Miss Ohio Wants to Be First Ventriloquist in 50 Years to Win Miss America
09/13/2014 AT 04:30 PM EDT
Roxy is a boisterous, Dolly Parton look-alike doll that contestant Mackenzie Bart will use to showcase her ventriloquism talent in Sunday's Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The two have worked in tandem for the past five years, and despite Roxy's "diva personality," Bart calls her the perfect partner. "I wanted someone opposite from me," Bart, 22, tells PEOPLE. "She has this huge blonde hair and is so sassy. She even likes to flirt with the judges!"
So how did a brunette beauty from Columbus, Ohio, pick up ventriloquism? "I first fell in love with it through Shari Lewis and Lamp Chop," says the Ohio State senior. "I got a Charlie McCarthy puppet as a gift when I was 10 and have been working at it ever since."
But Bart – who took the Miss Ohio crown for performing Mary Poppins's "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" with Roxy – says her real inspiration is her younger sister Demetria. Now 16, Demetria was born with a rare metabolic disorder called Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome that impedes normal growth and development.
"My ventriloquism makes her happy. It makes her have a better life," says Bart. "Plus, when she laughs, I know it's a good comedic act!"
Although her talent is unique at this year's Miss America pageant, there is another beauty queen who can relate: Miss America 1965, Vonda Van Dyke – the first and only ventriloquist to win the crown.
Bart was relieved to learn about her. "Competing for Miss Ohio, I was a little nervous because I didn't know how people would perceive ventriloquism. It's kind of a dying art," says Bart. "Then I did some research and came across Vonda. We connected and have been talking ever since! She's given me so much advice. She's a sweetheart."
Even Roxy thinks so.
Watch Miss America live from Atlantic City on Sunday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. And be sure to vote your favorite contestant into the finals at missamerica.org