’t moved a muscle, and not one note of music has been played, but you have already sent a message. That is why it is imperative for you to select an outfit or costume that best portrays not only who you are as a contestant, but also one that is beautiful, well made and fits you flawlessly.

Miss Arizona 2012 Jennifer Sedler competing at the Miss America competition. Photo: Miss America Organization

Should you wear a homemade dance costume at a pageant?

Girls who are competing at high level pageants, especially at the national and international level, usually have someone who designs and sponsors their talent costumes.

But, if you are competing at a state pageant or a local competition and you are trying to stick to a budget, you may not have the funds to shell out thousands of dollars on an over-the-top dance costume. There is nothing at all wrong with making your costume, or purchasing a less expensive costume and blinging it up. If you are going to do that, or you’re going to have your costume made for you, just must sure that you are using the best quality materials and trims that you can purchase.

If you have been performing your specific style of dance for some time, then you likely know exactly what type of costume that you need to wear to best represent your dance style. For instance, if you are a skilled Irish Step Dancer and you plan to perform a traditional Irish dance for you next pageant talent competition, then you will probably be wearing a standout costume with intricate, highly detailed and eye-catching colors. It is now common for Irish dance costumes to sparkle and resemble pageant dresses, rather than the traditional velvet costumes that used to only come in shades of greens and whites.

But, these modern embellished costumes can be quite expensive when it’s all said and done. Fear not, pageant girl! Due to the easy application option of Swarovski crystals, it’s now easy to embellish dance costumes at home. Swarovski crystals are available in a huge variety of colors, sizes and shapes which are essential for personalizing competition costumes. The brilliance, sparkle and high quality of Swarovski crystals are perfect for dazzling on the stage!

You do not need to spend a fortune on your costume for it to be impressive and communicate to the judges that they are about to witness an extraordinary performance. But, you do need to make sure that your costume looks like it was professionally created, even if you made it yourself.

Miss Connecticut 2018 Bridget Oei. Photo: Miss America Organization

Pageant brands and costumes

One thing that you always need to be aware of when you are trying to design a dance costume is the particular brand of the pageant that you are participating in.

Even though you may be comfortable wearing whatever type of costume is unique to your dance discipline, you still must keep in mind the specific pageant that you are competing in, as well as the judges’ point of view, and perhaps a lack of familiarity with regard to your style of dance. Your judges may not be familiar with all of the typical wardrobe pieces that make up a costume in your genre, so you want to really think your costume through and try to see it from the point of view of someone who knows nothing about your art.

For example, if you are a belly dancer, you are probably quite comfortable wearing a belly dance belt and split skirt very low on your hips. But if you are participating in an extremely conservative pageant, or if you are a teen performing a belly dance, you may want to tone down your costume a bit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with exposing your midriff, especially if you are a gifted belly dancer. After all, it is part of what makes belly dance such a fascinating and unique style of dance. But, if your pageant is not comfortable with its contestants wearing bikinis and two-piece swimsuits, then your judges may also not be comfortable seeing a typical belly dance costume on stage either. There are “belly covers” available for belly dancers that are kind of like a thin nylon sheath, that can be worn while performing, but even those may not be appropriate if your pageant does not want any skin shown onstage.

This idea also applies to some of the fashions worn by hip hop dancers as well. If your costume includes a crop top shirt that shows your stomach, or oversized pants that droop down to your hips, you may want to clear that costume first with your director. Just because a fashion may be trendy and an acceptable style of clothing for street wear, it does not mean it will go over well during a talent competition. Not all judges think hip hop dance and clothing that shows the midriff are appropriate for pageant competition.

Add to this, certain body movements or steps that you may be comfortable with, may not be okay with the judges, either. If what you do or what you wear is not age appropriate for young children or if it makes the judges uncomfortable, you’re going to be docked points. Don’t take that chance or be unwilling to change something just because of your ego. You should consult your contestant manual and speak with your pageant director for guidance or clarification about any wardrobe rules before you go out and purchase anything to wear for your pageant. You always want to show yourself in the best light possible and align your personal brand with the pageant’s brand.

Your dance costume is a major investment in your success

Your dance costume, like your interview outfit, your swimsuit and your evening gown, is such a major investment towards your ultimate success in the pageant. No, we’re not talking about a financial investment here. Costumes can get pricey, that is true. But, what we’re referring to is the investment in yourself and your ability to do well in your pageant. You can certainly try and save money on your dance costume, and either make it yourself or hire a seamstress to make it for you. You could also borrow a costume or purchase one second hand from a dance shop, a costume company or another pageant girl.

There is no shame in sticking to a budget and going that route. But, whatever you do, you must not compromise on the fit and the overall look of the costume. Find the very best, professional looking costume that you can. And, if you can afford to have a professional costume designer create it for you, then by all means do it!

