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Caressa Cameron off to fast start in Miss America pageant preliminaries
Spotsylvania's Caressa Cameron gets off to fast start at Miss America pageant, winning talent preliminary

 Lavern Cameron hugs family members after her daughter, Caressa, captured the talent preliminary in the Miss America Pageant. The Miss Virginia from Spotsylvania will compete in a fitness preliminary tonight.
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Date published: 1/28/2010



--Italian opera solo? Check.

Stirring Rachmaninoff piano number in E minor? Check.

Triple-baton-twirling routine? Check.

The Miss America Pageant's talent portion had all that and more Tuesday night.

But the stage belonged to Spotsylvania County's Caressa Cameron, who gave a phenomenal vocal performance, whipping the crowd inside the Planet Hollywood Resort's theater into a frenzy and capturing the talent round's top prize of a $2,000 scholarship.

Resplendent in a black liquid-beaded Tony Bowls gown, Cameron sang "Listen" from "Dreamgirls," the song that catapulted her to the Miss Virginia title in June.

Commandeering the stage like a seasoned performer, Cameron bent her knees and clenched her fists as if she were literally pulling the song from deep within her 5-foot-4 frame.

"She let it loose tonight," said Harlen Gudger, executive director of the Miss Virginia Organization and one of the legions of Virginians who came to Las Vegas to support Cameron. "When she put her hand on her hip during that song, I said, 'That's it.'"

After the show, a breathless Cameron, 22, greeted well-wishers with hugs, and even signed autographs for a few young fans. She said she was blown away by the talent of all her fellow competitors, but felt pretty good about her performance even before being declared the night's winner.

"When I started singing, I realized it was going even better than rehearsal, so that was pretty good. Because at 8:30 this morning, it was rough," she said, referring to the day's early practice session. "I was just glad I nailed all the notes and didn't scratch."

Mom Lavern Cameron was a bundle of nerves before the event, but all smiles afterward.

"I'm done in terms of jittery and the nerves. This was the hard part for me," the mother said. "In a swimsuit, she can hold her own."

Cameron's father, Jerome, positively beamed.

"There was never a doubt in my heart she was going to take the talent [round]," he said. "I think she did Fredericksburg proud."

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For regular updates on Miss Virginia Caressa Cameron's bid to become Miss America and to post messages for her, visit fredericksburg.com and listen to 99.3 The Vibe today and Friday between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m.

The Miss America Pageant airs live Saturday at 8 p.m. on TLC. On Friday night at 10, TLC will show "America's Choice Revealed: TLC's Miss America Behind the Curtain," which will allow viewers to help vote some of the contestants into the final competition.