By Victoria Cavaliere
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) – Nina Davuluri won the 2014 Miss America pageant on Sunday, becoming the first Indian-American to wear the crown, which went to Miss New York for the second year in a row.
“I’m so happy this organization has celebrated diversity, and, on this stage tonight, there was so much diversity,” Davuluri told reporters shortly after defeating contestants from 49 other states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
“I’m so proud to be the first Indian Miss America,” the 24-year-old aspiring physician said.
The field was narrowed to Davuluri and Miss California Crystal Lee, the first runner-up. Just before the results were announced, Davuluri said, “We are making history right here as Asian-Americans.”
Contestants were judged on a personal interview, a talent demonstration, an on-stage question, and their appearance in evening gowns and swimwear during the two-hour nationally televised event.
Davuluri performed a Bollywood fusion dance and was asked about revelations that American television personality Julie Chen had plastic surgery on her eyes. Davuluri answered that she personally was opposed to plastic surgery and said that one’s diversity should be celebrated.
As the winner, Davuluri will receive a $50,000 scholarship. She said she would use the money to pay for graduate school.
Last year’s winner, Mallory Hagan from New York, crowned her successor.
Several contestants made headlines during preliminary competitions. Miss Iowa, Nicole Kelly, was born without her left forearm and said the competition helped her promote a platform of overcoming disabilities. Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas and a sergeant in the Army National Guard, became the first contestant to display tattoos.
The 93-year-old beauty pageant returned to its hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey, this year after an eight-year stretch in Las Vegas.
Atlantic City is about 60 miles south of Seaside Park, New Jersey, the site of a massive boardwalk fire on Thursday night. In a press conference following the pageant, Davuluri volunteered to help clean up the damaged boardwalk.
The pageant’s return to the New Jersey shore could help the local economy, which was hard hit by last year’s Superstorm Sandy. The Atlantic City Alliance, an economic development group, estimated it would bring in about $30 million in business.
The Miss America pageant was televised live by ABC, which picked up the contest again in 2011 after dropping it in 2004 because of a steep ratings decline. Miss America has seen its popularity ebb and flow over its nearly 100-year history and it has been the target of critics who say the pageant format objectifies women.
The judges were former Miss America Deidre Downs Gunn, the New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire, Lance Bass from the boy band ‘N Sync, comedian Mario Cantone, violinist Joshua Bell and television chef Carla Hall.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Stacey Joyce)