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DIGITAL EXTRAS: Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus Presents First Female Ringmaster

Elephants performing in circus show
I B GINZ via Flikr
The last ringmaster for Ringling Bros. joined Melissa Ross on First Coast Connect.

The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus features its first female ringmaster center stage just months before announcing the iconic circus will shut down this spring after 146 years.

Ringmaster Kristen Michelle Wilson, who began with the circus in September, appeared Wednesday on First Coast Connect to talk about her journey into the industry and the closure of the show.

Wilson is the 39th ringmaster in Ringling Bros. history and will star in Circus XTREME.

“It's such an honor to be able to  bring a little femininity to the floor,” Wilson said.

Listen to part of her interview on Redux

A professional singer with a background in theater, Wilson told First Coast Connect host Melissa Ross she grew up loving to entertain and as a child often attended concerts, operas and plays. Wilson said she believes she was selected for the role because of the energy and passion she brings to the role of ringmaster for “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

“I remember my very first circus, and I just fell in love with the bright lights, and the colors, and I remember the ringmaster being so large and loud and proud and in charge, and I wanted to be that type of a person,” Wilson said.

WATCH | 5 Questions with Kristen Michelle Wilson

As the first female ringmaster, Wilson said there was a debate whether she should be called “ring mistress” since the position had always been filled by a man. She said the “job is not gender specific.”

Animal advocacy groupPETA lauded the demise of the circus, saying their decades of protest against the treatment of circus animals have been successful.

Wilson disagreed.

“The treatment of the animals is top notch: 24- hour veterinary care, and there is so much love, so much respect, such a bond between the veterinarians, the trainers and these animals,” Wilson said.

In 2014, Feld Entertainment, which operates the Circus, won a multimillion-dollar settlementagainst the Humane Society and other activists over unproven claims the company was mistreating elephants. Although they won in court, they didn’t prevail in the court of public opinion, Wilson said.

“We do still have several animals on Circus XTREME. So if you come out this weekend, you get to see 14 ferocious felines, we have horses, we have 19 prancing poodles,” Wilson said.

The circus is performing until Sunday at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

Listen to the complete interview

Reporter Joy Kader freely can be reached at, 561-900-5235 or on Twitter at @joykader95

Joy Kader is a senior at the University of North Florida, pursuing a degree in communication with a concentration in multimedia journalism and production.