By Lexi Nahl
The Miss America Organization crowned its first ever Indian-American winner on Sept. 15. Former Miss New York, 24-year-old Nina Davuluri exuded genuine excitement and humility when she walked away with the sparkly crown last Sunday night.
“I’m so happy this organization has embraced diversity,” Davuluri remarked following her big win.
Though Davuluri’s performance in the competition was a standout for both its cultural pride and confident feminine flair, Sunday’s pageant was an exciting one, showcasing many talented women from around the country.
The show began with pre-recorded remarks in which each of the contestants introduced her state in a unique and witty way.
Examples include: “Even though I’m lactose intolerant, Ben and Jerry are still my two favorite guys. I’m Miss Vermont, Jeanelle Achee,” or “From the state with the lowest unemployment, I’m looking for a job tonight. I am Miss North Dakota, Laura Harmon.”
Following the opening remarks, the first round of cuts came quickly and the semifinalists were given the chance to compete in the first event.
The girls kicked off the night with the swimsuit competition which first featured Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail. Vail was dubbed “America’s choice” by an online poll taken before the show, and walked across the stage revealing large tattoos on the right side of her torso. Twenty-two-year-old Vail says that one tattoo is a serenity prayer which gave her strength when she was bullied as a child and the other is the military medical insignia—a symbol which holds special importance to the Kansas native because of her own military background. Vail spent some of her teenage years in the Kansas Army National Guard.
Another colorful contestant, Miss Florida, Myrrhanda Jones, strutted across the stage in a bedazzled knee brace after injuring her leg in the prior week’s rehearsals. The injury was not stopping Jones that night, however, for the 20-year-old put on an impressive show both during her baton twirling routine and her confident walk across the stage in an evening gown.
The pressure of the night intensified when the five final contestants answered both moral and political questions for the panel of judges—-Amar’e Stoudermire, Lance Bass, Mario Cantone, Joshua Bell, Carla Hall, Barbra Corcoran and last year’s Miss America, Deidre Downs Gunn.
Miss Oklahoma, Kelsey Griswold, was first asked about Miley Cyrus’s recent VMA performance, and replied, “I’m going to be honest. I don’t think her performance was twerking for me. Get it?” After laughter from the crowd Griswold finished by saying that though the performance was not “tasteful,” she respects Cyrus’ “creativity.”
Next was Miss Minnesota, Rebecca Yeh, who was asked about the morality of political wives standing by their husbands in the face of scandal. Yeh explained that she “thinks they’re doing the right thing by standing by that man they fell in love with.”
Miss California, Crystal Lee, was asked about the crisis in Syria and whether or not she thought U.S. military action against the Syrian government was ethical, to which she replied, “I believe as one of the most powerful countries in the world we do have an ethical obligation to prevent a leader of a country who is using chemical weapons on his people.”
Miss New York, Davuluri, was asked about Asian news anchor and talk show host Julie Chen’s decision to have plastic surgery on her eyes. Davuluri tried to express sympathy, explaining that she “can understand that from a standpoint,” but she went on to say that she “wouldn’t want to change someone’s looks” and that people should be confident in who they are.
Finally, Miss Florida, Jones, was asked about the incomes of minorities, but she was cut off before she could reach a logical conclusion, creating some uproar from the crowd.
The night ended with the crowning of a new Miss America, Davuluri. Fourth runner-up was Miss Minnesota, third runner-up was Miss Florida, second runner-up was Miss Oklahoma and first runner-up was Miss California, Lee.
Lee and Davuluri stood on the stage in the final moments before the winner was revealed and when asked what the two were feeling Davuluri remarked, “We’re both so proud. We are making history right here, standing here as Asian-Americans.”
Though Davuluri’s victory was a great accomplishment, she did face some backlash following the competition.
Social media erupted with bigotry and claims of favoritism on the grounds of race, but she gracefully brushed it off and reminded viewers that her cultural background is what makes her unique like so many Americans.
“I have to rise above that,” she said in response to the racist criticism.
“I have always viewed myself as first and foremost an American.”