A gift passed down from mother to child bore fruit this weekend for the new Miss Philadelphia, Maria Scirillo, whose voice and vision for better schools helped earn her the title on the 90th anniversary of the pageant.
Scirillo, 23, of Yardley, placed first among 17 contestants from Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs to win an $11,000 scholarship from TD Bank.
She now moves on to the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant in June, with a chance to eventually compete for the title of Miss America - not claimed by a Miss Philadelphia since 1940.
On Sunday, Scirillo basked in her victory with family following the finale Saturday night. But her work as Miss Philadelphia starts Monday, when she sits down with Mayor Nutter to talk about her platform to restore music programs to schools.
Scirillo wants to bring Save the Music, the foundation sponsored by VH-1, to restore music classes to public schools that have lost them to budget cuts.
"I want to bring that organization into Philadelphia," Scirillo said, "even if I have to go in there myself and teach the kids music."
Her talent for singing is channeled from her mother, Angela, an accomplished amateur singer who first serenaded her infant daughter with The Elgins' 1966 hit, "Heaven Must Have Sent You."
With music in her blood, Scirillo has never coasted. She took her academic classes in the morning at Pennsbury High School, then drove 25 minutes north from Bucks County to Mercer County Performing Arts High School in Trenton for singing, acting and dancing.
She graduated from both high schools and went on to graduate from the two-year program at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City in 2009. She finished fifth in the Miss Philadelphia pageant last year.
Now she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Drexel University, a main sponsor and host of the pageant. Drexel has pledged to match her $11,000 scholarship, as well as the $6,700 awarded to runners-up, if they enroll at Drexel.
More than 100 contestants were narrowed down through the original applications and auditions at the Union League in January.
The Miss Philadelphia Pageant was first held in 1921, and three Miss Philadelphias have won the Miss America title – Ruth Malcomson (1924), Rose Coyle (1936) and Frances Burke (1940).
The city pageant nearly disappeared before it was revived in 1996 by U.S. Army Col. Kevin McAleese, now retired. The Philadelphia event is now among the top five in scholarship awards among the 1,200 locals affiliated with the Miss America organization, said Art McMaster, president and CEO of the Linwood, N.J.-based Miss America Organization.
If Scirillo is going to become Miss Pennsylvania, it will be her voice coach for the last 12 years, Jennine Babo, who helps her get there. (Babo played the title role of Annie on Broadway and on tour for seven years.)
On Saturday night, Babo and Scirillo chose the song, "Jar of Hearts," Christina Perri's hit, to showcase her voice.