You have spent years of your life honing your dance skills and you have experienced your share of blood, sweat and tears along the way. Now, you are about to demonstrate your prowess on the stage, and you want the judges to not only remember you but to be enthralled with you. You want them to fall in love with you while you are dancing. In order to do that, you have to make sure that your costume fits you impeccably and expresses the story that you are telling with your dance.

If you decide to invest in a professionally made, custom costume, you don’t want just any seamstress creating it. You need to find someone you can trust who understands the enormity of what you are doing and also understands who you are, not only as a performer but as a person.

Miss Texas 2014 Monique Evans performing in the Miss America competition in her costume created by Zhanna Kens. Photo: Miss America Organization

There is probably no better person to understand the power of a dance costume for a pageant than Zhanna Kens. A successful artist and fashion designer, King is famous for creating awe-inspiring and elegantly hand-crafted designs for dancers, ice skaters and performers who want to stand out. The jaw-dropping talent costumes that she creates for titleholders at the local, state and international level are masterpieces covered with colorful beads, silk flowers, Swavorski crystals and hand-crafted appliqués that create magic under the stage lights. She believes that custom-made costumes make all the difference when it comes to excelling in competition and give a competitor that extra edge.

When she designs a costume for a contestant, she personally consults with them and finds out what they like, what they will dance to and then she does an exhausting exploration of all the different ways to complement their unique body structure, skin tone and hair color. Every single detail is considered because she believes that costume is as vital to the dancer’s success as the dance itself.

“The journey to obtaining the treasured title of champion requires unwavering focus, discipline and hard work,” Kens insists. “The clothing that a girl wears plays a specific role in the championship process.”

Kens should know. She has designed winning dance costumes for countless titleholders and beauty queens around the globe. One of her most well known series of dance costumes was created for Miss Texas 2014, Monique Evans, when she performing her winning talent at the Miss Texas Pageant America pageant. Evans was so thrilled with the custom-made costume and her talent win, that she had Kens design a brand new dance costume for her performance at the Miss America pageant. Zhanna Kens believes that the young ladies who entrust their pageant dreams to her skilled and capable hands are a very special breed of performer.

“The common competitor prepares for praise, our clients prepare for excellence!” She continues, saying, “A huge part of performing relies on confidence. And in order to have boldness, you as a performer must feel comfortable in the dress‚ dance gown, or ice dance costume. It is your appearance that will turn your movement into art. That is precisely what my designs will do.”

Instrumental

As always, what you wear will matter almost much as how well you play and what you play! Take the time to carefully pick out your outfit by trying on different styles and colors as well as ask different people for their opinion on what looks best. When it comes to choosing something to wear during an instrumental piece, there are several things to keep in mind; comfort/limitations, standing vs. sitting, the message you want to convey and theme. If you aren’t sure how a dress will look with your instrument, and yours is portable, consider taking it with you!

Comfort/Limitations

What type of instrument you're playing will probably the biggest role on what to wear. Amber Burgess a national level competitor says, “It can be difficult to choose the perfect costume when playing an instrument. As a fiddler, I need a lot of freedom in my arms, neck and shoulder. When shopping, I always take my instrument with me and give it a try. The folks in the shop usually love it, and the bonus practice in front of people is actually really helpful. Every musician has different methods and ways of moving, so it's important to try before you buy.”

Amber Burgess at USA Ambassador. Photo: Bill Krautler Photography

Each instrument is different and the way you move while you play is very important when choosing an instrument.

Burgess chose to wear the dress above because, “It’s sleeveless and the fabric is soft and comfortable in the shoulder. I hate playing in Strapless gowns because my instrument can accidentally tuck under the seam in the front and halters are uncomfortable in the neck.”

Knowing what feels best while playing is key to picking out your outfit.

Standing vs. sitting

You know those extra small pants you love wearing to go dancing but have to un-bottom the top bottom while your sitting? You probably don’t want to wear those pants if you are a pianist. Or how about that super slinky red dress with the long slit? More that likely that’s also not a dress you want to put on if you are sitting to play the harp. It’s key to take note of how you move while you play and if you sit or stand.

Photo: Gulf Coast News Today

Lauren Bradford, Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen 2017, chose to wear a spunky red pant suit complete with a halter neckline and sequins for her stand-up performance with her violin. This outfit works because she has the freedom to move around on stage without worry of tugging on a strapless top or showing too much. While it is common to wear a ballgown or evening gown for violinist’s, Lauren’s pantsuit is also very suitable!

Photo: Frank D’Amato

You will also see a range of outfit ideas for sitting performances as well. My favorite is the traditional full gown. Paulina Dole wore this timeless classic during the 2019 Miss Placentia & Miss Yorda Scholarship Pageant. She added a red flower in her hair to make it her own. When sitting for your talent be sure to practice in your outfit prior to competition. Something to try is having someone take a picture of you sitting in your outfit if a mirror is not available!

