In the end, Lori Anne Madison couldn’t charm the judges into accepting her misspelling. But the 6-year-old still managed to win the crowd’s hearts as the youngest person ever to compete in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The pink-clad Madison sailed through the first round Wednesday morning, stepping up to the microphone and (after lowering it nearly a foot) confidently spelling D-I-R-I-G-I-B-L-E. Leaving the podium she high-fived a fellow competitor as applause filled the room.
(LIST: Top Ten Spelling Bee Freakouts)
She wasn’t so lucky, however, in the bee’s third round, where a judge presented her with a word meaning “the crop of a bird or insect.” E-N-G-L-U-V-I-E-S, she recited. Unfortunately, the word begins with an I. Ingluvies. “That is incorrect,” a judge calmly recited as a dismayed Madison darted off-stage. Later, as the 50 semifinalists were announced (and Madison was officially sent home) Spelling Bee director Paige Kimble asked for another round of applause for the tiny speller after thanking her for her “charming contribution” to the competition.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee is open to local spelling bee winners from around the world who are younger than 16 and who haven’t yet graduated eighth grade. Many of its 277 contestants are more than twice Madison’s age.
The diminutive second-grader, who is home-schooled in Woodbridge, Va., 25 miles south of Washington, D.C., earned her place in the national spell-off after she won her local Prince William County Spelling Bee earlier this year. The youngest participant, she beat out 21 spellers, winning with the word “vaquero,” the Spanish translation of “cowboy.” It was her second attempt in the local bee – she placed fifth last year.
The final spellers in the National Bee will face off Thursday at 8 p.m., competing for $30,000 in cash and other prizes. Last year, 14-year-old Sukanya Roy won the bee after correctly spelling “cymotrichous,” a word meaning “having wavy hair.” While this year’s winner will likely be much older than Madison, she has a decade left to compete. She took her defeat gracefully: “I can always go back next year,” she told the Washington Post.