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Lacey Russ Miss America's Outstanding Teen 2011

A night of twists, turns, and unexpected surprises awaited the 53 young ladies from across the nation, as they had gathered at the Orange County Convention Center’s Linda Chapin Theater in Orlando, Florida. Though the scene of the event was familiar, what followed was a new and inspired flow to the evening that injected a little bit of glamour and suspense to the beloved tradition of the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.

 

Guest Stars Galore

Opening the competition with her magnificent vocals was American Idol finalist and Miss Mississippi America’s Outstanding Teen 2007 Jasmine Murray, as she sang the national anthem. A video introduction swiftly followed as the delegates introduced themselves one at a time, and borrowing a page from its big sister, the Miss America Organization, this year included the addition of Puerto Rico’s Outstanding Teen. With the introductory performance ramping up to its climax, the participants marched to the stage in Tony Bowls gowns to the traditional opening song, “It’s Our Time to Shine, Girls.” The audience erupted with applause and the competition was officially underway.

Justin Guarini, co-hosting the event with Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron, informed the crowd in attendance of the upcoming surprises in store for the viewers and contestants alike and the audience began to buzz with palpable excitement and anticipation. Philadelphia native and American Idol season one runner-up, Justin is currently one of TV Guide Network’s resident hosts and appeared comfortable and genuinely enthused in his hosting duties throughout the competition. Justin wasted no time in naming the Top 10 who would be vying for the grand prize of $30,000 in scholarship money.

High scores in preliminaries and scholastic achievement made up the Top 10 selection of competitors which included: Miss Oklahoma’s Outstanding Teen Lacey Russ, Alabama’s Scarlett Walker, Georgia’s Camille Sims, Washington’s Victoria Renard, Virginia’s Courtney Jamison, Indiana’s Katelyn Marak, Kentucky’s Laura Katherine Jones, Michigan’s Brooke Rowland, Ohio’s Cecili Weber, and Pennsylvania’s Jocelyn Diane Gruber. And then it happened—Justin announced the first surprise twist of the night. The competition would now include an additional five contestants in its first round of cuts. Rounding out the rest of the Top 15 were: Montana’s Amy Fox, New Hampshire’s Lauren Elizabeth April, New Jersey’s Andie Babusik, Rhode Island’s Selina Wang, and Utah’s Marisa Nielson.

After introducing a star-studded judges panel that included Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2007 Maria DeSantis, fitness expert Jodi Fonfa, casting director Jason La Padura, choreographer Robbie Mackey, publisher/editorial director Jana Kerr Pettey, Miss America 2009 Katie Stam, and CEO Tina Wells, host Justin Guarini introduced yet another surprise—assisting in hosting duties throughout the night was none other than Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund. Kirsten debuted as a roving reporter backstage and interviewed the former Miss America’s Outstanding Teens in attendance—Meghan Miller, Taylor Fitch and Caitlin Brunell. All five previous Miss America’s Outstanding Teen titleholders were in attendance for the final night.

The lights dimmed and a jaw-dropping video montage played, featuring a gorgeous high fashion photo shoot. The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen contestants from the 2010 competition were treated to a professional photo shoot. They were outfitted with gowns from the Tony Bowls collection, and had their hair professionally styled. The up-tempo introduction led seamlessly into the Eveningwear competition, the first stage contest of the night. The surprises continued to amaze the audience as this year’s Eveningwear event would also combine with the Interview competition by including a spontaneous red carpet interview of each contestant. Each girl glided across the stage in their evening gown with Lady Gaga’s hit song “Paparazzi” thumping in the background.

Each young lady then approached a velvet rope set and paused for a quick question and answer session with Kirsten Haglund, who continued in her reporter role, and another question from a judge selected at random. As a testament to the mental fortitude of today’s youth and the quality of young women that comprise the MAOTeen organization, each finalist answered thoughtfully with poise and stunning composure, despite the unexpected and spontaneous addition to the competition.

Following another video montage of the week’s rehearsals and festivities with the MAOTeen contestants enjoying their Orlando visit with trips to Medieval Times and Planet Hollywood, Justin interviewed four former MAOTeen state titleholders that had gone on to become current Miss America state titleholders. And after hearing the inspiring accounts of Miss New Mexico 2010 Madison Tabet, Miss Hawaii 2010 Jalee Kate Fuselier, Miss California 2010 Arianna Afsar, and Miss Vermont 2010 Caroline Bright, the field was narrowed to the Top 10.

 

Power Packed performances with Miss America's Outstanding Teens.
Miss America's Outstanding Teens display their talents

To everyone’s surprise, only 5 of the Top 10 finalists were called to present their talent performances: Pennsylvania’s Jocelyn Diane Gruber played a piano piece entitled “Hungary Rapsodie Mignonne Op. 410”; Alabama’s Scarlett Walker danced ballet en pointe to “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson; whereas Ohio’s Cecili Weber’s dance was a character ballet to the Overture from My Fair Lady; Indiana’s Katelyn Marak gave a stirring vocal presentation of “Gold”; and Virginia’s Courtney Jamison concluded the first half of the talent competition with her piano rendition of Solfeggietto with a “Maple Leaf Rag” twist.

 

Guest Stars Galore
Lacey Russ is crowned MAOTeen 2011

After a brief interlude in which Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron sang “My Time,” the remaining 5 of the Top 10 were announced. Competing in the rest of the talent contest were: Washington’s Victoria Renard with a lyrical dance to “Won’t You Come”, Georgia’s Camille Sims’ jazz vocal to “A Tisket A Tasket”; Kentucky’s Laura Katherine Jones’ exciting and frenetic fiddle solo accompaniment track; Michigan’s Brooke Rowland’s plucky classical harp solo – impromptu - “Caprice” by Gabriel Pierne; and finally Oklahoma’s Lacey Russ performing a stunning piano piece that was a combination of Bach’s Prelude XXI and Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique.

After a round of applause for the Top 10 qualifiers and the rest of the MAOTeen delegates, it was time to put their game face on for the Lifestyle and Fitness production where the girls, outfitted in athletic training gear, demonstrated their athletic physiques and poses for the judges.

As the final scores were totaled the reigning queen, Jeanette Morelan, walked the stage for the final time to bid farewell to an appreciative audience and proud pageant staff. Jeanette spoke glowingly of the MAOT organization and its staff and gave thanks to the many people who supported her platform of “The Power of One.” Jeanette’s professionalism has been an inspiration throughout the year to the thousands of girls across America who view her as a worthy role-model.

For the final surprise of the evening, the Top 10 finalists lined the stage together to hear the names of the winner and runner-up queens. Fourth runner-up Courtney Jamison of Virginia was first to hear her name. Third runner-up Victoria Renard of Washington was next. The last two announced were Camille Sims of Georgia for second and Scarlett Walker of Alabama as first runner-up.

With six girls waiting for the final name to be called, the suspense lingered in the air and kept the audience leaning on the edge of their seats. Miss Oklahoma’s Outstanding Teen Lacey Russ was crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2011. Sixteen-year-old Lacey, from Cordell, Oklahoma, will be starting her senior year at Cordell High School. She ranked number one in her class and is a busy young lady serving as a cheerleader, member of the student council, plays basketball and is a member of the honor band. She can look forward to becoming a lot busier as the newest sorority sister in the exclusive pantheon of Miss America’s Outstanding Teens.

Miss America's Outstanding Teen's 2011 Court
 

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