Theme

Are you playing a song from a famous broadway show? Maybe it’s a classic baroque period piece? Perhaps it’s a theme song from your favorite movie! Whatever the case may be, you can always “hint at a character” in your costume or outfit! This may be a bit more difficult while holding and instrument but it is totally doable.  You may also consider just using accessories to play into your song's theme. You could always top off a snazzy black dress with a top hat if you are strumming a jazz song. Or how about a red rose in your hair if you are playing a latin song? Using a little creativity can make any outfit your own unique reflection of your song and your talent.

Monologue

You want to give your best impression anytime that you walk onto that pageant stage, and that means nailing what you wear. For the monologue talent performance the best advice I’ve ever heard about choosing a outfit is to “hint at a character.” You don’t want the judges and audience to have to imagine too hard to find the character that you are portraying. In truth what you wear while performing can impact your chance of getting the title.

As I mentioned above it’s all about leading the audience towards a character. If you’re doing a monologue portraying a businesswoman, wear something corporate: be neat and formal. If it’s for a rock singer, wear something spunky, hunt down a leather jacket if you can. Just don’t get a neck tattoo. There is a fine line between being committed and unprofessional which you do not want to cross. At the end of the talent performance, you are still competing to be a titleholder so be sure to keep the respect for that position apparent. Wearing something that hints at the character gives the director a sense of the meaning behind the talent showing your skill.

Miss Puerto Rico 2016 Carole Rigual performing her monologue "Cross Roads," at the Miss America 2017 competition. Photo: Miss America Organization

Also, wearing something that resembles the character is also great for your acting. It makes you feel more the part. This is particularly true for shoes, which may not be in shot. Wearing formal shoes, for instance, feels different to wearing sneakers. If your character is more formal and stands tall, then find some shoes that support that decision.

It seems to obvious, but whatever role you’re going for, even the homeless person, make sure you’re clean. It sounds silly, but it’s amazing how many actors miss the basics. Being presentable is important. You want to be a breath of fresh air, literally.

Show your personality! Being comfortable in an audition is paramount. We always talk about how one of the fundamentals of acting is relaxation. If you’re uncomfortable either physically or emotionally, perhaps self conscious about what you’re wearing, you’re not going to do a great audition. And at the end of the day you are more important than what you wear. Simply let the outfit enhance your greatness.

When choosing accessories, don’t let them be distracting! The importance of a monologue is the meaning of your words so do not wear distracting accessories causing the judges' focus to change. You don’t want anyone to miss a crucial moment in your talent speech because your bracelets are too loud. To that end, do not wear bracelets that will hit against the microphone or shoes that hinder you moving around while delivering your talent.

Most importantly, own it. Your monologue is something you must take full control over. When you walk onto the stage, walk out there with a purpose. Your purpose is to have the greatest pageant talent out of all the contestants. But you must make it your own. If you take a piece and put your emotion into it, the judges will get to see a part of you they may have been waiting to see. You're a performer and making a piece your piece is what makes you stand out.

Vocal

Dressing up to perform for a vocal showcase is always my favorite portion of pageantry. When it comes to singing there are so many options to choose from for your outfit. Always make sure to play to your personality. You can make any outfit your own just like you make your performance your own. Putting your own spin on an outfit is important in any category, especially in talent. Whatever type of outfit you choose there are several things to consider: type of vocal genre, theme and tone of performance.

Type of Vocal Genre

Are you belting out an operatic aria or maybe a pop classic? Whatever the category of music you are performing, there is a perfect outfit for your talent performance. If you are taking the opera train then a full, or a-line strapless gown maybe the perfect choice for you! If want a little more drama then tweak the skirt like Miss Georgia in 2016 did by adding in a full pleated skirt and an awesome necklace. Let’s take a look at Betty Cantrell, Miss Georgia, at the 2016 Miss America competition singing “Tu Tu Piccolo Lddio” here: 

Perhaps a jazz classic is more your beat. If choosing this genre, then a black cocktail dress or party dress is always acceptable. Take for example Cali Adaire at the Miss Louisiana pageant in 2015. She chose a spaghetti strapped black cocktail dress adorned with sparkles for her rendition of “Story Weather.”  Check out her performance here.

Broadway is always a perfect choice for pageant talent. If this is your decision then a ball gown will take your talent scores to the 10s. Miss New Jersey Brenna Weick wore a stunning purple satin strapless ball gown for her performance of “Someone like you” from Jekyll and Hyde. Get a feel of how well Brenna’s outfit choice worked with her song here:

A pop song may not always be the most popular of genres to pick, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own and choose a phenomenal outfit to go with it. Artists from The Beatles to Whitney Houston have been sung on pageant stages for years. If you choose this genre, you’ll be able to choose something a little more fun to wear. Take for example Ragan Fletcher at the 2016 Miss Oklahoma’s Outstanding Teen singing “California Dreaming.” For this piece she chose a fun white short-pant suit with a train coming from the back shoulders. To get your imagination running watch her performance here:

How to Perform Your Best Pageant Talent

Some contestants seem to know all the secrets to mastering the talent portion of their pageant. Maybe they have been performing their talent since they were a young child, or perhaps they’ve had the privilege of working with a professional talent coach. But, if you haven’t been dancing since you were two, or you don’t have a talent coach, don’t worry about it one bit! We’re going to teach you the three parts to a successful performance strategy that thousands of talented professionals use to achieve their own performance goals. And, if you put all that we teach you into practice, you’re going to have a much smoother preparation time, you will have a blast performing your talent on stage and you will definitely impress the judges!

