Miss America 2015: My Favorites

I present to you my list of the twenty strongest candidates for the title of Miss America 2015. The ladies are divided into regional representatives and wildcard contestants. In general, I favor the regional reps over wild cards in the same region, but otherwise they are listed in no particular order.

I have linked each contestant’s video to their name. This year, the pageant apparently required the girls to do their own camera work, so the videos have a “selfie” quality about them.


Regional Rep: Miss Hawaii


Hawaiians have always stood out in the pageant for their unique talents, and the hula is a tried-and-true path to the judges’ hearts. Does not hurt one bit that her platform is promoting the STEM fields of study, a major pageant initiative in recent years.


Regional Rep: Miss Pennsylvania


Nothing gets me revved up for the pageant more than a girl with spunk and charm. A girl with big dreams and a twinkle in her eye. That’s Miss Pennsylvania.

Wildcard: Miss Ohio


Something about ventriloquism makes it go well with pageants. Most recently, Miss Arkansas 2010 Alyse Eady’s puppet act landed her 2nd place at Miss America. My gut says Miss Ohio might have a little show-and-tell up her sleeve, too. Also, at 22 years old and a recent college graduate, she is in a good place in life to take a year off serving our country.

Wildcard: Miss Michigan


What would the pageant be without a Michigan-Ohio State rivalry? Also 22 years old and a recent graduate from the arch-rival University of Michigan, Miss Michigan is sure to give recent Buckeye grad Miss Ohio a run for her money. This regional matchup also draws interest because it pits a exceptionally talented contestant against one that is more notable for her beauty and physique.


Regional Rep: Miss Mississippi


Miss Mississippi has already achieved fame as an American Idol finalist and now brings her world class voice and loyal base of followers to the Miss America stage.  There’s no question this girl has the pipes to bring down the house and bring home the crown, Vanessa Williams style.  She stands out as the front runner in this year’s most competitive region.

Wildcard: Miss Tennessee


If she’s blond and she sings, she must be from Tennessee.  This year marks the sixth consecutive year that a blond vocalist has won the Miss Tennessee pageant.   The current titleholder will try to capture the crown that narrowly eluded former Miss Tennessee and Miss America runner-up Stephanie Wittler in 2010.

Wildcard: Miss Arkansas


Nearest to my heart is the girl who hails from the State of Arkansas.  Little known fact: Arkansas is the state that provides the most scholarship and personal allowance benefits to its delegate.  Miss Arkansas is no doubt grateful for the support of her home state and eager to make her country proud.  With a genuine demeanor, a practical platform, and realistic goals, this small town girl from the hills of the Natural State may have what it takes to pull off a surprise in Atlantic City.

Wildcard: Miss Florida

20140826-214240.jpgMiss Florida already pulled off the shocker of the year when she was crowned five days after narrowly losing the Miss Florida pageant.  As it turns out, the judges incorrectly tabulated the scores, and announced the wrong contestant as the winner.  Nearly a week after the balloons and confetti had fallen, Florida officials noticed “chads” hanging from a number of ballots.  After further inspection everyone realized that a terrible mistake had been made and Mr. Bush — I mean Ms. Cowen — was the true winner.  God Bless Florida.  The state where every vote counts, eventually.

But as surprised as (the real) Miss Florida was, can you imagine how traumatic it must have been for the girl who had the crown taken from her?  Imagine dreaming your whole life of becoming Miss Florida and then being crowned the winner, only to have your bubble burst days later.  Fortunately, she handled it like a champ.  Her only regret was that the true Miss Florida was robbed of her crowning moment.  Will Miss Florida finally get her crowning moment on the Miss America stage?  Will she seize the title many believed should have gone to her predecessor last year?  Will anyone from Florida be allowed within ten feet of the scorer’s table?  Tune in on September 14th to find out.

Wildcard: Miss South Carolina


They can’t all be singers.  Say hello to Miss South Carolina, pride of the Palmetto State and clogger extraordinaire.  I am still trying to figure out what it means to be a “professional buyer”, but when I do, I’m pretty sure I’ll be switching careers.  This Southern Belle might just seal the deal with those big brown eyes and that sweet-as-honey Dixie drawl.  Lawd have mercy.


