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Friday, Oct 15, 2021

From Bear to Crown: Betty Cantrell wins Miss America

CCJ Student, Marin Guta, interviews Miss America Betty Cantrell in Georgia Public Broadcasting's studio.
CCJ Student, Marin Guta, interviews Miss America Betty Cantrell in Georgia Public Broadcasting's studio.

Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music had its shining moment on an unlikely national platform — the stage of the 95th Miss America Pageant Competition.

Mercer music student Betty Cantrell competed in front of an estimated 7.1 million viewers, according to Nielson Twitter TV Ratings.

Some of the viewers included a group of Mercer students, faculty and professors who huddled around a flat-screen television in the McCorkle Music Hall with their fingers crossed.

If Cantrell snatched the crown, Mercer’s Townsend School of Music could possibly garner a great deal of visibility, they thought.

For the music students and friends supporting Cantrell, it meant that one of their peers would be propelled into the limelight and one step closer to achieving her dreams.

“It was so surreal to watch Betty competing on national television,” said Victoria Yrizarry, one of Cantrell’s friends. “We were screaming, crying, and anxiously awaiting the results.”

When the competition dwindled down to the last two competitors — Miss Mississippi and Miss Georgia — the tension felt palpable.  The show’s co-host, Chris Harrison, held the envelope that would decide Cantrell’s fate. Harrison slowly opened the envelope, looked down and read off the winner’s name.

At that moment, the words “Miss Georgia” never sounded sweeter to Cantrell who immediately crumpled over in shock and excitement upon hearing her name.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as a crown was placed on top of her head. Cantrell would be the second Miss Georgia to win the Miss America Crown since 1953.

Once the announcement was made, President Underwood tweeted from his Twitter account, “Congrats to Mercer’s Betty Cantrell, Miss America.  Go Bears!” It was retweeted by 155 accounts and favorited 117 times.

Since the crowning of Miss America, Cantrell has been thrown into the hectic whirlwind that accompanies her title.

The 21-year-old went on a media tour, crowned the new Miss Georgia at the Alabama vs. UGA football game, visited pediatric patients at the Children’s Miracle Network, and made an appearance at the Streamy’s, a social media award show.

Cantrell said that her hectic schedule as a Mercer student who juggled a full course load prepared her for the title’s responsibilities.

“I definitely had a busy schedule at Mercer… and that definitely helped me,” Cantrell said. “I thought I was busy then, but this is completely different. I’ll be traveling 20,000 miles per month.”

Cantrell shared that she is proud of the education she received while at Mercer. In fact, she credits her vocal training at Mercer to helping her win the pageant’s preliminary contest.

“The education I received while attending Mercer and the voice lessons helped me win a talent award and be the best Miss America I can be,” Cantrell said.

Often showing up to rehearsals flaunting her Mercer T-shirts, the self-proclaimed proud Mercer student mentioned she talked about her school with her newly-found pageant friends.

“I think a couple of people knew about Mercer,” Cantrell said when looking back on the pageant. “Mostly the states that were closer to Georgia, and I definitely promoted it a lot.”

Since Cantrell’s win, one question still remains — will she use her hefty $50,000 scholarship to wrap up her education at Mercer?

Past pageant winners, like Vanessa Williams, leveraged their newly-found star power to launch careers in acting and singing. There is the possibility that Cantrell could follow a similar path to past winners and maximize on the fame to build her career.

“I actually haven’t decided yet,” Cantrell said when asked if she’ll return to Mercer. “I’m actually looking to going into a conservatory for musical theatre because of the opportunities that this title of Miss America will afford me in the future on Broadway, which has always been my career goal.”

As far as advertisements and commercial deals go, Cantrell’s lips remain sealed.

“I have some things in the works that I’m getting really excited about,” Cantrell mentioned. “I can’t share them, but I’m really excited about the opportunities this title has given me for my career in the future.”

Looking towards the near future, Cantrell said she’s excited to attend some award shows, such as the AMAs and CMAs and meet some of her idols.

But Cantrell remains thankful for the support that she’s received from home. She said she’d like to extend the biggest thank you to all of those students who supported her.

“Thank you for supporting me, Mercer.” Cantrell said “And for accepting me as a Mercer student when I won and for being so proud. And I was so proud to have come from Mercer.”


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