Over the years, the Miss America Competition has had some memorable moments and winners.
As the Miss America Organization prepares to crown a new titleholder Sunday night, we take a look at some of the unusual talents and famous women who have graced the stage in this long-running competition as well as this year’s contestants who are continuing a family legacy.
6 unusual Miss America talents
Rolling with the times: Miss Florida 1973 Ellen Meade did a ballet roller skating routine to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” Miss Arizona 1988 Tammy Kettunen performed a freestyle skate to “Amazing Grace.”
Career prep: Miss America 2016 had two contestants who skipped the song and dance and talked about their careers. Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson gave a dramatic monologue about her job as a registered nurse. Miss Vermont Alayna Westcom mixed chemicals on stage during a science demonstration.
Walk on the wild side: Miss Michigan Alecia Rae Masalkoski could have shown off her black belt karate skills, but instead, decided to walk on broken glass as her Miss America talent in 1985.
Ventriloquist: Sometimes, state contestants aren’t alone on the talent stage. Miss America 1965 Vonda Kay Van Dyke won the crown with a duet with her dummy, Curly-Q. Miss Ohio Mackenzie Bart brought ventriloquism back to the Miss America stage in 2015. This year, Miss Louisana Laryssa Bonacquisti has a ventriloquism act she performed during the third night of preliminaries.
How to pack: Being Miss America nowadays requires being in a different state almost every single day. Whoever is crowned Sunday night may want to check the archives and look up the talent of Miss Maryland 1955 Carol Jennette, who famously packed a suitcase as her talent.
Pop culture: While some musicians at Miss America opt for classical works, many past contestants have wowed with modern classics. Miss Alabama 1976 Julie Houston broke out a banjo and played the theme from the popular TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” In 1992, Miss Arkansas Shannon Boy played the theme from “Star Wars” on her flute. And Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev kept the beat on red Solo cups, as seen in the movie “Pitch Perfect,” while singing “Happy” by Pharrell.
Miss America moms who once wore crowns
The Miss America competition draws a lot of contestants’ family members and fans from across the country to Atlantic City. Some of those people are one and the same. Three of this year’s Miss America contestants have mothers who have competed for a title right here in New Jersey.
During the dinner at the Miss America golf outing at Linwood Country Club, it was announced that a former Miss Linwood was in the audience. Jennifer Sockett, mother of Miss Florida Sarah Zeng, held the title Miss Linwood 1979. She competed in the Miss Atlantic County Pageant, which would have made her eligible for Miss New Jersey, but unfortunately didn’t make the finals. “I had no talent,” Sockett joked.
However, her daughter is an accomplished pianist and became interested in pageants at about 7 years old.
Sockett’s love began early as well, “I’ve been a fan of Miss America since I was a little girl.” Like many growing up in the area, Miss America was an annual tradition and a steady work gig. Sockett said she worked in Atlantic City’s casinos for many years, and her stepfather was a stage manager at Boardwalk Hall until 1982. Sockett now lives in Maryland but still visits family in Linwood and Egg Harbor Township. Zeng moved to Florida for school, where she studied music education at Florida State University and won the title of Miss Florida 2017.
Miss New Jersey Kaitlyn Schoeffel is another local pageant legacy. Schoeffel’s mother, Margot, was Miss Gloucester Township 1980 and Miss Cumberland County 1983. Both pageant titles got her to the Miss New Jersey stage, ultimately losing out to future Miss America Suzette Charles.
Margot Schoeffel said it was for the best and that during her pageant years, she didn’t have half the determination that she sees in her daughter.
Schoeffel is now known as “Miss Margot” by her dance students at Ensemble Arts in Egg Harbor Township.
Although not originally from the Garden State, Charlotte Lynette Falls won Miss New Jersey in 1990. Her talent and love of pageants saw her compete in several states including Texas and Oklahoma. Falls passed that passion on to her daughter, Miss Louisana Laryssa Bonacquisti.
“Obviously when you’re little you just think, ‘Oh, my mom was a queen, my mom was Miss New Jersey,’” said Bonacquisti, who said it wasn’t until later in life she understood her mother’s involvement with the Miss America Organization.
Bonacquisti made her first trip to Atlantic City at the age of 7, which she said had a big impact on her. “I had an opportunity to see what my mom got to experience and see the girls — who were not just beautiful or modeling on stage — but were intelligent and talented.”
Bonacquisti, Schoeffel and Zeng all said they never felt family pressure to do pageants.
“There was a time in my life when I didn’t want to do pageants anymore,” said Bonacquisti, “and my mom said ‘that’s OK, I’ll help you get whatever dreams you want to achieve.”
All three moms will be in the audience tonight for the Miss America 2018 finals.
5 famous women who didn’t win
We all know the Miss Americas who went on to gain even more fame in their careers.
Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America 1984 before a photo scandal passed her title on to former Miss New Jersey Suzette Charles.
But here are some stars who didn’t get the crown:
• Sharon Stone competed for Miss Pennsylvania in 1975, but didn’t make the cut.
• Michelle Pfeiffer was in the Miss California Pageant in 1978, but didn’t make it as far in the pageant world as another famous Catwoman, Miss America 1955 Lee Merriwether.
• Politician Sarah Palin placed third in the 1984 Miss Alaska Pageant.
• Actress Cloris Leachman made it to Atlantic City in 1946, competing as Miss Chicago, before the organization implemented the state titleholder rule.
• “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart held the title of Miss South Dakota 1970.
Contact: 609-272-7286 LCarroll@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPress_LC