ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Nia Franklin made her final statements on the Miss America stage Sunday night as a New Yorker but, her roots are in the Old North State. Franklin, a native of Winston-Salem who attended East Carolina University and the UNC School of the Arts, became the fourth Miss New York to be crowned Miss America since 2013.
Franklin is the first woman to win the Miss America crown without having to don a swimsuit, and she said she’s glad the change was made.
“These changes, I think, will be great for our organization,” she said. “I’ve already seen so many young women reaching out to me personally as Miss New York asking how they can get involved because I think they feel more empowered that they don’t have to do things such as walk in a swimsuit for a scholarship.
“And I’m happy that I didn’t have to do so to win this title tonight because I’m more than just that. And all these women onstage are more than just that.”
A classical vocalist whose pageant platform is “advocating for the arts,” Franklin sang an operatic selection from “La Boheme” on Sunday night.
Franklin won a $50,000 scholarship along with the crown.
She said during her onstage interview that she was one of only a small number of minority students in school growing up, but used her love for music and the arts to grow and fit in.
The fourth runner-up was Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras; third runner-up was Miss Florida Taylor Tyson; second runner-up was Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway, and the first runner-up was Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei.
North Carolina was well-represented on the stage in the preliminary competition. Miss North Carolina, Laura Matrazzo, of Chapel Hill, is a recent Clemson graduate. Also hailing from N.C. were Miss Virginia Emili McPhail and Miss District of Columbia Allison Farris. McPhail, who won a preliminary interview award, is from Sampson County and was previously Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen. Farris, of Charlotte, is a graduate of the University of Alabama and previously competed in the Miss North Carolina competition placing second runner-up in 2017.
As a result of Franklin’s win in Atlantic City, another N.C. native will inherit a crown and sash. Fayetteville native Rahmeka Cox finished first-runner-up to Franklin at the Miss New York pageant. She will become Miss New York due to Franklin’s ascension to Miss America. Cox is an ECU alumna.
The judges narrowed the field of 51 candidates during the pageant Sunday night from Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
The decision to drop the swimsuit competition created a good deal of controversy and criticism of current Miss America leadership. Minutes before the nationally televised broadcast began, a comedian warming up the crowd mentioned that there would be no swimsuit competition this year, and was met with loud boos in the hall.
The swimsuits were replaced by on-stage interviews, which have generated attention-grabbing remarks from contestants regarding President Donald Trump and NFL player protests, among other topics.
Behind the scenes, a revolt is underway among most of the Miss America state organizations who demand that national chairwoman Gretchen Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper resign.
Last year’s Miss America, Cara Mund, says the two have bullied and silenced her, claims that the women deny.
Upon taking over at the helm of the Miss America Organization last winter following an email scandal in which former top leaders denigrated the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas, Carlson and Hopper set out to transform the organization, dubbing it “Miss America 2.0.”
Unhappy with how the swimsuit decision was reached, as well as with other aspects of Carlson and Hopper’s performance, 46 of the 51 state pageant organizations (the District of Columbia is included) have called on the two to resign.
Mund only appeared at the very end of the pageant before the next winner was crowned. She was not allowed to speak live; instead a 30-second taped segment of her speaking was broadcast.