Preparation makes you a professional

A lot of performance, including what you do onstage during a pageant, is all the result of muscle memory. Dancers and other athletes understand this concept well, and depend on it to advance in their art and increase their abilities. Even musicians, even though they are not considered athletes, utilize the same principle. 

When you are first learning to do something, like learning to play the piano or guitar, it can be agonizingly difficult. You feel like you have to remember 20 different things all at the same time and every move you make feels foreign and painfully awkward. You have to mentally fight your way through each practice, and every time you sit down to play or pick up that instrument you feel a sense of frustration and futility because you don’t believe that you will ever “get it” or that you can’t possibly hope to play like your favorite rock star.

But, eventually, at some point, something really extraordinary occurs. All at once, you sit down to play and you feel different somehow. You rest your hands on the keys of the piano or place your fingers in the correct position for a chord on the neck of your guitar, and it feels kind of comfortable. Your fingers seem to take on a life of their own as you explore the cool smoothness of the keyboard or strum down the guitar strings with your pick. And, suddenly, you feel yourself actually playing! You are so struck by the ease of it! You hear actual, recognizable music coming from the instrument, and your hands seem to know what to do without you having to remember a thing. It has become automatic!

That is muscle memory. And, it is an utter joy when it occurs after months of painful practice. Muscle memory is a major component of so many things that we learn to do as pageant contestants. But, muscle memory can only take you so far.

You’ve probably been to a performance of some kind where you knew that the actor, musician or dancer did not really have their heart in their performance. They may have been technically perfect, but you could tell that they really didn’t want to be there and were just going through the motions. You could tell because you could actually feel it. That performer may have rehearsed their monologue, song or dance, but they did not prepare for their performance. They simply relied on their muscle memory and previous experience.

Preparation is all about engaging your emotions first and connecting with the piece that you are performing. And, once you’ve done that, you are then able to connect with the audience and that is when the magic truly happens. Preparation is so crucial to your success when you perform your talent at your pageant. If you just rely on muscle memory and your natural ability to perform your talent, but you don’t prepare your heart and mind, you will fall flat and the judges will know it. There is no substitute for preparation, and you will never be able to fool the judges if you try and just “get by” during your talent performance.

Here is an example of an extremely gifted contestant performing her talent on stage, after years and years of preparing and practicing her craft. At just 17 years old, Teresa Scanlan became the youngest woman to win the title of Miss America since Bette Cooper in 1937. Scanlan played her rendition of White Water Chopsticks and stunned the nation with her outstanding skills on the piano. As her hands moved down the keys, her points climbed up in the talent competition with her own rendition of "White Water Chopsticks."

Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan wins night 3 of Miss America Prelim with Whitewater Chopped Sticks

Please, always try to remember that every talented artist had times when they did not feel like practicing. Every incredible singer, exquisite dancer and hilarious actor, had days where the last thing they wanted to do was rehearse or prepare for a show.

If you are fatigued, overworked or stressed out, it is ok to skip a practice or not give it all you’ve got. But, you just want to be careful about your habits and training. Part of being a professional performer is taking care of your health, your body and your state of mind. But, another part of being a professional performer is knowing when to take it easy and when to not take any excuses from yourself. Even Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest and most accomplished boxers of all time, confessed to his dislike of training. But, listen to how he dealt with it and what he told himself.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion'.”

Hopefully, you are not feeling like you are suffering during your pageant preparation, because that would indicate that maybe you are working yourself too hard, or perhaps, your heart isn’t in it. But, the point is that no matter how much you love to perform your craft, and no matter how well you want to do in your upcoming pageant, there will come a time when you will want to quit.

Don’t.

Take a break. Call your coach. Have a snack. Cry on your mom’s shoulder. Then get yourself back in the studio and prepare like a pro! If you are fatigued, overworked, stressed out or just in need of a break or a bit of inspiration. We suggest that you check out this next video. We’re sure it will perk you right up!

Miss Florida 2013, Myrrhanda Jones performing her baton routine at Miss America 2014

On the third day of the preliminary competition at Miss America 2014, Miss Florida 2013 Myrrhanda Jones was practicing her baton routine to "Big Noise" when she tore her ACL and MCL. She went on to compete that night, sporting a bulky leg brace and flats. To everyone's amazement, she performed her slightly adjusted routine flawlessly and was awarded a preliminary talent award.

