(Courier file photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
(Courier file photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
From whimsical to wistful, all five young women competing at the 2017 Custer Contest delivered impressive performances Sunday night.

But it was Claire Lostutter’s imaginative telling of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” that earned her the top honor.

Listeners followed Lostutter into the land of Narnia through the eyes of the book’s four main characters – Lucy, Edmond, Susan and Peter. In one moment she was a wide-eyed youngster scampering across the stage during a game of hide-and-seek, in the next the tone of her voice turned dark for the story’s evil queen.

As the contest’s 106th winner, Lostutter received $700 along with a certificate and a weight lifted from her shoulders.

“It feels amazing to be over with,” she said laughing, making note of the work she and her competitors had done with each of their presentations.

“It was really good to be up there and do it.”

Lostutter said she thought her coach, Lee Strassel – also the night’s host – might have been as ecstatic as she was about the win.

“I think we were both just as excited about the piece,” Lostutter said of their time working on her selection in rehearsals.

Lostutter’s parents, Rick and Ann, shared their excitement and pride for their daughter.

Following the contest, the five young women were greeted by family, friends, peers and teachers. Between photos, each of the night’s competitors congratulated the other.

Aleah Cutshall was awarded second place, and a prize of $350, for her moving performance of the final words of Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief.”

Emma Staicer, Samantha Lanham and Amber Powers each received $175 for their comedic and dramatic pieces.

A panel of judges scored the students on voice, feeling, action and enunciation, and pronunciation.

The contest began in 1912 following a $1,000 donation from Albert Scott Custer, a former Madison teacher turned Cincinnati businessman. The oratorical contest was modeled after Wabash College’s Baldwin Prize.

Contestants are chosen from the top of their senior class and must have attended all four years of high school at Madison.