Miss New York Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American woman to be crowned Miss America on Sunday night, and the second Asian American to win the title in the pageant’s history. The 24-year-old New York native, who is currently applying to medical school, is also the second Miss Syracuse to win the competition—the first being Vanessa Williams in 1983, who was also the first African-American woman to win the crown.
The competition came down to Davuluri and Miss California Crystal Lee, a 22-year-old Chinese-American woman who graduated from Stanford. ”We’re both so proud,” Davuluri said moments before the winner was announced. “We’re making history standing here as Asian Americans.”
This year’s Miss America pageant featured five Asian-American contestants—the most in Miss America history.
The most challenging part of the evening came down to interview questions for the top five contestants, with topics ranging from Syria to income inequality. Davuluri, whose pageant platform was “celebrating diversity through cultural competency,” used her answer about CBS’ Julie Chen’s revelation that she had plastic surgery decades ago to look “less Asian” to promote her message: “I have always viewed Miss America as the girl next door, and the girl next door is evolving as the diversity in America evolves,” Davuluri said.
For the talent portion of the competition, Davuluri showed off her Indian dance training by performing a Bollywood fusion number. ”It was the first time Bollywood has ever been performed on the Miss America stage, and it’s such an honor for myself and my family, and the Indian community as well,” Davuluri told Good Morning America Monday morning.
But Davuluri’s win was followed by controversy online as some lashed out at the new Miss America for her ethnicity, accusing her of being a terrorist and labeling her an Arab (Davuluri’s parents are Hindu immigrants from India). ”Miss American right now or miss Al Qaeda?” one viewer tweeted.
Another: “I swear I’m not racist but this is America.”
Davuluri shrugged off the negative backlash in a press conference following the competition. “I have to rise above that,” she said. “I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.”
This is the second year in a row Miss New York has been crowned the winner.