Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, was named the new Miss America in Atlantic City Sunday, becoming the first woman of Indian descent to win the title:

The 24-year-old native of Syracuse, N.Y., wants to be a doctor and is applying to medical school, with the help of a $50,000 scholarship she won as part of the pageant title. . . .

Her grandmother told The Associated Press that she cried when she saw the news on television.

“I am very, very, happy for the girl. It was her dream and it was fulfilled,” 89-year-old Vege Koteshwaramma said by phone from her home in the city of Vijaywada, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She said there are numerous doctors in the family, both in the U.S. and India, and that if her granddaughter wants to become one, “I am sure she will do it.”

Asked about her granddaughter appearing in a bikini, given the conservative attitudes about such things in India, Koteshwaramma said: “I haven’t seen any such thing. This must be all part of the competition.”

Associated Press

The pageant also included several other unconventional contestants, including Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail. Diana Reese writes that Vail made the pageant worth watching:

To be honest, she was the reason I tuned in to watch the Miss America pageant for the first time in years. Who could resist seeing a tattooed, gun-toting National Guard sergeant who hunts deer and is working on her pilot’s license compete as a beauty queen?

But it was her platform that impressed me the most: helping women overcome barriers and break stereotypes. “I just want people to see that you can step outside of the box, you can be yourself,” she said on a “20/20″ special episode, “Pageant Confidential” Sunday. “And I can only hope that it can inspire them to do the same.” . . .

And Miss Iowa, born without a left forearm, who said on the “Today” show, “I’m proud to represent those who look differently, but it’s about what you can do and how you celebrate it.”

I’d hardly call red hair a disability, but Miss Connecticut, a ginger, told the audience during the pageant — and you just knew she was speaking to the young girls out there — “If you have red hair and freckles, you are beautiful. Don’t ever wear makeup to cover up those freckles.”

Sure, “butt glue” and hairspray were described as necessities during “Pageant Confidential.” And duct tape strategically placed can keep that little toe from flopping out of strappy shoes and looking “gross.”

Don’t kid yourself — it’s still a beauty pageant. But the ranks are opening up to include women who fall outside of the stereotypical idea of the beauty queen.

Diana Reese

The pageant’s schedule changed this year. Mallory Hagan, the reigning Miss America, was selected in January in Las Vegas, where the pageant has been held for six years. This week, the pageant returned to Atlantic City, where it began, and the contests revived the tradition of parading down the city’s boardwalk in outlandish shoes.


See last week’s news in photos from around the world in the gallery below.