MOBILE, Alabama -- After belting out a powerful rendition of "Defying Gravity," and telling the judges that America is a "global country," Sarah Kathryn Brock of Tennessee was named the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2011 during the 54th annual National Finals.
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones presented Brock, who is called "Katye," with a gold medal as showers of rainbow-colored confetti rained down on the stage at the Mobile Civic Center Theater. She won $44,000 in cash scholarships.
"I was not expecting to hear my name called," Brock said a few minutes later. "I have no words."
Danielle DuBose, Distinguished Young Woman of Alabama, was first runner-up, winning a $25,000 cash scholarship. Second runner-up was Hannah Roberts of Mississippi, who won $15,000.
Fifty contestants — one from every state — have been in Mobile since June 12. Between daily rehearsals, they took yoga classes, slurped down raw oysters, and buried themselves in the sand at Gulf State Park.
The program for graduating high school girls was founded in Mobile in 1958. It almost folded six years ago after several sponsors backed out when it lost its national television deal. In recent years, and again Saturday night, the national finals were streamed live on the Internet by www.local15tv.com
The competition, which doled out a total of $142,000 in cash scholarships, is broken down into five categories: scholastics, interview, talent, fitness and self-expression.
A panel of judges reviewed all the girls’ transcripts before the competition started to grade their scholastic achievements. In the days before National Finals, each girl sat down for an interview with the judges.
On Thursday and Friday, every contestant performed her talent and a fitness routine, and answered an on-the-spot question.
The top five girls in each category were given $1,000 scholarships. The top 10 overall were named finalists Saturday night, and repeated their fitness, talent and self-expression performances before the crowd of more than 1,800.
The other finalists, who won $3,000 scholarships, were: Florida’s Caitlin Mosley, Louisiana’s Alex Gulino, North Dakota’s Jacky Arness, Oklahoma’s Devin Kerns, Texas’ Judy Hong, Utah’s Sarah Oldham and Wisconsin’s Patricia Paskov.
"These 50 young women have bonded as a group in the past two weeks and are looking at this time in Mobile as much more than an individual competition," said Stephanie Bradford, a spokeswoman for Distinguished Young Women. "What they will take with them after they leave here are lifelong relationships and experiences that will help them as they move on to college and beyond."