Bert Parks wasn't singing "There She Is" at the Miss Carroll County pageant Saturday, but the judges here said the girl they chose could be hearing that tune in September.
"Our girl is very talented and has a lot of potential," said contest judge Candy Reid, a former Miss West Virginia, who has been involved with the Miss America program for more than 10 years. "She could go all the way."
Michele Lanette Martin, 23, of Braddock Heights, Frederick County, earned the most points in the multifaceted contest.
The 5-foot, 6-inch blonde with blue eyes racked up high scores in the interview, swimsuit, evening gown and talent competition, winning the county title and the right to represent Carroll in the state competition in Hagerstown, Washington County, in June.
Talent counts for 40 percent of the judges' decision.
"A winner has to demonstrate strong talent," said Robin Mazzacane, another judge, who has served as a pageant delegate for three years. "It is the most basic key to winning Miss America."
Talent is Martin's strong suit, said the judges. Her lyrical dance to "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" won her a first place anda $50 scholarship in the performance segment, in addition to the $500 scholarship she earned with the title.
"She's a wonderful dancerand so capable," said Reid. "I love the music she chose. That and her performance could bring the house down."
Martin said she is considering putting the dance en pointe for the state competition. Reid said the change could give Martin another advantage.
"Judges in Atlantic City take ballet dancers far more seriously," she said.
For the first time in several years, the winner has a county connection. Martin works part time as a reporter and videographer for Prestige Cable TV of Carroll County.
"I have learned a lot about the county since I started working here in October," she said. "I am happy to represent the area."
The contest is open to any young woman who liveswithin 50 miles of Carroll. Rick Tedrick, executive director of the Miss Carroll County pageant, said response to the competition has grown recently and residence requirements could be added.
Six of thisyear's 13 contestants either lived or worked in Carroll, he said, "quite a jump" from the usual two or three. Another "local girl," StacyL. Smith of Westminster, won a $100 scholarship as the third runner-up.
Martin, a 1990 graduate of Towson State University in Baltimore County, where she majored in communications, said she knows what the road ahead will be like. She has competed in Hagerstown four times before, once as Miss Carroll County 1987. The former and the new county titleholder said she is eager to take one more shot at the Miss Maryland title, now that she's a "little older and wiser."
"Competing has been a growing experience for me," she said. "The constructive criticism I have received has helped me improve and build my self-confidence."
That confidence also helped her shine as the judges tested the contestants' spontaneous speaking ability with a current events question.
"When the girls speak, it really gives us a clearer picture of what they are about," said Reid, adding that the judges alsoconducted interviews with each contestant earlier that day.
Martin added that she has formed strong friendships through the program, including one with Karen E. Thorn, Miss Carroll County 1990 and one ofthe 10 state finalists last year. Before Thorn passed the crown on, she wished all the contestants luck, telling them they were all winners.
"We are all competing for the same job," said Martin. "The competition creates a bond."
Virginia Cha, Miss Maryland 1989 and first runner-up to Miss America 1990, emceed the county pageant.
"Thepath to Miss America starts here at the local level," Cha told the audience, which filled the Liberty High School auditorium. "We could be watching the 1991 winner."
For the state winner, preparing for the national pageant becomes a full-time job, Cha said.
"Miss America is not a stereotypical beauty pageant," she said. "The winner needs talent, brains and poise."