Being Savvy

Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields eagerly embraces her time in the crown

Atlantic City, resplendent on a beautiful September 11th evening, welcomed the 96th Anniversary Miss America Pageant to its famous shores and historic Boardwalk Hall. With the eyes of the nation helping the ABC Network and the Miss America Organization capture its own ratings title for the night, returning host Chris Harrison of The Bachelor was joined by a new co-host, Sage Steele of ESPN. As the nation tuned in and the raucous live audience stood on its collective feet, Miss America 2017 presented 51 talented, beautiful, educated, and socially conscious young women vying for the crown and the opportunity to serve the organization throughout her year-of-service as a goodwill ambassador of our nation.
Following the opening Parade of States introductions and the announcement of the People’s Choice winner Miss Kentucky Laura Jones as the initial finalist, the fourteen finalists chosen by the preliminary panel of judges were announced as Miss Washington Alicia Cooper, Miss Massachusetts Alissa Musto, Miss Arkansas Savvy Shields, Miss South Carolina Rachel Wyatt, Miss Idaho Kylee Solberg, Miss Iowa Kelly Koch, Miss Texas Caroline Carothers, Miss California Jessa Carmack, Miss Oklahoma Sarah Klein, Miss Maryland Hannah Brewer, Miss New York Camille Sims, Miss Tennessee Grace Burgess, Miss Louisiana Justine Ker, and Miss Mississippi Laura Lee Lewis. One of these fifteen ladies would soon become Miss America 2017.
With twenty-five percent of their final scores tallied from the results of the preliminary competitions, the stage welcomed the finalists in the first round of competition—Lifestyle and Fitness (Swimwear­­­­). In a high energy display of their commitment to a healthy lifestyle, the traditional Swimwear Competition, accounting for 10% of the final score, would narrow the field to the twelve finalists advancing to the next round of competition: Misses Texas, Kentucky, California, Mississippi, Washington, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, New York, South Carolina, Maryland, and Iowa.
However, before the competitions continued, in deference to the auspicious anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our nation, Miss America Organization Executive Chairman and CEO Sam Haskill III was joined onstage by Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry and Miss America 2002 Katie Harman Ebner in a tribute to those whose lives were lost. Current Miss America Betty Cantrell closed the ceremony to a standing ovation with an emotional rendition of Katy Perry’s “Live.”
As the audience settled back into its seats, the highly anticipated Evening Gown Competition, 15% of the final score, showcased each delegate in the personal gown of her choosing. The most elegant and sophisticated part of any competition, the live and broadcast viewers were treated to a visual extravaganza of personality, beauty, grace, and poise. The judges cast their collective ballots, and the quest for the crown continued into the Talent presentation. However, only ten would be asked to perform, as the Evening Gown presentation winnowed the field to a top ten.
The Talent Competition, providing 30% of the final score, features the delegates performing world-class routines that have been practiced and fine-tuned for many years. The talent was as unique and personal as the individual state representatives themselves, beginning with California – dance, New York – jazz vocal, Texas – baton twirling, Maryland – vocal, Washington – tap dance, Mississippi – vocal, Iowa – ballet en pointe, Tennessee – vocal, South Carolina – dance, and Arkansas – jazz dance, leaving two remaining on stage as semi-finalists.
Ten had welcomed the challenge of performing their talents on the famous Miss America stage. They then prepared for the ultimate challenge, the Final Question. This could be the make-or-break moment in capturing the crown of Miss America 2017. Possessing nerves of steel, a final seven delegates approached the microphone and discussed topics ranging from: “Do you feel our country has an immigration problem?” – South Carolina, the message sent by the Fox News sexual harassment settlement – Mississippi, the “Sit-or-Stand” reaction to current displays of racial protest by Colin Kapernick (NFL football player) – Washington, grading the media on its election coverage – Maryland, opinion of Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump – New York, opinion of Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton – Arkansas, and “What should the new President do to protect us?” – Texas. The contestants faced seven extremely tough and controversial questions that were answered succinctly and to-the-point, better than many of today’s elected officials could ever dream of doing, especially during a live telecast.
The decision was now in the hands of the judges and it was time to look back at the night’s festivities, knowing that each contestant had performed to her utmost ability, regardless of the pressure. The official announcement would soon be in the history books: 4th runner-up and the recipient of a $10,000 scholarship was Miss Mississippi Laura Lee Lewis; 3rd runner-up and the recipient of a $15,000 scholarship was Miss Washington Alicia Cooper; 2nd runner-up receiving a $20,000 scholarship was Miss New York Camille Sims; and earning the recognition of 1st runner-up with a $25,000 scholarship was Miss South Carolina Rachel Wyatt.
Three contestants remained center stage, but only one could be proclaimed Miss America 2017. With hands held tight for what must have seemed an eternity, they awaited the proclamation. In an eruption of emotion, the former Miss Arkansas Savvy Shields would forever be recognized as Miss America 2017. By capturing the illustrious crown, she earned a $50,000 scholarship, a six-figure salary, and expenses for her year-of-service.

Pageantry magazine: What goes through your mind every morning when you wake up wearing the crown?
Savvy Shields: What city am I in today? You kind of have to think about it. We have been across the country and back already, and it has been so much fun. I’ve gotten to meet so many incredible people, and everyone’s been so loving and so excited for me.
PM: What was it like standing there as part of the final three center stage?
SS: Surreal. It’s a really special moment. It’s so great to be up there with two girls that you’re so close with. They’re your sisters. It’s such a good feeling to know that regardless of who’s name is going to be called, you’re going to be just as excited because you spent this time with these girls, and you know their stories. You know what they’ve gone through to get where they are today.