Regional Rep: Miss Kansas


If there’s one thing you need to become Miss America, it’s grit.  Miss Kansas, who lost her father to suicide as a teenager and then worked her way through college, has plenty.  Her academic credentials are impeccable, and her advanced public speaking skills make her a natural fit for the job.  She reminds me of our Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, except six years older than Teresa was then.  If you’re looking for a highly motivated young woman with major leadership potential, Miss Kansas is your girl.

Wildcard: Miss Oklahoma


Oklahoma has become an “automatic bid” state.  Ladies who win Miss Oklahoma will make my list of twenty, and most likely the Miss America finals, too — in fact, they’ve made the Top 5 for five years in a row, making Oklahoma the undisputed pageant powerhouse of this decade.  Fortunately, this year’s titleholder doesn’t need to flash her sash to prove she’s a contender.  She stands out just as much on stage as she does on paper.  The smart money is right here.

Wildcard: Miss Iowa


She may be redheaded, but Miss Iowa is nobody’s stepchild.  Ok, maybe she is, but she refuses to be overshadowed by the competition.  Miss Iowa has some sleeper potential, but it’s an uphill battle when you’re from such a small state.  Another thing working against her is her platform, which is essentially the same as the reigning Miss America.  I sense this girl has legitimate talent — she’s majoring in vocal performance after all — and that will likely make or break her chances.


Regional Rep: Miss California


Another perennial contender, California was runner-up last year and is due for a win.  The nation’s most populous state has not pulled off a victory since 1982.  That definitely works in Miss California’s favor.  Another thing working in her favor is her superior public speaking skills, a trademark attribute of California delegates.  Although the sash supplies much of her appeal, sometimes it’s what doesn’t meet the eye that makes all the difference.


Regional Rep: Miss South Dakota


The Big Sky region never ceases to draw me in, and then burn me, time and again.  But I’m willing to put my finger back on the stove for Miss South Dakota.  Her rich sense of humor and confident, perhaps even cocky persona is a sure sign that her aim is as high as the stars over the Dakota plains.  South Dakota will always be a long shot.  But don’t tell her that: she’s in it to win it.


Regional Rep: Miss Minnesota


Tied for youngest on the list, say hi to nineteen-year-old Miss Minnesota.  Fresh out of high school, she blew away the field at the Miss Minnesota pageant by winning both the preliminary talent and preliminary swimsuit competitions.  With polish beyond her years,  the girl from the Great White North is a force to be reckoned with in Atlantic City.   And, she has a message for Miss South Dakota: keep your hands off of Joe Mauer.

Wildcard: Miss Illinois


Aspiring professional opera singer Miss Illinois is looking to put her home state back on the map.  This year’s Prairie State princess is the strongest Illinois contender that I’ve seen in my five years of handicapping the pageant.  And it was only three years ago that another opera singer, Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppler, took home the crown.  I know what you’re thinking: we already have a Chicago president, why do we need a Chicago Miss America?  And that’s a problem the Republicans in Congress are desperately trying to solve.


Regional Rep: Miss New Jersey


“Never count out the hometown girl.”  Those words were uttered by someone who never watched the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas, where Nevada finalists were as rare as unicorns.  Nonetheless, the Jersey Shore has a way of taking care of its own, and I’m not sure Miss New Jersey needs much help anyway.  A Rutgers cheerleader and self-professed “nerd”, Miss New Jersey comes off as down to earth and well-rounded.  And home stage advantage will not hurt her chances.

Wildcard: Miss District of Columbia


If you get Stephen Colbert’s endorsement, you make my list.  Plus, I’m a sucker for pianists.


Regional Rep: Miss Texas


I don’t try to fight it anymore.  I’ll admit that Miss Texas was one of the last to make the cut.  But Texas is a perennial contender and must be given the respect it deserves.  A professional ballerina and aspiring doctor, this soon-to-be college graduate has dreams and potential that are as big as the state where I live.  Trust me, the judges will like her more than I do.


Regional Rep: Miss Virginia


Last but not least we have the darling Miss Virginia.  She was inspired to adopt her platform by her brother, who suffers from cerebral palsy.  Her brother overcame the doctors’ dire predictions that he may not progress beyond a vegetated state.  Now he competes in the Special Olympics.  With any luck, his big sister may be able to defy the odds, too.

So there you have it, my list of 20.  If I have time, I’ll update this post with videos for some of the other 32 contestants.  I hope you enjoyed the preview and are as excited about the pageant as I am.

