ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Miss Texas Shannon Sanderford survived three rounds of eliminations in Sunday’s 95th Miss America Pageant, working her way through the evening wear, swimsuit and talent competition to earn a top 10 finish in a two-hour nationally televised contest that ended with the title of Miss America going to Miss Georgia, Betty Cantrell.
Sanderford, who qualified for the national pageant by winning the Miss Fort Worth and Miss Texas Pageants earlier this year, performed a lively rendition of Dusty Springfield’s 1968 hit song Son of a Preacher Man in the talent competition and earned a $7,000 cash scholarship for finishing among the top 10 contestants.
Sanderford, 23, is a native of Coppell and a 2014 graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and advertising.
Nearly overshadowing the competition was the return to the Miss America stage of popular singer-actress Vanessa Williams, who was crowned as the first African-American Miss America in September 1983 but forced to relinquish her title when nude photos of her taken before she entered the competition were published in Penthouse magazine.
Sam Haskell, executive chairman and CEO of the pageant, apologized to Williams on behalf of the pageant for the way the organization treated her three decades ago.
“I have been a close friend of this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years. You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned,” Haskell said as he stood on stage with Williams after she opened the show with a performance of her hit song Oh How the Years Go By. “Though none of us currently in the organization were involved, on behalf of today’s organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams. 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.”
“Thank you so much, Sam, so unexpected but so beautiful,” Williams said. “I did the best that I could as Miss America in 1983 to ’84. On behalf of my family, my mother in particular, [publicist] Brian Edwards, who orchestrated this entire thing to bring me back, and your leadership, your integrity and you bringing this pageant back to what it ought to be. I love you. I love the girls. And I’m so honored to be back.”
Williams also served as head judge for the final round of competition.
Cantrell, meanwhile, went about the business of collecting the crown and a $50,000 scholarship by dominating the talent competition with an operatic aria and dancing around an onstage question about pro football’s recent “Deflategate” scandal involving quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Asked if Brady cheated en route to his team’s run to a Super Bowl title last season by using footballs that were improperly deflated, Cantrell said, “I’m not sure. I’d have to see the ball and feel it” she said, before adding, “If there’s any question, then yes, he cheated.”
Asked by The Associated Press to clarify her remarks afterward, Cantrell said, “It was kind of a funky question to ask me if Tom Brady cheated. I’m not a football player and I really wasn’t there to feel that ball. If there was any question as to whether or not he cheated and somebody else felt the ball and decided that it was deflated, then yes, I guess he did cheat.”
First runner-up to Cantrell was Miss Mississippi, Hannah Roberts, who earned a $25,000 scholarship. Miss Colorado, Kelley Johnson, was second runner up and won a $20,000 scholarship.
Rounding out the top 10 finishers along with Miss Texas were Miss Alabama, Miss Louisiana, Miss Florida, Miss Tennessee, Miss South Carolina and Miss Oklahoma.
The pageant included contestants from all 50 states, The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.