Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri and other talking points about last night’s pageant

September 16, 2013

A few talking points about last night’s Miss America pageant to help you get through today’s watercooler

1. The winner, Miss New York Nina Davuluri — a 24-year-old Syracuse native and U-Mich graduate who wants to be a doctor — made history in a couple ways. She is the first Miss America of Indian-American descent. And her crowning marked only the third time in history that the same state has won two years in a row: Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan was also a Miss New York. (It was Mississippi in 1959 and 1960; Oklahoma in 2006 and 2007.)


Davuluri enjoys her ritual early-morning photo shoot in the Atlantic City surf Monday. (Julio Cortez / AP)

2. Two other Asian-American women made the top 5: Ballet-dancing Stanford grad Miss California Crystal Lee was first runner-up; violin-playing autism advocate Miss Minnesota Rebecca Yeh was fourth runner-up.

3. The new Miss America managed to transcend a tabloid scandal: The New York Post’s claim that a tape recording captured one of Davuluri’s friends – or possibly Davuluri herself – snarking about Hagan’s weight during her Miss New York crowning after-party. The Post reported that pageant officials said she had done nothing wrong and that Davuluri apologized for the remarks by friends.

That's the Serenity Prayer on Vail's right side. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
That’s the Serenity Prayer on Vail’s right side. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

4. What happened to the sparkling Miss Kansas Theresa Vail? The aspiring prosthodontist  got the biggest pre-pageant hype of any contestant in recent years because of her bold tattoos and Army National Guard service, and she soared to the finals thanks to a vote from the public. Her top 10 talent, singing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, was weak — but the Miss America judges have fallen for bad opera before, yet Kansas didn’t even make the top 5. Our theory: Most Miss America mysteries can be explained by the pre-pageant interview. It’s not televised, but it’s where the pageant is won and lost, and for all her on-stage charisma, Vail may have fallen short in the interview room.

5. Of the Washington-area contestants, Miss Maryland did the best, soaring to the top 10 despite relatively little buzz from pageant watchers. Christina Denny, a 22-year-old teacher at Olney’s Echelon Academy, won the stage pageant this summer on her fourth try. In the top 10 talent portion, she sang “For Good,” from the musical “Wicked.” Neither Miss Virginia Desiree Williams nor Miss D.C. Bindhu Parmathi advanced to the finals.

Miss Maryland Christina Denny. (Mel Evans / AP)
Miss Maryland Christina Denny. (Mel Evans / AP)

6. Did we just say that this pageant is won and lost in the interview room? Well, talent matters, too. Miss Texas Ivana Hall, a charismatic presence with bold ambitions (within five years, “I see myself finishing law school and hopefully running my first national campaign”) looked to be a serious contender – until she opened her mouth to sing (the jazz standard “Fever”) and it turned out she couldn’t.


Davuluri performs in the talent competition. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

7. Look for more Bollywood dance in the pageant’s future. Was Nina Davuluri’s routine technically good? Hard to say, but it was definitely a crowdpleaser. (Still regretting we didn’t get to see Miss D.C.’s backbending Bollywood act on TV.)

Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

8. Oh, and baton twirling is back! Nothing delights a Miss America audience more than a good ol’ fashioned baton act, and Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones’s triple-twirling act probably fast-tracked her to the finals, especially when she injured her knee during rehearsal and gamely walked the pageant stage in a leg brace. It took her to the top 5 where she sadly muffed the on-stage Q&A by rambling overtime.

9. Interview questions: No one really covered themselves in glory here.

– Miss Oklahoma, asked about Miley Cyrus, succumbed to a terrible pun: “I’m gonna be honest I don’t think her performance was twerking for me. . .  Didja get it, didja get it?” She ultimately hedged: “I think her performance was a little bit not super tasteful . . but I have to respect her as a performer.”

– Miss New York  executed the classic maneuver of answering the question she wanted to be asked instead of the question she got. On CBS newscaster Julie Chen’s disclosure that she had had eyelid surgery, Davuluri blabbed about how plastic surgery isn’t for her but a personal choice she won’t criticize before seguing into how “Miss America is evolving” and the importance of diversity and being “confident in who you are.”

– Dang, they asked Miss California what the U.S. should do in Syria! She got our sympathy vote before she even opened her mouth to equivocate unimpressively.

– Miss Minnesota seemed to win the night with her confident, serious yet plucky answer to the question about the wives of straying politicians standing by their man. “When you make a commitment to somebody, you’re with them for life, and they’re doing the right thing by standing by them. . . the husband needs to get it together, though.” Or was that too easy?

– Miss Florida, asked about racial disparities in income and education, tried to turn it around to her own dad’s unemployment and how “I represent that middle class blue color family,” but lost track and went overtime.

10. The intros! The opening routine where contestants shout out their brisk, quippy self-descriptors is fast becoming everyone’s favorite part of the show. The classic intro is wholesomely flirty, with reference to their home state’s history of landmarks (“From the home of fast women and beautiful wome – better not get those two confused – I’m Jenna Day, Miss Kentucky!”), and they get weirder every year. Some examples from last night.

“From the home of the reigning Super Bowl champions, you bet I’m wacko for Flacco, I’m Christina Denny Miss Maryland!”

“Coming from the Show Me State, I’ve got a lot to show you, America, I’m Shelby Ringdahl, Miss Missouri!”

“I’m not ‘Breaking  Bad,’ I’m breaking through. Say my name! Alexis Duprey, Miss New Mexico!”

“From the state with the lowest unemployment, I’m looking for a job tonight, I’m Miss North Dakota Laura Harmon!”

“Be careful of the pictures you tweet in my state! Here to win the race I’m Nina Davuluri, Miss New York!”

“Listening to your phone calls from the nation’s capital — just kidding! I’m Miss District of Columbia Bindhu Parmathi!”

“From the state where 20 percent of our homes are mobile, cause that’s how we roll, I’m Brooke Mosteller, Miss South Carolina!

“Even though I’m lactose intolerant, Ben & Jerry’s are still two of my favorite guys. I’m Miss Vermont Jeanelle Achee!”

Earlier: Miss America contestants face long and winding roads to Atlantic City

See also: Miss America pageant evolves to include all kinds of diversity

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Roxanne Roberts | September 16, 2013