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An American Inspiration, Nina Davuluri

It’s almost that time of year again.

Yesterday fifty-three Miss America hopefuls released their introduction videos explaining why they should be the next to wear the crown.  Yours truly has reviewed each video and has narrowed the field down to the true contenders.

The timing just doesn’t feel right.  I am used to the pageant being a winter spectacle.  The one thing to look forward to after the holidays are over.  Now, it’s smack dab in the middle of baseball’s pennant races (not like my Texas teams are going anywhere), the second week of NFL football season, the first week of conference play in college football, and great weather for camping, boating, golfing, you name it.  Americans are not exactly starving for entertainment in the middle of September.

Meanwhile, what do we have to look forward to in the month of January?  A few football games between teams most people can only pretend to care about?  The Victoria Secret Pageant?  No offense, but . . . if I wanted to see models prancing around in next to nothing I would buy a TV and subscribe to Cinemax.

I would much rather spend those bleary winter days appreciating the most driven and well-rounded young women our country has to offer.  Instead, I now have to appreciate them during the summer.

Look, I understand the history and tradition revived by last year’s return to Atlantic City — but it still doesn’t feel right to me.

Timing aside, I will say that in the five years I have been handicapping the pageant, this is the strongest field I have ever seen at first glance.  Many of these girls come off as extremely polished, focused, and mature.  At this stage, all I am looking for is potential, and there is plenty to go around.

But before we get to this year’s class, I want to recognize our current Miss America, Nina Davuluri.


Nina is a future MBA student of Indian-American descent.  She comes from from a family of wealthy New York physicians.  At 25 years old, she is the most mature Miss America to serve in the last 15 years.

As you may recall, Nina did not make it into my top 20 projected finalists last year.  On the night she was crowned, I acknowledged that she would not have been my choice, but conceded that she was “a deserving winner.”  Admittedly, this was at best a half-hearted congratulations.

Oh, how a year can change one’s opinion.

In the aftermath of her victory, Nina was the target of blatant racism on social media.  Rather than lash out at her attackers, Nina used the controversy as fuel for her platform, promoting diversity and cultural dialogue.  She continued to be positive and push forward with her message of bringing people together.  Nina offered concrete ideas for achieving this goal — such as involving children in hands-on activities that allow them to experience other cultures — and used her title to promote such programs.  In her many interviews across the country (most of which focused on the social media backlash), she always stayed positive.  Even when she was asked questions like, “shouldn’t Miss America be American?”

Her words had a profound impact on those who listened.  One Yale student had this impression:

“In addition to being all-around well spoken, graceful and sassy, she thoughtfully explained her platform of cultural competence and stressed that patiently answering people’s questions is one of the strongest ways to combat ignorance [….] Responding to offensive questions with tolerance and patience might be more effective than harsh words. As we can see from Davuluri’s response to her critics, tolerance begets tolerance.”  — Lorraine James, February 2014

In every regard, Nina is an embodiment of compassion, poise, intelligence, and professionalism.  She is a symbol of diversity of our country and the persevering spirit of our people.  She inspired us.  She challenged our perceptions of our country.  She showed us what it means to handle adversity.  And she did it all with a smile.  We all should be proud to have her as our national representative.

Add it all up, and you’re looking at one of the most heralded Miss Americas in recent memory.  Looking back, I shudder to think that her exceptional reign could have been derailed by a trivial dance.

You see, in America, we don’t just want the substance; we want the show, too.  The Miss America pageant brings both to the table.  It’s not just an contest to see who would be the best spokesperson.  By the same token, it’s not just a competition to see who the best stage performer is, either.  Like most things in life, it’s a combination of both.

Last year, the judges saw what we at home could not — the substance.  A transcendent young woman with every quality you could want in a Miss America.  That’s why her Bollywood dance was good enough.  That’s why the fact that last year’s winner was also from New York didn’t matter.  That’s why no one cared that she might been have been outperformed by others on stage.  The reason she won is now obvious to all.

So tonight, rather than post a list of contenders, I wanted to first recognize our current Miss America for all that she has accomplished and become.  Truly a job well done.  (And if there is any doubt about her legacy, I would point out that her Wikipedia page is already much longer than her predecessors.)

Now our task is to choose a new Miss America.  We can only hope she will live up to the high standard set by her predecessor, the remarkable Nina Davuluri.