Georgia Native Betty Cantrell Crowned Miss America

Photo Courtesy of Disney ABC Television Group, Flickr Creative Commons

Miss Georgia, Betty Cantrell, took home the much-sought-after title of Miss America on Sunday, running on the platform “Healthy Children, Strong America.” Cantrell stunned during her talent portion and overcame a bizarre question in the interview round before being crowned the 2016 Miss America.

According to “Variety,” 7 million viewers tuned in to watch the pageant.

Perhaps overshadowing the actual competition, however, was the presence of former Miss America winner Vanessa Williams, who received an on-air apology from Miss America’s CEO Sam Haskell.

Williams opened the show with a performance of “Oh How the Years Go By.” Williams, a singer, actress and model, has risen to considerable fame since being crowned the first African-American Miss America in 1984. However, her path to success has been bumpy. She was forced to relinquish her crown when “Penthouse” published unauthorized explicit photos of her.

All seemed forgiven, however, as Williams took the stage on Sunday as a performer and judge. After her song, Haskell took his opportunity to apologize publicly to Williams, saying, "You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned … I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be."

Williams was joined by Kevin O’Leary, Amy Purdy, Danica McKellar, Taya Kyle, Zendaya and Brett Eldredge on the judging panel.

Making the top 15 were Miss Tennessee, Miss Iowa, Miss West Virginia, Miss South Carolina, Miss Florida, Miss Oklahoma, Miss Virginia, Miss Alabama, Miss Colorado, Miss Louisiana, Miss Texas, Miss Nebraska, Miss Georgia, Miss Mississippi and Miss Arkansas. Cuts were made after every round, as is customary, until only Miss Alabama, Miss Louisiana, Miss Colorado, Miss Mississippi and Miss Georgia were left to compete in the interview round.

Notable talents were winner Cantrell’s performance of “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio” from the opera “Madame Butterfly,” and Miss Tennessee Hannah Robison’s piano performance.

There were no major flops in the question round – something the Miss America contestants have become known for. The questions covered a wide range of hot button topics, from the defunding of Planned Parenthood to gun control laws. Miss Alabama, Meg McGuffin, gave a particularly provocative answer to her question regarding the popularity of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.

"I think Donald Trump is an entertainer, and I think he says what's on a lot of people's minds," she said. "But I think the Republican Party should be absolutely terrified of all the attention that he is taking from incredible candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie who could absolutely do the job of president of the United States.”

Cantrell was less articulate than McGuffin, after being seemingly thrown by an out-of-place question – whether or not she thought the New England Patriots' Tom Brady cheated during “deflategate.” With all other questions focusing on political and social issues, this question seemed an odd addition to the interview round.

Last year’s winner was Kira Kazantsev, Miss New York, whose platform was “Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Protecting Women Against Domestic Violence.” Kazantsev was there to pass along the crown to Cantrell. Cantrell will be carrying on work with her platform “Healthy Children, Strong America,” and act as the official national Goodwill Ambassador for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, which aims to enhance the lives of children by raising money for children’s hospitals.

This year’s pageant also marked the return of the song “There She Is, Miss America,” which hasn’t been played in the past five years, according to CBS News, due to copyright issues. The iconic tune played as Cantrell did her victory lap around the stage as the 2016 Miss America winner.