Miss New York Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America before an enthusiastic crowd at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Sunday night, earning a crown and at least $50,000 in scholarships.
Wearing a bold yellow gown, she gasped as she was crowned and then took the traditional walk down the 115-foot runway.
She is the second Miss New York in a row to win the title, succeeding Mallory Hagan, Miss America 2013. This marks the third time a state has seen back-to-back winners, Miss America Organization officials said.
During the on-stage interview she was asked about "The Talk" host Julie Chen's decision to get plastic surgery to modify her eyes. Last week, Chen revealed that she'd had surgery because she was told her Asian features were holding her back in television.
Davuluri said she does not believe in plastic surgery and would encourage woman to believe in who they are.
After months of anticipation and two weeks of rehearsals and preliminary competition, the much anticipated competition finals returned to Boardwalk Hall for the first time since 2004.
Miss Kansas Theresa Vail, a sergeant in the Army National Guard, was named the America's Choice finalist based on online voting, the first of 15 finalists.
The remaining top 15 were Miss Connecticut Kaitlyn Tarpey, Miss Georgia Carly Mathis, Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick, Miss Texas Ivana Hall, Miss Arkansas Amy Crain, Miss Missouri Shelby Ringdahl, Miss Kentucky Jenna Day, Miss Maryland Christina Denny, and Miss Wisconsin Paula Mae Kuiper.
Five were eliminated after the swimsuit and evening gown competitions, sending contestants from Oklahoma, New York, Kansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota, Maryland and Florida on to the talent portion.
Florida's Jones performed in a glittery leg brace after tearing ligaments during rehearsals. A crowd favorite, host Chris Harrison was booed after he cut her off when she went long during the on-stage interview question.
More than an hour before the competition began, hundreds lined up outside of Boardwalk Hall creating a sea of suits and ties, full-length evening gowns and glitzy clutch bags. Pockets of young girls were adorned in tiaras and sashes from various local pageants.
Fifty-three women competed for the crown. Most left crownless, but each receives at least $3,000 in scholarship funds as a state title-holder.
In all, $363,000 was awarded, with $306,000 coming from the Miss America Organization.
The 87th Miss America also becomes an official spokeswoman for Atlantic City, where the pageant began in 1921. She will help promote the city in appearances and interviews.
While all 53 contestants were featured in the opening Parade of the States, the show focused on the 15 finalists, chosen from their composite scores during the preliminaries.
Vail generated a lot of early buzz when she showed her tattoos during preliminary competition Tuesday. She wore her fatigues during the parade Saturday and plans to become a prosthodontist for the Army.
Vail fit right in with the competition’s increased efforts to highlight its role in providing scholarships to confident and competent women.
This year for the first time, two contestants received $5,000 STEM scholarships awarded to a contestant entering a field of science, technology, engineering or math. Rick, who is in medical school, and Lee, who plans to start a tech company, were awarded the funds.
While brains were celebrated, beauty continued to play a visible role in the competition.
Rick was also a preliminary winner for lifestyle and swimsuit, as were Mathis and Griswold. Each received a $1,000 scholarship.
Talent preliminary winners, who received $2,000 scholarships, were Miss New Hampshire Samantha Russo, Yeh and Jones.
This year’s finals are judged by an eclectic mix of personalities that included Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs Gunn, the last Miss America crowned in Atlantic City, who is now a physician.
Also judging are Carla Hall of “The Chew” and “Top Chef;” Barbara Corcoran, real estate agent and one of the “sharks” on the TV show “Shark Tank;” New York Knicks player Amar’e Stoudemire; singer and former member of ‘N’Sync Lance Bass; violinist Joshua Bell; and actor Mario Cantone.
ABC has exclusive rights to the broadcast, and also broadcast a one-hour special 20/20 report before the televised competition.
Tonight’s event is hosted by Lara Spencer of ABC’s Good Morning America show and Chris Harrison, host of “The Bachelor.”
The pageant’s return to Atlantic City has been assisted by about $2.4 million in funding from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and its Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority division.
Funding assistance has also been promised for the next two years, given that the organization retains its agreement with ABC to host the competition. The Miss America Organization also received other other perks, including free use of Boardwalk Hall, hundreds of free hotel rooms and thousands of discounted rooms.
Pageant sponsors include Joseph Ribkoff clothing, Pink & Pepper shoes and Catalina swimwear.
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