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From Farm Girl to Miss America

BEING MISS AMERICA
Betty Cantrell grew up in a loving family of five on a spacious a farm in Georgia.  She says faith in God was the foundation of her family. “From as early as I can remember, my parents instilled in us a love for God," she recalls.   “And my faith helped create the foundation for my values and beliefs.  I would be nothing without (it).” Her parents are physical therapists who taught their three children to work hard and love the outdoors.  Though Betty was pretty and sang well, she had no interest in beauty pageants.  “I fully believed the stereotype that pageant girls were catty, superficial, mean girls with big hair, and I wanted no part in it,” she confesses.  When her mom learned that pageants offered scholarship money and a talent competition where Betty could sing, Betty reconsidered.  She entered and won a local pageant after her first year of college in 2014, which led to more competitions.  Winning the “Miss Georgia” title in 2015 was her ticket into the Miss America pageant in September, 2015.    

Betty says she made a number of mistakes during the Miss America contest, but took them in stride, which she believes the judges appreciated because they told her it made her relatable. For example, she tripped once, lost an earring, called attention to the earring, and feels she poorly answered her question about whether Tom Brady had cheated with a deflated football.  Winning the crown nonetheless, Betty says her year as Miss America was both exhilarating and utterly exhausting.  She thoroughly enjoyed getting to experience things that many people never will, like meeting celebrities, being a guest on multiple TV shows, taking part in an overseas USO tour, and visiting military bases in Baghdad and Kuwait.  The best part, she says, was realizing her passion for motivating youth to follow their dreams.  Betty developed that skill through frequent public speaking, and by visiting children across the country as an ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  “It was powerful, humbling work and especially meaningful to me because I have loved kids ever since I was a little girl,” she recalls.  Betty took her responsibility to be a good role model seriously, and still does today.  

The difficult aspects of the year came primarily from exhaustion and loneliness.  Like most Miss Americas, Betty travelled 20,000 miles a month, got very little time off to see friends or family, endured the constant pressure to look like a beauty queen, and ate most of her meals alone in her hotel room.  She also faced social media criticism and cyberbullying.  When Betty decided to cut her beautiful, long hair in order to donate it to “Locks of Love,” she was called “hideous” on social media.  In another situation, her words were completely twisted by a journalist, making Betty sound, in her words, “like a high-maintenance, self-absorbed brat with terrible table manners.”  Despite the downsides, Betty says she grew greatly in her faith in God and prayer life throughout the year, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.    

DEALING WITH CRISES
In her sophomore year of college, Betty got a call from her dad, telling her to come home right away. Her parents then broke the news that they were divorcing.  Betty, along with her brother and sister, was dumbfounded.  The news shattered her perception of her rock-solid family, and the ongoing pain left her disillusioned about marriage. “My parents’ divorce taught me that life doesn’t always turn out like you plan, and there is no such thing as a perfect
family.”  Keeping busy with school and pageant prep helped Betty as she worked through her many emotions.  In time, she met Spencer Maxwell, and her hope for lasting relationships and true love was restored.  

A few years later, following her year as Miss America and marriage to Spencer, Betty faced another painful trial:  Her mother-in-law, Pamela, took her own life just before Christmas, 2018.  Pamela had struggled for years with mental health issues, which were exacerbated when she drank.  The night of her death, Betty and Spencer were staying with his parents, and he and his mom had a heated discussion.  Pamela said some unkind and uncharacteristic things to her son.   When it was over, Betty saw Pamela walk out the front door, and then heard a gunshot.  They were all stunned to find her lifeless body in the front yard.  While Spencer immediately resolved not to blame God for his mother’s action, his grief was intense and took a toll on their marriage.  Betty became deeply angry with his mom for causing her family such pain, and had to wrestle with it for a long time.  She says that their marriage survived because they both committed to work through their grief and anger by leaning on God.  In 2019, she and Spencer were part of a Suicide Prevention conference panel, which was therapeutic for them and encouraging to others. “Life can be harsh and dark.  We wanted to be open and vulnerable.  It’s the power of faith that got us through and holds us together. We will never give up on each other or our marriage.”

Mentioned in the Video

 

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Guest Info

Guests
Credits

Author, Miss Unlikely (Broadstreet, 2019)

Supporting role in Game Changer, independent film, coming 2021

Recorded 1st album, Nicotine, in 2018

Miss America 2016, media: Good Morning America, LIVE with Kelly and Michael, Access Hollywood, etc.

National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and a partner with the USO during her reign

Education:  2.5 years college, Wesleyan College and Mercer University

Married to Spencer Maxwell, two teacup Yorkies.

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