Next Miss America could be pilot, governor, alpaca farmer
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — One wants to be the first female governor of North Dakota. One is a half-blind baton twirler who performed at a Super Bowl. Another wants to chase tornadoes.
One wants to run an alpaca farm, another is a former NFL cheerleader, yet another wants to sing the National Anthem at a Boston Red Sox game, and there is another who wants to be a criminal profiler for the FBI.
The 51 women vying to become the next Miss America have a wide range of interests, dreams and backgrounds, which they'll be sharing with the nation this week in the run-up to Sunday's nationally televised finale of the scholarship pageant.
"I really want to be a real-life Miss Congeniality," says Miss Nevada, Andrea Martinez. Unlike the movie in which FBI agent Sandra Bullock enters a national pageant to prevent a crime, Martinez is trying it in reverse order: Become Miss America, THEN become an FBI agent.
She was in the process of becoming a police officer in Las Vegas when she won her state title, delaying the start of a law enforcement career she hopes will culminate with her becoming a criminal profiler for the FBI. Her pageant platform involves bringing police departments and local communities together to lessen tensions and foster mutual respect.
"Being a minority and being expected to have a certain view of law enforcement, I actually saw both sides and helped expose both sides to each other," she said.
Miss Colorado, Meredith Winnefeld, has been blind in her right eye since birth. Her platform is on vision care for young children.
Her visual disability made it harder, but not impossible, to pursue her love — baton twirling.
"I had to teach myself and take the time to know I'd be able to do it," she said.
She won a national championship at age 11, and performed at the 2015 Super Bowl. Her dream is to twirl at another one — but this time, it will be won by the Denver Broncos.
Miss North Dakota, Cara Mund, wants to be the first woman elected governor of her state. She wants to see more women elected to all levels of government.
"It's important to have a woman's perspective," said Mund, who had an internship in the U.S. Senate. "In health care and on reproductive rights, it's predominantly men making those decisions."
Miss Maine, Katie Elliot, has similar ambitions. Her platform encourages female leadership in American government, with the acronym "FLAG." She's been interested in politics and government since winning an election to be seventh grade class president.
"I'm a huge admirer of democracy, but what I noticed is a huge disparity between the number of men and women," she said, adding she wants to encourage more women to see elected public service as a viable career path.
Time studying in the Middle East and Africa got Miss Oregon, Harley Emery, deeply interested in the refugee crisis. She founded a group at the University of Oregon called "No Lost Generation" that helps teach resettled refugees English and find them jobs. She befriended refugees from Syria and Iraq, among others.
Other interesting contestants facts include:
— Miss California, Jillian Smith, is one of seven granddaughters in her family to have competed in a Miss America feeder pageant.
— Miss District of Columbia, Briana Kinsey's, secret dream is to be a contestant on "Survivor," lasting more than one day, while the dream of Miss Georgia, Alyssa Beasley, is "to be the last person standing in a horror film."
— Miss Indiana, Haley Begay, hopes to own an alpaca farm somewhere in the south.
— Miss Louisiana, Laryssa Bonacquisti's dream is "to chase a tornado."
— Miss Michigan, Heather Kendrick, appeared last season on "America's Got Talent" with the electro-pop violin group "Nuclassica."
— Miss New Mexico, Taylor Rey, wants to be a voice actor for cartoons, and Miss New York, Gabrielle Walter, wants to argue a high-profile case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
— Miss Rhode island, Nicolette Peloquin, wants to be a New England Patriots cheerleader; Miss South Carolina, Suzi Roberts, actually was an NFL cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons; Miss Virginia, Cecili Weber, wants to play lead guitar for an all-female rock band, and Miss Washington state, Nicole Renard, wants to go to the moon.