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 Fashion Showcase with Prom, Pageant, and Social Occasion Gowns

After 85 years writing their Miss America success story, MAO steps into the spotlight with a major new scholarship competition that gives a scoring advantage to the nation’s most talented teens.

FIRST TIME’S THE CHARM: Texas’ Outstanding Teen Meghan Miller (left) signals to her supporters after being named Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2006.
By Fred Abel
The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant arrived in “sunny” Orlando, Florida, as a severe evening thunderstorm was battering guest arriving outside the Orange County Convention Center’s Linda Chapin Theater. But the weather couldn’t put a damper on the inaugural scholarship competition, held for the first time in front of an enthusiastic audience that was excited to be dry and inside to bear witness to pageant history.
For 52 talented, bright, and beautiful 13-to-17-year-old young women representing Outstanding Teen titles in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands, the stage was set to help them to sparkle, with a black backdrop that was festooned with hundreds of sparkle lights and a gold-framed giant video screen positioned well above backstage center, which enabled the audience to enjoy projected images captured live by a battery of fixed and hand-held video cams as well as pre-taped segments sprinkled throughout the two-hour show.
After Miss America 1987 Kellye Cash Sheppard delivered a sterling rendition of the national anthem, the contestants paraded in from the back of the theater, wearing brightly colored cocktail dresses and bearing their state flags. They lined up four deep on a broad stairway, and once all were in position, they danced as they sang, “It’s Our Time To Shine,” while parading down the runway and waving to an audience that whooped and called out to their favorites. Then they stepped up to two microphones for self-introductions, alphabetically by state, with close-up videos and the state and titleholder’s names superimposed on the large screen behind them.
A voice from an off-stage announcer brought a pop-music star to the stage, as NSYNC singer Joey Fatone, an Orlando native, was introduced as a co-host. He, in turn, introduced his partner in the proceedings, Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs, who would serve as the “straight woman” to Joey’s comedic quips in the running patter between the two during breaks in competition segments.
The entire MAOT field dances during the on-stage opening number (top). NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs (above) kept their patter brisk and informative.
After a live backstage chat with Deidre and five contestants was flashed onto the giant video screen, the major scoring phase of finals, Talent, would be covered in two five-contestant segments.
To underscore the new process of MAOT competition, Joey and Deidre updated the audience on the two-tiered scoring system on which the MAOT contestants would be evaluated. In the first tier, the three-day preliminary competitions, the weighted score values already had been determined in six segments: Talent, 35%, Private Interview, 25%, Evening Wear, 15%, Casual Wear, 10%, Lifestyle and Fitness in Active Wear, 10%, and On-Stage Question, 5%. Based on those preliminary results, 15 teens were about to be called to continue within the finals, where the scoring would start anew with the following five categories and weights: a Composite Score from preliminaries accounting for 30%, Talent, 30%, Casual Wear, 15%, Evening Wear, 15%, and Lifestyle and Fitness in Active Wear, 10%.
Once three representatives of the auditing firm delivered the envelope containing the judges’ picks, Joey and Deidre called for these competitors to step forward as the Top 15, listed here in the order they were named: South Carolina’s Lindley Mayer, California’s Adrianna Afsar, Utah’s Jennifer Gulbrandsen, Alabama’s Jenna Bryant, New Jersey’s Katie Berry, Oklahoma’s Becca Hester, Arizona’s Adrienne Nurss, Washington’s Shalane Larango, Indiana’s Sarah Gorecki, Texas’ Meghan Miller, Arkansas’ Hannah Joiner, Colorado’s Jocelyn Story, Tennessee’s Madeline Littrell, Florida’s Sierra Minott, and Ohio’s Ali Nance.
The spotlight now would bring those 15 teens into sharper focus as they competed in Casual Wear, in which their junior fashion choices included pleated polished jeans skirts, sparkle belts, flower-printed skinny-strapped tee tops, cropped jackets, genie pants, capris, matching knit sets, strapless and sleeveless blouses, flower-appliquéd jeans, and even a pink-check suit — all designed to express these competitors’ unique and personal style.
TALENT RISING TO THE TOP: Midway through the proceedings, the 52 state Miss America’s Outstanding Teen titleholders were reduced to the Top 10, appearing together in Casual Wear. Those are the larger-than-life live video images of the co-hosts projected onto the screen behind them. Having been inspired to pursue ventriloquism by a Miss America contestant she had seen on TV as a child, Meghan Miller (top left, with her puppets) would leave a lasting impression in her Talent presentation, which counted for 30 percent of the scoring, and in Evening Wear competition (top right).
Taking on-stage seats that were decorated to look like giant gift-wrapped boxes, each young woman coolly fielded a question while the judges took one last look before marking their final scores.