Jones then performed the routine again on the final night of competition when she was called into the Top 10. Sporting the same bulky brace, which had acquired a new layer of rhinestones, Jones nailed the routine and made the Top 5. She walked away with a third runner-up placement.

The Power of Visualization

The second part of your performance strategy is another professional tip, and if you do this in all of your pageant prep, you will experience tremendous growth and will ultimately outshine everyone. This professional secret is visualization.

Now, don’t tune me out because you think I’m going to get all trippy, hippy and “new age” on you. The practice of visualization or mental rehearsal has been around for a very long time and has been a regular habit of some of the most famous and outstanding athletes and artists of every genre. So, before you blow off this suggestion, why not give it a try?

Professional athletes like Michael Jordan, Ray Allen and world record swimmer, Michael Phelps as well as countless actors, singers and dancers have used this technique. Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger, have all discussed how they rely on techniques such as visualization to give their performances and lives an incredible edge. 

Dr. David Yukelson of Pennsylvania State University has studied mental imagery and has compiled a list of key points to take into consideration when developing a visualization practice or protocol. He states that “guided imagery programs” should be individualized, based upon your needs, abilities and interests. He urges that people who are new to visualization strive to have realistic expectations and an open mind. Imagery has the potential to improve skills only if you believe it will work.  He suggests the following ideas for exploring visualization, and includes sample scenarios strategies that he calls, “rehearsals”.

  • Devote 10-15 minutes a day to imagery training. Start with performance skills you already do well and progressively increase the vividness and complexity of your imaging (being on stage, the judges smiling at you, delivering a challenging performance and doing well). Strive to imagine positive outcomes.
  • General relaxation and slow, deep breathing should precede imagery practice.
  • “The Mastery Rehearsal” - Focus on a time when you were performing at your very best. Re-create that feeling as vividly as possible: the setting, the atmosphere, the sights, the sounds. Feel the heat of the stage lights, the floor beneath your feet and the applause of the audience. Feel the energy, adrenaline, intensity, and positive emotions running through your mind and body.
  •  “The Performance Rehearsal” - Practice visualization before pageant competitions – reflect on the mindset you want to carry with you into your pageant competition (confident, focused, poised, prepared). Have a goal for each area of the competition –put yourself in the interview room and connecting with the judges, imagine yourself being on stage and delivering an inspiring talent performance, see yourself thinking and behaving like a winner –  Utilize positive affirmations like, “nothing is going to stop you today”, “you are powerful and in your element”. See and feel yourself performing with confidence.
  • “The Overcoming Rehearsal” – Identify situations that cause you problems, or areas that are a challenge. Visualize yourself using appropriate coping responses ahead of time where you take control of the situation, like being assertive, controlling your negative emotions and overcoming mistakes.
  • Integrate visualization techniques into every day practice when you are learning new skills, refining old skills and correcting your mistakes.

Allowing every one of the senses to play a role in visualization techniques can have tremendous benefits for athletes and performers of all ability levels. Sometimes wanting a goal is simply not enough. After all the intense physical training, the sacrifices made, and the hours committed to your goal, that final step may actually be the most important to a winning outcome: If you can see it, and believe it, you can achieve it!

Practice like you perform

The third part of your performance strategy is another crucial key, and this one really separates the posers from the professionals. The key is this: Practice your talent and rehearse as if you were actually performing so that when you really do perform for real, you do not have to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself or be “on” in some way. If you practice like you perform, you will always be “on”!

What this translates to in a practical way is that even before you pick up the microphone or lace up your Pointe shoes, you are mentally on the pageant stage, not in the rehearsal space.

Most untutored talent performers don’t even know to do this by themselves. It’s not until their teacher, mentor or coach tells them to think this way that they begin to practice as if they were really performing. This is such a powerful technique because it puts you in complete control of yourself and your performance. One of the added benefits is that this will cut down on pre-performance anxiety and nervousness. It ensures that nothing fazes you during your pageant performance.

For example, if you are performing your talent at a pageant and you forget the words to the song you are singing, or you execute the wrong choreography, you can feel devastated. That mistake can destroy your confidence and make you freeze up. But, when you practice like you perform, you’ve already had this happen to you in rehearsals. No doubt, there will be many times during a rehearsal when you will forget something or make a mistake. And, if you are utilizing this technique, you just keep on going, right?

If you make a mistake, you cannot stop, or start over.

“Why not?"

You cannot stop, or start over because you would not do that during a pageant. If you can’t do it during your pageant, you should not do it during your rehearsal. Does that make sense? You have to create that sense of being on stage during your practice time. You think through every single detail that you can imagine occurring during your pageant, and then you practice that way. You think about standing off stage, waiting to go on. If there are stairs that you have to go up for your pageant, you try to include that in your rehearsal. You have the same mark to stand at on stage, and if you can recreate the lighting, or at least come close to it, that helps tremendously.

