Miss Oklahoma Lauren Nelson earned the crown of Miss America on Monday night (Jan. 29) in Las Vegas amid a flurry of flashbulbs and confetti. After accepting the tiara from last year’s Miss America (and the previous Miss Oklahoma) Jennifer Berry, Nelson strolled the catwalk to Bert Parks’ rendition of the Miss America theme song before returning to the excitement and open arms of her fellow 51 contestants.
Miss Texas Shilah Phillips was named first runner-up, and Miss Georgia Amanda Kozak was named second runner-up. Melinda Toole of Alabama was named third runner-up as well as Miss Congeniality. (The three Miss Congeniality finalists were nominated by the other contestants. Pageant viewers chose the winner via text messages and online.) Miss Mississippi Taryn Foshee completed the Top 5 finalists. The pageant was held at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and hosted by actor Mario Lopez.
In an interview portion of the show, Nelson was asked by one of the judges, Miss America 1981 Susan Powell, about how to close the salary gap between men and women. Nelson replied, “I think by being a good role model, by being a Miss America that shows that women are strong and that they can succeed in our society. I think by being a good role model, we can change that.”
Nelson sang the Phil Collins song, “You’ll Be in My Heart,” during the talent portion of the evening. She and the other nine finalists also competed in the swimsuit and evening wear competitions. Miss Pennsylvania Emily Wills, Miss Utah Katie Millar, Miss Hawaii Pilialoha Kalai Gaison, Miss Washington Kristen Eddings and Miss California Jacquelynne Fontaine rounded out the Top 10.
Nelson is a sophomore music theater major at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond and plans to move to New York City after she graduates from college. She graduated from Macarthur High School in Lawton, Okla., in 2005. Early in the broadcast, she compared her theater experience to competing in pageants, noting, “Whether you make the top 10 or you don’t, whether you have a good interview or you don’t, whether you nail your talent or you don’t, you have to keep going.”
She is the daughter of Mark and Sherrell Nelson. She has one sister and one brother: Morgan, 16, and Logan, 15. She is an advocate for protecting children from online predators and has partnered with NetSmartz, a nonprofit Internet organization, to extend her Be NetSmart program across Oklahoma.
The back-to-back winners from Oklahoma mark only the third time in pageant history that contestants from the same state have won in consecutive years. Miss Pennsylvania 1935 Henrietta Leaver was succeeded by Miss Pennsylvania 1936 Rose Coyle, and Miss Mississippi 1959 Mary Ann Mobley was followed by Miss Mississippi 1960 Lynda Lee Mead.