Miss Oklahoma Kelsey Griswold and Miss Minnesota Rebecca Yeh walked away as winners in the second night of Miss America preliminaries.
Griswold, 21, earned a $1,000 scholarship for fitness and evening gown, while a $2,000 scholarship in the talent competition went to 20-year-old Yeh, who performed a violin solo.
"I'm going to sleep with this," Yeh joked while holding her award after the competition.
Yeh, who wants to be a pharmacist, said she has no plans to pursue a career in music, but loves playing the violin for others. She began taking lessons at 4 years of age because she was trying to keep up with her older brother, she said.
Griswold, meanwhile, said it hasn't been easy getting in shape for the Miss America competition. She said her preparation has included daily trips to the gym. If it wasn't for the competition, she'd prefer to be eating strawberry cake with chocolate icing, she said.
"This is not natural by any means," said Griswold, who is pursuing a degree in acting at Oklahoma City University.
Before competition got under way, the Miss America Organization honored the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A group of local teenagers from the Spotlight Performers Show Choir of the Greater Ocean City Theater Company performed "God Bless the USA" to open the competition that hasn't been held in Atlantic City since 2004.
It was one of the quieter, more reflective moments for the 53 women vying to be the next Miss America. Their days in Atlantic City have otherwise included photo shoots at the Steel Pier and nights with dinners and dancing at the resort's casinos.
Michael Hartman, artistic director of the Ocean City Theater Company, said the 17 choir members are all local high school students primarily from Ocean City and the surrounding area.
"It's an honor and really, we're still freaking out about it," said Hartman, who will also oversee a patriotic number saluting the military in the Miss America Show Us Your Shoes Parade on Saturday.
The crowd rose to its feet before the chorus began.
Miss America Organization CEO Sam Haskell preceded the performance by recalling the Miss America competition of 2001. Sept. 11 that year was the first night of preliminaries in Atlantic City, and the organization and its contestants opted to go on with the competition because they would "be damned" if an enemy would stop them from their pursuits, Haskell said.
Following Wednesday’s tribute, the misses were introduced to the crowd in the traditional Parade of States that allows each contestant a few seconds to earn the crowd's attention with a memorable introduction. Some changed their introductions slightly in honor of Sept. 11, including Miss Pennsylvania Annie Rosellini who made mention of United Airlines Flight 93.
Others kept their introductions light.
"From the home of fast horses and beautiful women — better not get those two things confused — I am Jenna Day, Miss Kentucky," Day joked in her entrance.
Crowds began lining up early to get into Boardwalk Hall with many spectators clad in glittery dresses and bags. Boardwalk Hall has banned spectators from bringing large purses and electronics into Boardwalk Hall for safety concerns.
Among the spectators lining up early was Sylvia Stubbs, the grandmother of Miss Arkansas Amy Crain. Stubbs was prepared to cheer loudly for her granddaughter. She and friend Cathy Sullivan came toting large signs and buttons with Crain's face. They promised their cheers would be the loudest when Crain took to the stage to compete in her on-stage question.
"We are just thrilled to death for her," Stubbs said adding that Crain, 23, competed four times before she won the title of Miss Arkansas. "She always says her dreams don't have deadlines, but this one had an expiration date."
The contestants are broken down into three groups of 17 or 18 women. Each group is scheduled for a day to compete in private interview, on stage interview, talent, or swimsuit and evening wear.
The majority of contestants who competed in the talent competition Wednesday night were singers, including Miss Kansas Theresa Vail, who saw a rush of media attention following her Tuesday night swimwear competition. Vail, who joined the Army National Guard at 17, displayed two tattoos, one of the Serenity Prayer on her side and one of a military medical insignia on her shoulder. She's believed to be the first contestant to reveal tattoos during the competition, according to Miss America officials.
Some more unusual talents were also took the stage. Miss Oregon Allison Cook performed a Black Eyed Peas song on the electric violin. Miss New York Nina Davuluri performed a classical Bollywood fusion dance, and Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee did a gymnastic dance to Michael Jackson's "Bad."
The group competing in on-stage question Wednesday included Miss Hawaii and Miss California, two contestants who are both named Crystal Lee. The women were asked questions relating to their platforms. Miss New Jersey Cara McCollum was the first to compete in her group for swimsuit and evening wear and received a strong round of applause from the audience.
Wednesday marked the second of three preliminary nights of competition. The contestants earn points for competition in each category though some are more heavily weighted than others. Talent sees the largest percentage, counting for 35 percent of the preliminary contestant. That's followed by 25 percent for a private interview, 20 percent for evening wear, 15 percent for swimsuit and 5 percent for on-stage question.
Those scores will determine which women make the top 15 in the final televised competition on Sunday.
All of the contestants are wearing swimsuits by Catalina. The opening included dresses by Ribkoff and shoes by Pink&Pepper. All are pageant sponsors.
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