If Laryssa Bonacquisti’s plans go as planned, she will likely spend her career speaking in front of TV cameras. Compared to what Miss Louisiana 2017 does in pageants, it might seem easy.
After all, TV news channels let broadcasters move their lips. Not that she would have to.
Bonacquisti is a ventriloquist, a talent the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication student and Shreveport resident will showcase when she enters the Miss America pageant September 6-10 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
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An entertainment genre that reached its peak during the vaudeville era, ventriloquism was a staple of children’s and variety TV shows of the Golden Age.
Bonacquisti, 22, is too young to have been through this. But she has spent most of her life working on the skill, which she learned in a pageant world she was pretty much born into. Her mother, Lynette Falls Bonacquisti, was Miss New Jersey 1990, and young Laryssa competed in children’s competitions.
When Bonacquisti was 6, she met Cindy Elizondo, who was competing for Miss Texas and was a classical pianist who also did ventriloquism.
âOne day this girl looks at me and says, ‘I want to teach Laryssa ventriloquism,’â Bonacquisti said. “Of course, I could barely spell my last name, let alone the ventriloquist, but she said to me, ‘I really want to teach you this skill. I don’t want this art to die out.
âI got it back pretty quickly. My mom saw the uniqueness of this talent and saw that it could impact a wide variety of people and take me far. It was something different. I liked that.”
One of the tricks of ventriloquism, she said, is to replace consonants that require lip movement – like b, p, m, and v – with similar sounds so the audience doesn’t hear the difference.
Bonacquisti developed her skills to the point that at age 13, she was discovered by former “America’s Got Talent” winner Terry Fator, who invited her to open a show he had in Fort Worth, Texas, shortly before starting to gamble in Las Vegas. .
Like Elizondo, Bonacquisti said she introduced ventriloquism to the competition’s younger contestants, including Darci Lynne Farmer, who won a “Golden Buzzer” – a direct ticket to the live competition – in the current season. “America’s Got Talent”.
En route to the Miss Louisiana title in June, Bonacquisti won the talent portion of the contest with her ventriloquist puppets, Lucy and Lucky, yodeling and singing three voices, including his own. She also won the swimsuit contest.
Her lightweight performance contrasts with her extremely serious fundraising platform as Miss Louisiana. Two days after entering the 2016 Miss Louisiana pageant, Bonacquisti learned that his grandmother, Laveron Falls, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
âWhenever she’s been diagnosed, my immediate response has been, ‘We’re going to fight this, aren’t we? “,” Said Bonacquisti. âMom looked at me and said, ‘You realize pancreatic cancer is strong. It’s powerful. We’re going to fight this, but it’s going to be tough. They gave her seven months to to live.
âI hadn’t realized how hard this cancer was. I didn’t know. “
What she was about to learn was sobering. Pancreatic cancer is often caught late, spreads quickly, and is usually fatal. According to the American Cancer Society, even patients whose cancer is caught early – and, like most, Falls’s was not – have a five-year survival rate of less than 15%.
Falls, 82, remained active and mentally strong and survived his prognosis two months before his death on March 22.
During her year as Miss Louisiana, Bonacquisti supports the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to raise funds for research to develop screening to determine if people are genetically predisposed to pancreatic cancer, develop diagnostic techniques and improve processing. Bonacquisti calls her effort Team Charlotte for the first name she shares with her grandmother and mother, who all have their middle names.
âIt’s a scary disease, but you have to face it head on,â she said. âHis fight inspired me to get involved. “
Follow George Morris on Twitter, @GWMorris.