The Path to Pageant Talent Success You Have to Walk
There’s a fabulous book that holds the secret to success in life — and, surprisingly in the pageant talent competition. Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers” explained that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” After studying the lives of great achievers in widely differing fields, the author concluded that “an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields … you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”
So, the take away “secret” that every pageant contestant is going to have to embrace is: the key to success in the talent competition is to practice, practice, practice. It is the singular tool that led Terry Meeuwsen, one of the most talented Miss America winners of all time, to the crown:
“I sang a cappella everywhere you could conceive of. I sang in hair salons. I sang in restaurants. I sang on street corners. I sang in dress shops. I would be singing in the middle of a store while people were wandering around shopping. When I look back on it I think I must have been out of my mind to have done those things! But I’ll tell you, it really paid off for me.”– Terry Meeuwsen, Talent Competition winner and Miss America 1973
Practice, Practice, Practice
Getting up onstage and gaining experience as a performer is invaluable, but what actually prepares contestants for those public performances are the hours of practice they invest before stepping onstage to perform. Whatever the talent, practicing helps contestants feel comfortable onstage and to perform with that wonderful quality of apparent effortlessness.
Even seasoned professionals rely on practice. Terry Meeuwsen was already a performer with the New Christy Minstrels, yet she tenaciously perfected her skills with constant practice…
“Whenever we were with someone who had never heard me sing, Ginny [Virginia Habermann, her coach] would say, ‘Terry … ‘He Touched Me.’ I was expected to sing it as though I were selling it to nine judges in Atlantic City. I sang a cappella everywhere you could conceive of. I sang in hair salons. I sang in restaurants. I sang on street corners. I sang in dress shops. I would be singing in the middle of a store while people were wandering around shopping. When I look back on it I think I must have been out of my mind to have done those things! But I’ll
tell you, it really paid off for me.”
Vanessa Williams, Miss New York, won the talent competition and the 1984 Miss America crown. Williams was a performing arts major at Syracuse University with considerable experience performing.
Shirley Cothran, Miss America 1975, is another example of how diligent practice can work wonders in shaping up even the puniest talent. Although she had been dabbling with the flute for years, Cothran hadn’t been able to afford private lessons. But she refused to let her limited training hold her back. What she didn’t have in professional coaching, she simply made up for in practice. “It became such a part of me because I practiced it every day,” she explains. “Maybe not in one sitting, but every time I had an extra five minutes or two minutes and fifty seconds, I would play my song until I absolutely could play it backwards .”
“When you get on that stage, you have to be extremely comfortable with what you’re doing and confident,” Cothran warns, ”because when you get out there, and all of a sudden you’re not thinking of the music or fingering the different notes – but you’re praying, ‘Lord, help me to get through this piece without stumbling’ – it needs to be automatic. That’s extremely important for contestants. You only have one chance to play that song,” she says. “You may have played it flawlessly fifty times before that, but if you make a mistake that one time, that’s the only chance you get. So, it’s important to have it down perfectly.”
Practicing your Pageant Talent is an Investment
Investing in practice can payoff in unexpected, life-changing benefits.
When Donna Axum, Miss America 1964, competed for the Miss Arkansas title, she and another contestant were tied for the state crown. Organizers asked the judges to break the tie by determining which of the women had earned the most points in talent. Donna had earned two more points. By that sliver of a margin, she was named Miss Arkansas and went to the nationals where she won the national crown. “Imagine being that close to a life-changing experience,” Donna exclaims. “That should be an example that you should practice an extra hour or two to get that one-point, two-point edge-because it can really make the difference.” Practice, practice, practice!![clear-line]
Related: Introduction to the Talent Competition[clear-line]
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