Following a youthful performance by boy band CNotes, Evening Wear commenced with gold lights and paper lanterns hanging overhead to set the atmosphere, as two lines of contestants appeared from either side of the stage and circling to the center to file down the runway and back. Then each of the Top 15, arm-in-arm with her father, descended the stairs, before the father kissed and hugged her and exited the stage as Deidre described her current academic, service, and talent achievements as well as lifetime goals — ambitions ranging from becoming a Broadway performer to serving as a Supreme Court judge.
More entertainment followed in the form of Dragon Legend Entertainment’s amazing gymnastics team — four girls who spin carpets on the tips of their toes while standing on their hands or heads. One of them performed while balanced upside-down with only her teeth tenaciously holding on to a mouthpiece! The audience cheered the girls’ extreme daring-do. Kellye Cash followed with a performance of a song from her fifth CD to lead the audience into the announcement of who made a Top 10 finish. Host Joey Fatone called the representatives from Indiana, Arkansas, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and California.
Following a backstage chat with Deidre and five contestants was flashed onto the giant video screen, the major scoring phase of finals, Talent, would be covered in two five-contestant segments. The first five included California singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl, Utah playing a classical piano piece by Chopin, and dance performances from Alabama, Arizona, and Washington.
After a quick video helped us catch glimpses of the competitors having fun in Florida — dining, bowling, preening, dispensing advice, making lasting friendships — a high-energy Active Wear segment began with a fitness production number that featured the girls in workout outfits, accompanied by two young men in spring-loaded jumping shoes who cavorted among them. Then each of the Top 10 demonstrated her own athletic and graceful moves.
A performance of the song “St. Louis Blues” by Deidre made for a smooth transition to the second half of Talent, with Indiana singing “River Deep, Mountain High,” Texas presenting a ventriloquism musical medley of Disney movie tunes, Arizona tap dancing to a tune from the musical Kiss Me, Kate, Tennessee singing an Elvis Presley hit “If I Can Dream,” and Florida jazz dancing to the Broadway show tune “Life of the Party.”
The audience was barely back from a 15-minute intermission when Joey and Deidre announced the Top 5: Washington, Utah, Florida, Texas, and California. Taking on-stage seats that were decorated to look like giant gift-wrapped boxes, each young woman fielded a question while the judges took one last look before marking their final scores.
WAITING TO WRAP IT UP: In the final minutes, the Top 5 took their positions in Evening Wear and, sitting on large boxes decorated to look like gifts, during a final on-stage question (above and below left). The contestants are from (L-R) Washington, Utah, Florida, Texas, and California. Texan Meghan Miller (below right) reacts with joy when she learns she is Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2006, and Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs secures the crown.
To draw out the suspense a bit further, a pair of urban pop recording artists delivered a soulful ballad and a final video summed up impressions of the contestants and MAO CEO Art McMaster, MAOT Board Chair Donna Bozarth, and MAOT National Director Christine David. Four special Awards were presented as well: Spirit of America Award to Oklahoma’s Becca Hester, Scholastic Excellence to Alaska’s Kimberley Carr, Outstanding Academic Achievement to West Virginia’s Veronica Ohlinger, and Overall Talent Award to Texas’ Meghan Miller.
So who would take home the custom-designed, ruby-tipped four-point tiara, the $30,000 scholarship, and the title as the first Miss America’s Outstanding Teen? Obviously, said Joey Fatone, any one of the Top 5 could be considered an outstanding choice. But as he took hold of the envelope holding the judges’ choices, the glimmer in his eyes gave away the anticipatory joy of being the one who reveals the answer to the question, “Who won?” It would be 17-year-old Jennifer Gulbrandsen of Utah earning a $5,000 scholarship as 4th Runner-up, 17-year-old Sierra Minott of Florida taking home a $10,000 scholarship as 3rd Runner-up, and Washington’s 16-year-old Shalane Larango as 2nd Runner-up with a $15,000 scholarship.
Left at center stage was Miss California’s Outstanding Teen, 13-year-old Adrianna Afsar, who earned a $20,000 scholarship when her name was called as 1st Runner-up. She had also won a $500 preliminary Talent award for her powerful rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” As always, revealing the 1st Runner-up also delivered its double dose of news — the winner. The first Miss America’s Outstanding Teen for 2006 is a talented ventriloquist and Texas high-school scholastic whiz, 17-year-old Meghan Miller, who immediately greeted her victory by jumping, squealing with delight, and waving her hands before eventually composing herself and accepting the tiara, the roses, and the adulation.

MAO Teen Top 5

Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2006

Meghan Miller (TX)

1st Runner-up

Adrianna Afsar (CA)

2nd Runner-up

Shalane Larango (WA)

3rd Runner-up

Sierra Minott (FL)

4th Runner-up

Jennifer Gulbrandsen (UT)
It was clearly a night that proved the importance of talent in this competition, while also honoring a young woman inspired to pursue ventriloquism by a Miss America contestant she had seen on TV as a little girl. As the contestants gathered one last time on stage to celebrate and revel in Meghan Miller’s moment, the show’s closing song lyrics told the rest of the story: “That’s the power of a dream, can you feel it?” Like the power of the thunderstorm earlier in the evening, we most definitely could feel it.

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