Atlantic City, NJ.- Miss Georgia Betty Cantrell was crowned the new Miss America on Sunday, September 13, in Atlantic City.
“I’m still so overwhelmed, I don’t know what to say other than thank you! ” Cantrell told reporters, according to the Associated Press. Cantrell is a student at Mercer University, the oldest private university in Georgia. Cantrell is the first Miss Georgia to win the competition since 1958. The 21-year-old will now travel all around the country as Miss America 2016.
Cantrell was born on September 1, 1994 to physical therapists Mike and Tassie Cantrell. She is of Greek and German descent and was named after her Greek grandmother, with the name Βασιλική/Vassiliki, meaning “royalty.” She grew up on 700 acres of land and is able to drive a full-sized John Deere tractor, plow and seed fields, and handle a shotgun.
In Macon, Georgia, Cantrell attended Mount de Sales Academy for high school. She then attended Wesleyan College for her freshman year and then transferred to Mercer University, where she studies vocal performance. Cantrell, impressed the judges with her vocal performance and she is involved in numerous artistic and charitable activities, several among them involving her Greek Orthodox faith.
More importantly, she is an avid music student and performer and among her many activities is Byzantine chanting in both Greek and English at her Holy Cross Greek Orthodox parish in Macon, GA.
She holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Mercer University where she received both academic and music scholarships, and her musical prowess was on display at the Miss America competition when she offered the judges and audience a stunning performance of “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio!” from the opera Madame Butterfly.
She was also named the Overall Talent winner in the Miss Georgia Competitions of 2014 and 2015, won the 2014 and 2015 National Association of Teachers of Singing competition involving forty-five colleges and universities, has been honored to sing the National Anthem at several public events, and has participated and been featured in numerous musical and theatrical groups and productions throughout her high school and college careers.
The new Miss America also puts her faith into action, having held several leadership positions, including her work as facilitator and distributor of canned goods to local food banks on behalf of her Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church where she also teaches Sunday School. Additionally, she has developed and taken part in numerous charity events including benefits for the YMCA, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and Miss America’s Day of Service.
Over the next year as Miss America Cantrell will travel extensively on behalf of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals for which she will serve as the National Goodwill Ambassador. She will also have many speaking engagements to promote her platform of “Healthy Children, Strong America.”
In addition to the coveted crown and busy schedule Cantrell won a $50,000 scholarship provided by Joseph Ribkoff Inc. and the Miss America Organization in order to further her education. She hopes to graduate with Honors in Musical Theatre and Voice, and one day perform on Broadway.
After a surreal weekend of parades, parties and pageantry on their daughter’s path to Miss America, Mike and Tassie Cantrell returned home late Tuesday night.
A giant electronic billboard of Betty Cantrell being crowned was one of the first things her father and 15-year-old sister, Sophia, saw driving into Peach County on Interstate 75.
“It just blows my mind,” Mike Cantrell said Wednesday as he was settling back to work at the Cantrell Center in Warner Robins.
He knew his daughter would be a contender, but has been surprised at how fast she’s catapulted into national fame and become a hometown hero.
“She’s obviously very confident in front of a camera,” he said. “She makes people want to be around her and she’s got that gift.”
Tassie Cantrell feels like she’s in a daze.
While the newly crowned Miss America took a 45-minute nap early Monday before tip-toeing barefoot through the Atlantic City surf in her first big public appearance, her mother was up all night trying to fit her daughter’s things into the two-and-a-half suitcases Miss America is allowed on the road.
Although the reality of her daughter’s celebrity is still sinking in, Tassie Cantrell knows Betty has the “it factor” that is hard to describe.
“Betty has this unique ability to make a stage seem small,” Tassie Cantrell said. “No matter how big the stage is, Betty will fill that.”
Before the pageant and knowing the pressures that lay ahead, she encouraged her daughter to give it her all.
Prayers from the family’s priest at Macon’s Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, Father John Stefero, helped calm both mother and daughter.
“She’s not nervous on stage,” Tassie Cantrell said. “That’s where she loves to be. She’s more confident on stage than anywhere else. The bigger, the better.”
Her father nicknamed her “60-decibel Betty” when she started singing as a little girl.
“She was so bloody loud,” he said. “She would hurt my mother’s ears, and she was hard of hearing.”
One of the things that makes him so proud as a physical therapist and nutritionist, is his daughter’s healthy children platform.
Congratulatory signs are up inside and outside the family’s fitness center on Osigian Boulevard.
It will be a little difficult keeping up with Betty now that she’ll be jet-setting across the country, about 20,000 miles a month.
Miss America hardly ever stays more than 36 hours in one city, her mother said.
But her parents are thrilled Betty will be sharing her talents and message across the country, and even parts of the world through the U.S.O.
“I always felt God wouldn’t give somebody a voice like that if he didn’t intend for her to use it. I just didn’t know how,” Tassie Cantrell said.
Her father will miss her, but doesn’t feel like he’s losing her to the world. They’re too close for that, he said.
“Being a stellar representative of the Miss America organization, they’ve got that in Betty,” he said.