There She Is?: Miss America 2014, The Day After

Usually, Miss America comes and goes without much fuss, but this year brought the controversy to a whole new level, and it’s a nasty one.

The show itself provided its usual “Miss America” moments:

  • No tripping, but several missed cues by contestants, most notably Miss New York (Nina Davuluri) – when she was called for talent, Miss Georgia (Carly Mathis) accidentally got up and walked toward the stage to sing and was told to turn back. In Davuluri’s defense, she was probably too spellbound by the lights, the adrenaline, and the moment to react, and earlier in the night as she made the top fifteen she had a similar moment, in complete disbelief that her state was called. Mathis, fortunately, got a chance to sing a few girls later. (Spoiler Alert: She was not good.)
  • Miss Kansas (Theresa Vail) in all her tattooed glory, which I found kind of distracting instead of AMERICAN. She did look great though and seemed like a tough but fun chick.
  • Some beautiful gowns, particularly Miss Maryland (Christina Denny) and Miss Minnesota (Rebecca Yeh).
  • Some fantastic talent performances, the highlight of which was Miss New York (explained further below). Other standouts were Maryland (she sounded good, but she didn’t pick a particularly challenging song to sing), Minnesota (great on the violin), Miss Oklahoma (Kelsey Griswold) who did an interesting musical theatre number, and poor Miss Florida (Myrrhanda Jones), made to twirl her batons with one leg in a brace (which she did, impressively)
  • Some pretty wretched talent performances, mostly Georgia‘s country-western interpretation of “On My Own,” and Miss Texas (Ivana Hall)’s off-key, totally un-sultry rendition of “Fever,”
  • For once, everyone tackled their final question well (except, obviously, Florida)
  • Since Brooke Burke-Charvet skipped her hosting gig this year in favor of Dancing With the Stars, Lara Spencer stepped in and was utterly inept at the job. (Even Gretchen Carlson did better than her!)

Although ALL THREE of my hometown girls (MD, TX, WI) made it, the ultimate winner was Miss New York, 24-year-old Nina Davuluri of Fayetteville, NY, a University of Michigan graduate of Indian descent. She is the second consecutive winner from New York, the second ever Miss America of Asian descent (the first was Angela Perez Baraquio of Hawaii back in 2000), and most notably, the first Miss America of South Asian descent. Although her evening gown was kind of meh in my opinion, she looked great in a swimsuit, answered the final question fairly well, and put on a show during the talent portion with a Bollywood number that brought both the wow factor and a healthy expression of culture. It also fit well with Davuluri’s platform, one of diversity, which is becoming more and more pivotal in the changing nature of American society. What we today deem “minorities” – Latina/o, South Asian, East Asian – will soon be the majority, and in certain parts of the country, they are already prevalent.

Within hours – actually, minutes – Twitter and Facebook were all in a tizzy over Davuluri due to her race. She was being called “Miss 7-11,” “Miss Al Qaeda,” and even “Miss Terrorist” by mean people on the Internet hiding behind screen names. She was facing intense scrutiny by the micro-media which was dangerously tilting its way towards the mainstream media. To top it off, she’s a) American-born, raised, and educated, b) Indian-American (not Arab), c) a very talented Bollywood dancer, d) Indian-American (not Arab), e) a great public speaker, and finally, f) Indian-American! NOT ARAB! There’s a difference, people. Yes, her skin is dark, but she’s lighter than a Kardashian on any given day. Middle Eastern does not = South Asian. Get a map, Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 probably has some. Also…did you even watch the show? Did you not see WHY she won Miss America? Not because of her skin color, but because of her fitness, her talent, and her poise. Her skin color was probably the last thing on any judge’s mind.

My thoughts were pretty much the complete opposite of everyone else’s. I thought that Davuluri’s win might actually be a boost to the image of the South Asian in America (although I have heard that the Indian-American community and India itself is quite pleased and appropriately celebrating her win). I thought that maybe people would become more curious about Indian culture and want to learn more about issues in the Indian-American community. I thought that people of other minorities would embrace the new Miss America and see her as not only a champion for Indian-Americans, but for minorities (and minority women) everywhere. Most importantly, I thought that people would think that this isn’t such a huge deal after all – a pretty girl won Miss America, she’s Indian, so what? Is there a rule somewhere stating that Miss America can only be white, with blonde hair and blue eyes? I can only imagine the uproar when a Native American, a Native Hawaiian, an Inuit, or (the horror!) a Latina wins Miss America.

I thought we were beyond that, America. This was a disappointing and shameful reaction. I wish Nina Davuluri the best of luck as Miss America 2014 – she’s beautiful, she’s talented, she seems nice, and overall, she won the competition fair and square.

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