Miss Arkansas crowned Miss America 2017 in pageant's 96th year

September 11, 2016 1:21 PM EDT

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(Reuters) - 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 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.

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 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.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Michael Perry)



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