ATLANTIC CITY, SEPT. 18 -- Kimberly Clarice Aiken, an 18-year-old from Columbia, S.C., was crowned the 66th Miss America here tonight.
Aiken, who graduated from high school in 1992 and plans to attend the University of South Carolina next year, took the problem of homelessness as her "platform issue" in the beauty and scholarship pageant. She said after the pageant that she has an uncle who lives in a homeless shelter in New York City.
The 2 1/4-hour pageant, designed to find "a real woman of the '90s," was televised nationally on NBC. Viewers voted 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of the controversial bathing suit competition.
Meeting with reporters after being crowned, Aiken was overcome with emotion and cried quietly before she could speak. "I just want to say, for me being 18 years old, this is one of the best things that could have happened to me." She thanked her family and her 19-year-old boyfriend, Louis Barber, who was seated at the back of the room. "I feel kind of faint," he said when asked for his reaction.
The first runner-up was Miss Georgia, Kara Kim Martin, 23, a graduate student at Georgia Southern University. The other finalists were Miss Oregon, Elizabeth Jeanne Simmons, 23, of Bandon; Miss Ohio, Titilayo Rachel Adedokun, 20, of Cincinnati; and Miss Virginia, Nancy Glisson, 22, of Williamsburg.
Aiken wins a $35,000 scholarship, and her college will receive an additional $25,000 for its scholarship fund. Her ambition is to become a certified public accountant and "the head of a leading CPA firm." The new Miss America founded a program for educating the homeless and was a featured soloist during her freshman year at the University of North Carolina.
She has been a receptionist for a health care business and a skating waitress at a drive-in restaurant.
Aiken scored an early hit with her rendition of "Summertime," the classic song from "Porgy and Bess." She exemplified the pageant's new fashion of simpler hairstyles and clothing, wearing a simple black gown designed by Padashi.
Asked how she felt about the bathing suit competition, she said, "It's not my most comfortable part, but I don't think it exploits women at all. If you're a woman of the '90s, you have to have physical fitness."