Miss Arkansas Jazz routine, strong Q&A win her Miss America

Miss NC wins scholarship for non-finalist talent.

ATLANTIC CITY — Savvy Shields, a college student from Arkansas, won the annual Miss America pageant on Sunday after impressing judges with a jazz dance routine and her answer to a question about her take on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.Shields, a native of Fayetteville, Ark. and student at the University of Arkansas, was one of seven finalists given 20 seconds to answer highly topical questions on some controversial issues, such as immigration and Clinton rival, Donald Trump.Asked what her take was on Clinton, Shields offered that “if you’re trying to be leader of the free world, everything you say and do matters.”She noted that the media has sensationalized the campaign so that it was “hard to tell what is truth and scandal,” then added that “both these candidates have done a great job, but they also need to watch what they’re doing.”Shields, who adopted “eat better, live better” as her platform for the competition, earlier performed a jazz dance to “They Just Keep Moving the Line” from the TV show “Smash.”The first runner-up was Rachel Wyatt, Miss South Carolina, who fielded a question about immigration in the United States. She was followed by contestants from New York, Washington and Mississippi.Miss North Carolina McKenzie Faggard, who did not make it to the top 15 round, won the non-finalist talent award for lyrical dance. She was awarded $3,000 for competing in the Miss America pageant and an additional scholarship for the talent award. According to Beth Knox, the executive director of Miss North Carolina Pageant Organization, Inc., the Miss America Organization has upped their scholarships, especially for STEM-based, business-focused and community-driven scholarships. “It was encouraging to see more women being awarded,” Knox said. “The Miss America Organization is working very hard to offer as many scholarship opportunities.” Missouri’s Erin O’Flaherty, who in June became the first openly lesbian contestant in the history of the nearly century-old pageant, failed to make the first cut of 15 selected from 52 entrants from the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.Shields went into Sunday’s live two-hour ABC broadcast from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. with the advantage of having prevailed earlier in the week during preliminary judging in the talent competition.Wearing a black strapless gown, she was crowned by the outgoing title holder, Betty Cantrell.The pageant returned to the seaside gambling resort a few years ago after nearly a decade in Las Vegas. It was dropped by ABC in 2004 following a steep ratings decline, but returned after years on cable.Judges, including pop singer Ciara, scored contestants who ranged in age from 18 to the cut-off of 24 based on talent, the live question segment, a personal interview and appearances in gowns and swimsuits.Most of the finalists drew on music or dance for the talent portion, but some opted for pageant staples such as baton-twirling.The winner receives a six-figure salary, expenses for the year, and a $50,000 scholarship.Reuters contributed to this report.