Georgia’s Miss America makes her first trip home and visits AJC

Miss America, Georgia’s very own Betty Cantrell, visited The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newsroom Friday clad in a royal blue dress, carrying a special wooden box for her crown.

Cantrell talked about representing Georgia, her platform “Healthy Children, Strong America” and what it means to be Miss America in the 21st century. She also graciously agreed to sing the first few lines from “Over the Rainbow.”

This was her first trip home since becoming Miss America. After a couple of days, she will be on the road again, logging as many as 20,000 miles of travel across the country every month.

Cantrell, 21, grew up in a small house on 700 acres in Warner Robins. There, she learned to drive a full-sized John Deere tractor, plowing and seeding fields. Her family had a TV — but no cable. Cantrell, who performed an operatic performance of “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio,” hopes to someday perform on Broadway.

Here is an excerpt from the interview. (To see more of this interview, and hear her sing, go to www.myajc.com)

Q: What does it mean representing Georgia? What do you hope people learn about Georgia?

A: It’s a thrill to be only the second to ever win since 1953. It’s an honor … I love being from Georgia. I want to settle down in Georgia and I really hope to shed a new light on the state of Georgia. I think when people think of the South, they think of Southern hospitality, but I think most people think, oh you are from the South, you are dumb. I think that is such a silly stereotype.

Q: Tell me about your platform and have you yourself ever struggled with your weight?

A: Growing up in a household where my parents are nutritionists and physical therapists, it’s just always been really relevant in my household to be healthy and active. And my parents were very adamant about a healthy lifestyle. I am very passionate about children and I realized when I was preparing for local competitions and pageants and we had to have a platform, this just seemed so obvious to me because I am so passionate about kids and not every child is fortunate enough to grow up in a house where your parents are on you all the time about eating healthy and going outside rather than playing video games … I want to help kids understand that being healthy is fun and being active and going outside playing or playing is a sport, it can be fun. It doesn’t have to be hard.

Q: How do you respond to criticism that beauty pageants are archaic? Do you identify with being a feminist?

A: I think the word “feminist” has been misconstrued so many times … Do I think that women should have the same rights as men? Yes, absolutely. I they should be treated equally. Equal pay for equal work. Absolutely. Then, yes I am a feminist. But I do believe that when people think of beauty pageants, some people think it’s taking women a step backward, but that is the complete opposite of what the Miss America organization is all about. First of all, we need to stop calling them beauty pageants because it is so much more than just being beautiful. We go through a 10-minute interview where they ask about what’s going on in the world, current events. You have to know yourself as well as the world around you. The women I competed with at the Miss America pageant were some of the most intelligent, most talented, beautiful women I have ever met from every state … And I think once we can get out of the pageant stereotype that people think of when they think “pageant,” I think that people will realize how much this is taking women forward. I got $50,000 worth of scholarship money when I won Miss America. That is going to help me further my education and help me achieve my career goals, and that’s definitely taking a woman a step forward and putting a woman as Miss America on a pedestal for young women to look up to as a role model.

Q: Millennials get a bad rap for being coddled and whiny. Do you think it’s fair?

A: I really think it depends on the person and I don’t think you can wrap a whole group of people into one stereotype. But as far as access to whatever they want whenever they want it, that has put this generation into, not slacker, but (having a reputation of being) entitled, because you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it. But that is not really this generation. It’s the world today.

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