Finally, if you can arrange for an audience to come watch you several times during your final rehearsals, that would be ideal. There is nothing worse than practicing a talent without an audience. Then what happens is that you go to your pageant and you get up on stage and look out into that sea of strange faces, and you just panic!

If you always make it a point to practice like you perform, you will feel so much confidence during your pageant, and you will begin to enjoy sharing your talent even more. There is no doubt in our minds that this pageant contestant in the video below, practiced her talent exactly the way that she performed it. She was ready to deliver and that’s exactly what she did!

This video is Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri making history with her talent. Embracing her culture, she performed an energized Bollywood dance to "Dhoom Taana" from the film "Om Shanti Om." It was the first time Bollywood dance was seen on the Miss America stage. The electric routine had the audience on their feet.

Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri performing her Bollywood Dance Routine

Do you need a pageant talent coach?

If you have the resources to work with a talent coach who also has the added experience of understanding the talent phase of pageant competition, then you’re very lucky and should definitely give it everything you’ve got.

But, not every pageant competitor has the luxury of working with a professional talent coach. And, not all talent coaches are familiar with the intricacies of talent competition within the world of pageantry, and can properly prepare a client for performing their talent at a pageant.

One of the most sought after talent coaches in the industry who is definitely familiar with the intricacies of talent competition within the world of pageantry is New York City based Amanda Beagle. She specializes in talent development, as well as interview prep, paperwork editing, platform development, styling and personal branding. Beagle's own career has taken her all over the world, performing in professional musical theater, opera, cabaret and on luxury cruise liners. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Vocal Performance and a Masters in Entertainment Business.

Renowned Pageant Talent Coach Amanda Beagle. Photo: Georgina Vaughan

“In my studio, clients have the opportunity to study voice with me long term as I've trained extensively in Opera and Musical Theatre pedagogy,” she explains. “They can also consult with me on repertoire selection and performance techniques specific to pageantry. Entertainment value is key in a pageant performance because judges are typically from varying backgrounds.”

Amanda believes pageantry is one of the greatest self-improvement programs available to women, and offers clients constructive and honest feedback geared towards helping them achieve their personal best.

Beagle certainly is an accomplished coach because of her extensive training and experience, but there is another reason why she is such a perfect coach for pageant contestants who are seeking a talent coach who understands the rigors of pageant preparation. She was a titleholder herself, as Miss Ohio 2004!

When she performed her talent on the famed Miss America stage, she sang “Quando M’en Vo” from La Boheme and was a non-finalist talent award winner.

Miss Ohio 2004, Amanda Beagle during her talent performance at Miss America. Photo: The Miss America Organization

 

“Having competed at Miss America myself, it gives me a unique perspective on how to optimize a client's potential within the pageant arena," Beagle said. “I believe former titleholders can make excellent coaches,” she continues, “and should be utilized as a resource if possible.  Someone with an understanding of what works in a pageant setting offers a unique perspective for our specific objective.”

Beagle is especially gifted at finding the right song for the right girl. Because she has the added experience of being a pageant competitor herself, she fully understands that the talent competition is not just about the talent. She knows that it is part of the individual brand that each contestant is presenting to the judging panel. She is particularly brilliant at bringing together all the elements of a contestant’s entire presentation and helping the judge’s see them as the total package.

“Repertoire selection is key," she said. "It's important to choose a piece that fits the contestants overall brand while keeping in mind their skill level and vocal style. For instance, a Spanish major who hopes for a job interpreting for the United Nations might choose to sing in Spanish. I always want to highlight a candidate’s strengths while helping the judges learn more about who she is. Stage presence, song interpretation and staging are paramount in our training. At the end of the day, I believe judges want to be moved and entertained. I think the most successful talent presentations get to the heart of that key objective. Talent preparation is a lengthy process. It's not something you throw together. It's important to allow time for growth and discovery along the way.”

The difference a talent coach can make in your talent and your life

Amanda Beagle and her clients as children, sisters Madison and Juliana Heichel. Photo: Amanda Beagle

The reigning Miss Ohio’s Outstanding Teen 2018, Juliana Heichel, and her sister, Madison Heichel, Miss Ohio’s Outstanding Teen 2016, are long time clients of Amanda. Beagle has been pivotal in their talent and performance development as well as their pageant success. She not only coached the girls on topics related to talent, but she also helped them with their branding and social media prowess. As a result, they currently have 830,000 followers on TikTok and 200,000 followers on Vigo Video.

What is also astounding about Juliana Heichel, is that she won the title on her very first attempt!  Her older sister, Madison also won the pageant on her first try, as well. For the talent competition, Juliana sang a soulful rendition of "Feeling Good", and needless to say, the judges were feeling great when they made the decision to give this talented young lady the title that evening.

