Sunday’s Miss America pageant was a night of firsts for the 93-year-old competition that returned this year to Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk.
Nina Davuluri, the first woman of Indian heritage to be crowned, was chosen from more than 53 contestants after performing a Bollywood fusion dance.
“It was the first time Bollywood was ever performed on the Miss America stage and it’s such an honor for myself, my family and the Indian community as well,” Davuluri explained on “Good Morning America” today.
“I just remember performing my talent and halfway through I started crying because it was such an incredible experience being on that Miss America stage performing on live television on ABC and knowing that my friends and family were watching. That’s so meaningful and so powerful.”
The 24-year-old from Fayetteville, N.Y., follows in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Mallory Hagan, who was also Miss New York.
“I still can’t believe it,” Davuluri said.
Davuluri came into the pageant under a cloud of controversy after allegations she was recorded making insulting comments about Hagan’s weight in July. But Davuluri, who has battled bulimia and was once 60 pounds heavier, denied making the comments.
“It was such an unfortunate situation. I never made those comments,” the newly crowned Davuluri said. “I called Mallory and have apologized to her because it was the right thing to do and we’ve worked it out. She’s been an incredible resource in this journey. She’s been a huge part of it. … And she was genuinely excited and happy and I’m so thankful to have her be a part of this.”
The pageant said it investigated and found no wrongdoing.
Other firsts in Sunday night’s pageant came from Miss Florida, Myrrhanda Jones, who tore ligaments in her knee while rehearsing Sept. 12, but stilled competed in a bejeweled leg brace and flats, pulling off a baton routine that landed her a spot in the top five.
Also noteworthy, Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, who is a sergeant in the Army National Guard, was the first contestant with visible tattoos, and likely the first contestant to ever wear camouflage and army boots in the show’s opening parade.
And, lastly, it was a thrilling first for “Good Morning America” anchor Lara Spencer making her debut as the co-host of Miss America.
Davuluri, who just graduated from the University of Michigan, wants to be a doctor and is using the $50,000 scholarship she won to help her further her education and apply to medical school.
Here are five things you might not know about the new Miss America:
1. She dreams of being a doctor. Davuluri, whose father came to the United States from India three decades ago and now works as a gynecologist, hopes to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor. She’ll act as a spokeswoman for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition and work with the U.S. Department of Education on the organization’s behalf, according to the Miss America website.
2. She’s a Michigan Wolverine. The University of Michigan graduate studied cognitive science and brain behavior, and remains a devoted fan of the school’s football team.
3. She struggled with weight. At the end of college, Davuluri was 60 pounds heavier than she is now, and she struggled with bulimia. But then, she told Syracuse.com, she learned to embrace a healthier lifestyle. “People who’ve been overweight, especially women, feel like at a moment’s notice we can go back to where we were,” she said, adding that her diet now consists of “fresh vegetables, lots of chicken, no condiments, no fat.”
“It makes you more sympathetic, more empathetic. You don’t judge. I’ve been there, and if I can pull myself out of where I’ve been, anyone can.”
4. She’s a trained Bollywood dancer. Davuluri showed off her dancing talents during Sunday’s competition and, according to her official bio, has been practicing for some time. Not only did she study the Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam styles of dance, she worked with famed Bollywood choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan for her big competition number.
5. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd. Davuluri said in a promotional video that she’s “kind of a nerd.” “I love ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek,’ and anything sci-fi,” she said.