It was maybe 10 years ago when I was confronted with my own name on the sidewalk of The Walk Outlets in Atlantic City.
“Rebecca Ann King,” the plaque read, “Miss America 1974.” I had been stomping all over these plaques for hours — they were part of the Miss America tribute The Walk had in place, with each former Miss America receiving her own ornamental rectangle embedded into the sidewalk, like a Hollywood star.
The Miss America pageant has always been just a step behind the zeitgeist when it comes to fashion.
I couldn’t believe it! There was my precise name accredited to a complete stranger. Not Rebekah (the biblical way). Not Anne (the Green Gables way). Rebecca Ann King. Of course, I knew that there were bound to be other people on this planet with my name, but for one to be a Miss America? I dwelled on it for a few minutes and then filed it away in the “conversation starters” folder of my mind.
A little digging, however, reveals a lot about the other Rebecca. One would be hard pressed to find a piece of writing about the progression of the Miss America pageant that doesn’t mention King. The former Miss Colorado was a law student, with a degree from the University of Denver School of Law, specializing in domestic-retaliations. When she was crowned Miss America she remained stoic, a demeanor quite different from the tearful mania we expect during the crowning ceremony. After winning, King encouraged the Miss America Foundation to put more weight on the interview portion of the pageant and publicly supported the Roe v. Wade decision. When asked if she felt the pageant treated women as sex objects she reportedly said she got involved for the scholarship money, adding, “I would never have gotten involved if I thought it was a body-beautiful contest. And after Atlantic City, you never again have to appear in swimsuit.” In all, she was a logical, opinionated, driven Miss America, who concerned herself more with the civic and educational opportunities of the pageant, rather than the vanity of it.
While it may seem that the Miss America pageant moves at a snail’s pace when it comes to keeping up with modernity, it’s contestants like King who step outside the mold and nudge the pageant along in a forward-thinking direction. King is hardly alone; in fact, Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014 who fought a storm of racism after becoming the first woman of Indian descent to win the pageant, sits on the judging panel of this year’s pageant.
The spotlight will be on Boardwalk Hall when another round of Miss America contestants do their best to capture our hearts, 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10. Even more than who takes home the crown, America will watch to see which contestant pushes the proverbial envelope just a bit farther than before, just as Rebecca Ann King did in 1974.
Who’s who on the Miss America judging panel
Molly Sims: A model turned actress, Sims is most known for her repeated appearances in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. She would later join the cast of “Las Vegas” as the character Delinda Deline and has expanded her on-screen resume by appearing in movies such as “The Benchwarmers” and “Yes Man.” She has also worked extensively with Population Services International’s Five & Alive, which focuses on health issues in children under 5.
Jordin Sparks: Sparks is one of a few “American Idol” winners to make a legitimate name for herself. Hits such as “No Air,” “One Step at a Time” and “Tattoo” put her at the top of the charts in 2007. Her early hits still cycle through radio playlists today, as she continues to made new music. Sparks is a founder of the “I’m M.A.D. Are you?” campaign, a group that encourages young people to Make A Difference (or M.A.D.).
Thomas Rhett: Rhett is a country singer/songwriter with hits to his name like “It Goes like This,” “Die a Happy Man” and “Get Me Some of That.” Along with his own music, Rhett has written material for Jason Aldean, Lee Brice and Florida Georgia Line.
Jess Cagle: The editor of People magazine, Cagle has a knack for understanding the celebrity-obsessed world we live in. He will bring his talent for storytelling and business sense to the Miss America judging panel.
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Nina Davuluri: Davuluri was the first contestant of Indian descent to take home the Miss America crown. She has used that platform to become an advocate for civil rights. Her win sparked a storm of racist, xenophobic backlash, a reaction that hardly slowed Davuluri down, as she continues to speak out in support of diversity, cultural competency and STEM education.
Maria Menounos: Menounos is an entertainment journalist, recognizable for her correspondent work on “Today,” “Access Hollywood” and “Extra.” She also participates in the occasional WWE match (she’s a fan of the program), and founded the charity “Take Action Hollywood!” Having just recovered from surgery for a brain tumor, Menounos is jumping back in as a judge for Miss America.