PM: You’re only the third woman from the state of Arkansas to become Miss America. Give me a sense of the reaction back home.
SS: Unreal. The amount of support and love and phone calls and texts and shout outs on Instagram that have happened have been not overwhelming, but just… I’ve never felt so loved in my entire life.

PM: Talent is major portion of the Miss America Organization. How long have you studied dance?
SS: I’ve been dancing since I was three years old. Creative expression has been embedded in me for a long time. It’s something that I love to do. It’s kind of what got me into pageants, as well. I wanted to perform. I wanted to entertain people.

PM: During the weeks in Atlantic City, what did you learn about yourself?
SS: That I really love coffee. That is something that a lot of the girls, I think, learned. The first thing that we asked in the morning was, “Where’s the coffee?” It was something that we clung to for those few weeks, but it was exciting. Those weeks were something that I will never forget. We were packed, running around from rehearsals to filming to events at night. All the while, you’re trying to remember that you’re competing for Miss America. It doesn’t feel real.

PM: What has surprised you most since you captured the crown?
SS: I think what’s surprised me most is what Miss America means to people. Before people even meet me, they already love me. That is something that I’ll cherish forever and has been something that’s so humbling and liberating. It’s such an honor to be Miss America, because in every state I’ve been to, and every appearance that I’ve made, everyone has a connection to Miss America, whether they know someone that’s competed in the local systems or the state systems, or they would have watch parties when they were kids and they would make their draft picks for who was the top 15. That’s been one of the most special things for me, knowing that I may be the only Miss America that they may meet. It’s so important for me to let them know how special they are and how important, how much Miss America cherishes everyone that she meets.

PM: As a dancer, which judge made you the most nervous?
SS: Ciara. She made me the most nervous. I remember as a ten year old blaring “One, Two Step” in the car for miles and miles. Actually, during the commercial breaks, all the contestants would start singing “One, Two Step,” and during rehearsals, that was like our anthem that we would all sing. It just got us pumped up that Ciara was going to be there.

PM: How much scholarship moneyhave you received from the Miss America organization?
SS: $90,000. It is unreal. I will now, after I give up the Miss America crown, be able to graduate debt free and then go towards a master’s, which is unbelievable.

PM: The morning after the crowning, you get to run down to the beach and dip your toe into the water in the annual celebration.
SS: I think it’s one of those moments where you always see Miss Americas doing that, and when you do it for yourself, it kind of becomes real, but not fully. It’s a dream. You kind of feel hilarious. You’re frolicking on the beach in water, and people are taking pictures of you, and for a moment you realize, “Oh wait, I am Miss America.” It’s one of the iconic moments.

PM: Right after that, you’re whisked away on a whirlwind media tour. Let’s talk a little bit about the New York tour.
SS: It was so much fun. We had 10 interviews a day for five days. It was crazy. It was wild. Live audiences were always so much fun because they’re so excited you’re there, and then you become excited because they’re excited.

PM: Right after the media tour, you headed to the West coast and you had the opportunity to visit a Children’s Miracle Network hospital.
SS: It was one of my favorite days so far. I actually got to spend a whole afternoon out there, and we went to around 20-25 individual rooms. I got to hang out with the kids for a little while. It was one of the most inspiring days of my life. Those kids have so much courage and so much hope inside of them. It’s something really special to be a part of. Hopefully, that day I got to bring a little light and a little bit of love and some happiness to them along the way, because I know that they for sure did for me.

PM: What has the title of Miss America come to signify for you?
SS: Miss America and the role that she plays is different every single day. On a very personal level, Miss America makes every single person that she meets feel like the most important person in the room because they are. Then, on a national level with social media and with just going through the media tours, Miss America has an opportunity to be a voice for so many people that do not have that chance, and don’t have that opportunity.
PM: Talk to me a little bit about your original platform, “Eat Better, Live Better.”
SS: “Eat Better, Live Better” is my personal platform. I grew up in a super healthy home. Super healthy. My mom’s from California so she was very granola, West coast diet. I never thought much of it until I went to college, and I realized that I need to start taking charge of my health. I did gain weight, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that I had a lack of concentration. I was fatigued all the time. I had mental and emotional stress. I needed to make the connection between what I was eating and how I was feeling. Hopefully, I can do that during my year and encourage healthier lifestyles.

PM: What advice can you impart to those who dream of walking that stage and becoming Miss America?
SS: Well, a lot of things. I’m a big quote person. One of the biggest things I would say is your goal cannot be to win. Your goal has to be that you’re going to be a better version of yourself coming out of this. It’s not about having a crown on your head. It’s about learning and building character, qualities that are going to last you your whole entire life. It’s about learning discipline. It’s about learning how to set a goal, what it means to follow our different steps, learning how to interview, learning how to speak in front of people. It’s learning how to put others before yourself. Another thing I would say is that girls have to overcome their insecurities; know that the limitations your insecurities set are not true. Those are not real.

PM: When we speak later in the year, what do you hope your legacy will be at that point?
SS: Hopefully, that I’ve been a light and that I’ve been a voice and that I’ve been a role model. I got into pageants because subconsciously I was very insecure. I was finding my worth and validation from very temporary and fleeting things, such as the way that I looked or the clothes that I had or the dresses that I was wearing. It took me a very long and hard time to realize that that wasn’t satisfying and that it wasn’t fulfilling. My desire kind of switched because of the Miss America organization; I became confident in who I was, regardless of what other people said. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell other girls that they’re worthy and that if they have the same insecurities that I did, that that’s okay. Insecurities are real, but they don’t always tell the truth.