The Miss America Runner-Up Comes With Some Controversy

by Danielle Burgos
Donald Kravitz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

While all 51 regional winners entering the Miss America pageant hope to win the reigning title, first runner-up is nothing to scoff at. During the Sept. 10 finals broadcast on ABC, Jennifer Davis was crowned runner-up to Miss America 2018, Cara Mund of North Dakota. Davis, representing Missouri, scored higher with the judges than 50 other contestants in six categories to earn the position. With it comes a generous $25,000 scholarship, and the responsibility of becoming Miss America at a moment’s notice — should Miss America not be able to fulfill her duties at any point during the coming year, the first runner-up must be able to take on her full Year Of Service and all its attendant contractual obligations. Heavy is the head that doesn’t quite wear the crown.

The Miss America competition requires all contestants to choose a platform, an issue they take to heart and bring to the attention of civic leaders using their title position. Davis' was "United We Stand, Divided We Fall - Diversity Matters." In a video posted to her Facebook page, Davis says, "This platform means so much to me because I know what it's like to be the only one who looks like me in a crowd, and to feel different because of how I was born." She also wrote a children's book on the subject, bringing it up during the question portion of the competition. When asked by Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri what the title of her autobiography would be, Davis said it would be called "Diversity Matters." She continue, "And I am lucky enough to be the published author of a children's book entitled Diversity Matters, which is my personal platform." In the same Facebook video Davis said she wrote the book specifically to encourage earlier conversations about race and other points of diversity with the next generation, "so they're not seeing the same injustice we're seeing today."

Her performance during the competition reflected this. Davis sizzled on stage during the talent competition, performing a high-energy Bollywood dance number to the song "Naacho Re" from 2014 movie Jai Ho. As Davis isn't of the culture, she's faced questions about cultural appropriation as she moved ahead in the pageants. On her Facebook page she addresses the issue directly, saying:

"I get this question all of the time, and my response is because I LOVE it. The beauty of dance is that no matter where you come from we can have a common denominator, and that is a love of dance. Besides my love of the culture, I believe that it is important to practice what you preach. Diversity Matters is much more than a platform for me, it is my life. Not only do I come from a diverse background, I have known the joy of embracing another culture fully."
Donald Kravitz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

According to The Mexico Ledger, after winning the Miss Missouri 2017 competition in June, Davis took a year off from college to continue competing. A 2016 St. Louis University graduate majoring in Communications, Davis said in a Fox 2 interview she's "trying to change my life a little bit" and has returned to school to become a physician assistant, specializing in pediatric oncology.

Davis has been entering pageants since she was 19, and worked for five years without success until she won the regional Miss Jackson, Missouri competition. There, according to the Missouri Trappers Association, Davis was presented with a muskrat vest trimmed with bobcat by Fur Arts in Kansas City, MO in addition to her crown. She then went on to win Miss Missouri. In a Fox 2 interview she discussed the grueling schedule of the state winners. She said:

"Once you're crowned they whisk you away to live with a host family in Mexico, Missouri...and they pretty much take care of you for the year. You're pretty much at their beck and call. You go around the state to promote your platform ... working on a healthy lifestyle, working on your talent ... you just hit the ground running and hope for the best when you hit Atlantic City!"

In addition to earning the first runner-up title, the 23-year-old Davis still holds the prestigious Miss Missouri title, remaining an ambassador and figurehead of her state’s goodwill. It also earned her an additional $13,000 scholarship on top of her Miss America prize — pageants are serious business! She’ll continue performing public works and community services, engaging with her fellow Missourians throughout the year. Congratulations again, Jennifer Davis - though you didn’t win the crown, you definitely won our hearts!