Savvy Shields, the 21-year-old Miss Arkansas, won the title of Miss America 2017 — as well as a $50,000 college scholarship — on Sunday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ.
The 2016 titleholder, Miss Georgia Betty Cantrell, crowned Shields, who took the iconic first walk wearing a black gown while waving and crying like her many predecessors.
Shields energized the at-time raucous crowd — which was studded with young women wearing gowns, crowns, and sashes from local pageants and from Miss America’s Outstanding Teen state levels — by performing a jazz dance to “They Just Keep Moving the Line.” During the question and answer period, Shields gave a safe response to a question about Hillary Clinton as posed to her by celebrity judge Gabby Douglas.
“It is unreal and I am so grateful for this,” Shields told reporters of her win immediately following the broadcast, hosted by Chris Harrison and Sage Steele. “I am so honored and very humbled to be standing in front of you today as your Miss America. And that feels so weird to say out loud!”
The 1st runner-up was Miss South Carolina, Rachel Wyatt, who earned a $25,000 scholarship. Her talent was dance. The 2nd runner-up was Miss New York, Camille Sims, who sang the jazz standard “Sway” and won a $20,000 scholarship.
But judges — which included Olympic gold-medal gymnast Douglas, singer Ciara, actress Laura Maurano, Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban, Miss America 1985 Sharlene Wells Hawkes, and actress Sara Foster — ultimately landed on Shields, whose total high scores (comprised of 25 percent for a composite rating from the preliminaries, 10 percent for swimsuit, 15 percent for evening wear, 30 percent for talent, and 20 percent for the final question) nabbed her the crown.
After the broadcast, the judges spoke at a press conference about their decision, with Cuban telling Shields he was inspired to choose her because of his two daughters. “I think it’s important for them to have…women they can look up to. And you set the bar so high,” he said. Douglas added that she had a great time during the competition, noting, “It was kind of different because I’ve been judged all my life.” Wells Hawkes welcomed Shields to the “sorority,” praising her for her skills and grace. “She’s already got it that the role of Miss America is to shine the light on others,” the former titleholder said. “She understands the whole package.”
During her 2017 reign, Shields, who is an art major at the University of Arkansas, will promote her platform of “Eat Better, Live Better.”
The Miss America contest was started in 1921 as a bit of a marketing ploy — by a group of Atlantic City businessmen who created a week of festivities including the Atlantic City Bathing Beauty Contest as a way to extend the summer resort season past Labor Day. It was a success, and went through various permutations until evolving into a scholarship competition that now has a heavy focus on contestants’ social platforms, which ranged this year from childhood cancer awareness to anti-bullying.
In 2004, the pageant left its seaside New Jersey home for Las Vegas, where it would remain until its return to Atlantic City in 2013, when the Miss American Organization then formed a partnership with Dick Clark Productions. A contract with the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority will now keep the iconic pageant in Atlantic City through the 2019 competition.
During the preliminaries in the week leading up to Sunday’s final competition, 23-year-old Arianna Quan, Miss Michigan, won the talent portion; the Beijing native also spoke out about immigration as part of her platform, called “Being American: Immigration & Citizenship Education.” Miss Ohio, Alice Magoto, in the Lifestyle and Fitness (Swimsuit) category in her black bikini. At 18 years old, she was this year’s youngest contestant. And Miss Missouri Erin O’Flaherty also made history (and many headlines) by being the first openly lesbian Miss America contestant. She had hoped to use the title to spread a message of diversity and of suicide prevention.
“There is a little girl out there who maybe is struggling with her identity and doesn’t know who she, is or where she fits in, and maybe she will see me and realize that she could also be Miss America, even though she might be gay,” O’Flaherty, who was eliminated from the start of Sunday’s final competition, told Yahoo Beauty days earlier. “I just want to reach people who are struggling… And my message will really be that there is a place for everyone.”