Miss America contestants face long and winding roads to Atlantic City

September 13, 2013

For our local emissaries to Sunday’s Miss America pageant (back in Atlantic City where it all started), it may be their first time parading around in a swimsuit on live national TV — but this ain’t their first rodeo.

Miss America 2014 contestant, Miss Maryland Christina Denny, competes in a preliminary round during the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, September 10, 2013. Miss America will be crowned during the final ceremony on Sunday, September 15. Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Miss Maryland Christina Denny, competes in a preliminary round during the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, September 10, 2013. Miss America will be crowned during the final ceremony on Sunday, September 15. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Miss D.C. Bindhu Pamarthi was a finalist for Miss North Carolina twice — last year she was first runner-up — before claiming the Beltway crown in June. Desiree Williams, first runner-up in Virginia’s 2012 pageant, came back to win the title this year. And Miss Maryland Christina Denny won the coveted sash on her fourth try.

Think of all that pageantry as practice for what is still the most coveted title of them all.

“The stage fright actually hasn’t gone away,” Pamarthi told us Thursday. “At the same time, I definitely have developed a technique for how you deal with that anxiety. I know how to channel that into energy and charisma on stage.”

Pageant winners — like most competitors at the top of their game — are trained, not born. It takes years to master the nuances, so most Miss America contestants are seasoned pros. Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan vied once for Miss Alabama and twice for Miss New York before winning a state title.

And the state matters less than the title. In the complicated geography of Miss America, contestants can represent different jurisdictions each time they compete, depending on local contest rules.

Miss Virginia, Desiree Williams, speaks during the preliminary competition of the Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall on Tuesday Sept. 10, 2013, in Atlantic City, N.J. The preliminary competitions began Tuesday, which is back in Atlantic City after a six-year absence. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Ben Fogletto)
Miss Virginia, Desiree Williams, speaks during the preliminary competition of the Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall on Tuesday. (Ben Fogletto/AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City)

That helps explain how Williams, who hails from Newport News and is currently a Hampton grad student, competed as Miss Arlington this year. (She was Miss Peninsula last year.) And Denny, who won as Miss Western Maryland after years as Miss Cumberland (twice) and Miss Potomac.

The Miss D.C. title used to draw carpetbaggers because of its reputation as a tiny, easy-to-win pageant. That’s no longer the case: 19 women competed this year; in the past eight years, three Miss D.C.s have cracked the top 10 at Miss America.

Pamarthi, a second-year law student at Georgetown, has been competing in pageants since age 12. The petite, Indian American stunner won two local titles in North Carolina (Miss Johnston County, Miss Hartnett County) during her college years at UNC Chapel Hill, and her move to Washington for law school teed her up perfectly for the Miss D.C. contest.

And now, the Big Dance. On Tuesday, she performed her Bollywood dance in the talent preliminaries; on Thursday, she was preparing to compete in swimsuit and evening gown. The final test: Sunday’s live pageant.

No predictions on what she calls an “incredibly educated, diverse” field this year: “It’s really hard to tell what the judges like.” Just a plea to her law professors for a little understanding when she returns to classes Tuesday. “I’ve been a little busy during the past two weeks.”

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