Talent coach Amanda Beagle's client Juliana Heichel, Miss Ohio’s Outstanding Teen 2018. Photo: Amanda Beagle

“For a decade now we have been traveling to train with Amanda,” say the Heichel sisters. “She isn’t just a coach, she has become family.  Amanda knows who we are, she understands and enhances our strengths and delicately improves our weakness’s. Amanda has shown us that what we have viewed as our flaws are actually the characteristics that make us perfectly imperfect. With Amanda’s help, we spent years getting ready for those competitions with great focus on the talent portion.  Amanda’s Vocal talent and experience on the stage is what makes her such an amazing vocal coach.”

“She realizes the importance of song choice," they said. "It is crucial that you choose the right song for your voice.  And it must be a song that you connect with. That when you perform it you feel the music through your entire body and the words have meaning.  When we choose a song, the first thing Amanda does with us is break down the song by its message.  Amanda researches the writer and the meaning or story behind why it was written. That way we develop a personal connection with it. Then we practice the song daily and begin creating our own rendition of it. We “make it our own.”  That is the key to a fabulous performance.”

In addition to the importance of song selection, the girls reiterate the same points that we covered in an earlier section in this guide, and that is that the key to a successful performance strategy includes muscle memory and visualization techniques.

“Once we feel comfortable with the song, we begin the choreography. Amanda is genius at this. “Most people don’t realize, that much like a dancer, a singer trains their body and muscles for a performance. The movements are always natural and never overdone, and they must always have a purpose. Singers must develop muscle and vocal memory to perform a song to its greatest potential, “echo the Heichels.  “We do vocal warm-ups every morning while we get ready for school and when we have big performances coming up we run the song and moves in our head before falling asleep.”

Miss Ohio’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Madison Heichel. Photo Madison Heichel

Where to find a pageant talent coach and what to look for

If you are looking to hire a talent coach, but you’re not entirely certain where to find one or what to look for, not to worry. We’re here for you!

First of all, Pageant Planet has an extensive online directory of pageant coaches for every single phase of pageant competition and it’s all right there at your fingertips. All you have to do is search our database by coaching expertise or by area, and you’re bound to come up with a few notable coaches in the industry who would love to help you obtain your pageant dreams. We recently caught up with New York City based pageant coach Amanda Beagle, to get her advice on finding a talent coach.

Beagle mentors contestants through all phases of pageant preparation, and is especially gifted at helping contestants develop their talents and craft winning performances on stage. But, she is an extremely unique coach, because even though she excels in coaching talent development and performance, that is only a small part of what she does. From styling and runway techniques to interview and platform development, she offers guidance in all areas of contestant development.

Beagle helps her clients develop an impressive talent presentation, captivate in the interview room and develop a personal marketing plan designed to expand their audience and define their purpose and mission behind the crown. She offers a very insightful and helpful suggestion on creating a support network during your pageant preparation.

“I recommend contestants research resources available to them within the reach of their community first," Beagle said. "It's important to build a team of people you trust and that you have reasonable access to on a weekly basis. This may include dance instructors, college professors, vocal instructors, choreographers, accompanists, acting coaches etc. Enlisting the help of a pageant expert can be very helpful in creating the actual routine, choosing material and refining staging.”

How to keep your nerves calm before pageant talent

Performing live in front of a large audience, as well as a panel of judges, can be an incredibly nerve wracking experience. And, if you are performing a talent, as part of a pageant, it can be doubly nerve wrecking because you are being assessed and scored, not just entertaining people because you enjoy it.

Learning to keep your nerves calm and under control during your talent performance is a skill that every pageant contestant must learn and ultimately master. If you have been competing in pageants for a long time, or you are skilled at performing a talent because you have been practicing that talent for years, you may not struggle with pre-performance jitters because you are so accustomed to the process. However, if you are a newbie in the world of pageantry, or you are just beginning the experience of participating in pageants that require you to have a talent, you may be shaking in your boots, or perhaps tap shoes, if that applies.

First off, please try to calm yourself down and realize that what you feel is totally normal and everyone goes through some degree of nervousness before going on stage, and while on stage as well. Even the most seasoned professionals who have been performing their entire lives get nervous, and some of them get very freaked out whenever they have to perform live. But, every talent coach in the world will tell you that you must always remember two things with regard to performing live on stage.

The first thing they will tell you is that it is a very good thing to have some degree of anxiety prior to performing. Having a bit of the jitters puts you on edge just enough that your senses are heightened, your thinking is crystal clear and your reflexes are sharp. This makes you a much better performer because that adrenaline will help you onstage. You just have to get control of your thinking and learn to go with the flow when you are in that space. A lot of actors rely on the saying, “follow the fear” to help them to make peace with their anxiety.

The second point that good talent coaches will tell you is that the majority of your stage fright or pre-performance anxiety will be cured simply by consistent rehearsal and solid preparation of your material. There is no substitute for preparation and practice. That is the bottom line. The more you practice and the more you go through the piece that you are performing for your talent, the better you are going to feel and the better your performance is going to go.

Be sure to read our section in this guide that includes the three parts to a successful performance strategy, which discusses professional techniques like visualization. Thousands of talented professionals, the world over, use these same tips and tricks to achieve their own performance goals. One of the most sought after talent coaches in the industry who has helped countless pageant contestants to master their performance anxiety, is New York City based Amanda Beagle.

Beagle's own career has taken her all over the world, performing in professional musical theater, opera, cabaret and on luxury cruise liners. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Vocal Performance and a Masters in Entertainment Business.

“I believe the best way to circumvent nerves is to be as prepared as possible,” says Beagle. “This requires starting talent preparations well in advance of the pageant. My recommendation is that contestants work on technical skill with a private instructor or in a group setting weekly.”

Beagle also reiterates many of the same points that we’ve discussed previously like personal techniques to maintain a peaceful frame of mind.

“Meditation and deep breathing are also helpful in centering one's mind and calming pesky self-doubt,” she asserts.

Beagle also emphasizes the importance of networking within your area and finding places where you can practice your talent with other performers.

“Contestants should also find opportunities to perform outside of pageantry,” she advises. “From festivals and community events to school musicals and choirs, practicing your talent in front of an audience offers you "on the job training" that will help conquer nerves through practical application of skills.”

What to do if you bomb your pageant talent

As both a dancer and a musician, I have had a wide range of experiences. Whether practicing the piano at home or at a dance studio, I understand the hard work that goes into creating and nailing a talent routine. While we would like to have every performance be perfect, sometimes, life doesn’t go as we plan. What should you do when you mess up your routine or forget it halfway? From personal experience, I know exactly what it feels like—during one of my pageants I forgot my piano piece halfway through! Here is some of my advice for you, as to what to do when you perform if you mess up, or forget your routine.

Remember: You Are the Performer!

First and foremost, I think it’s important to realize that you are the only one who knows your routine. Even if it may be a popular song you are singing or playing, there are multiple different variations you could be playing—the judges don’t know which one you are executing! If you are playing/singing a piece, and you mess up, KEEP GOING. You are the performer!

You control the stage. Whether  singing, playing an instrument, dancing or performing some type of routine, it’s vital to remember that no matter what, you are in control. If you accidentally do something wrong or different than what you have practiced, it’s OKAY. Just keep going. Smile bigger, work harder. If you have to spontaneously alter your routing a bit, do so. Recover as fast as possible and pick back up as soon as possible. If you must add extra steps, or a few extra notes, that is acceptable. Just do what you need to regain your composure.

Control Your Nerves

A second point I would like to make is about your nerves. It’s easy to let our nerves get to us, but, when we do, it can make the routine go even worse. When you make a mistake you have two options—let it get to you, or to mentally beat it. Before you go onstage to perform, remind yourself that you are ready (a self pep-talk never hurts!). Be mentally tough.

The moment you forget or mess up can be nerve wracking. Don’t beat yourself up if the routine doesn’t go as planned. Even the greatest performers in the world have their mishaps! If you maintain yourself internally, it will shine through externally, too. Thus, slow down and think. It will be okay.

Be Believable

Now that you’ve moved on after your mistake, it’s important to act like it never happened. If the performer doesn’t dwell on the mistake no one else will, either! Trust me. It’s not whether you perform perfectly or not, it’s how you handle yourself that counts. Judges want to see a competitor that can manage herself in any situation. They will completely forget the mistake if you do. Perform like you didn’t mess up, no matter how big the mistake, or smile like you meant to do it.

If you make an upset face or look panicked, the audience will pick up on it. I had a judge come up to me after my pageant and tell me that had I not looked panic-stricken, she’d have never known I was playing the wrong part of the song! I didn’t make my performance believable. Had I done so, I would have been scored much differently. Be bold and smile big like your life depended on it! Portray yourself as confident and nothing can stop you.

Try Again

The first time I ever did a pageant with a talent competition, I completely failed the talent part. But, it wasn’t the fact that I failed. I made a resolution for the next time that no matter what, I wouldn’t allow myself to forget my routine. Mistakes will be made. Big deal. What is important is that you try again.

Don’t let one moment ruin the rest of your opportunity. Do another pageant or competition. Try harder and learn from the past. I can guarantee that you will not regret it. Let your mistakes be help you set goals and be an inspiration. Action is your best defense. Reward yourself with a second chance.Use the experience to revise your skills and to better prepare for any future competition. In pageantry, we want to be perfect. We practice hard and work endlessly, for our goals.

While this may seem like obvious advice, practice as much as possible in order to feel confident when you are onstage. It will be more beneficial than words can say. Do some breathing exercises before you walk onstage to help calm your nerves. If you make a mistake, recover as quickly as possible and act like nothing happened. Smile big, and give it your all! Most importantly, do not dwell on your mistakes and be ready to improvise. The best thing you can do is act with class and grace and keep doing your best!

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