Miss South Carolina, Kimberly Clarice Aiken, was crowned Miss America on Saturday night after pledging to spend the next year on efforts to educate the homeless.
The field of 50 contestants, one from each state, was narrowed to five semifinalists late Saturday after two weeks of competition in swimsuit, talent, interview and evening gown categories.
Miss Georgia, Kara Kim Martin, 23, of Statesboro, was runner-up; Miss Ohio, Titilayo Adedokun, 20, of Cincinnati, second runner-up; Miss Oregon, Elizabeth Jeanne Simmons, 23, of Bandon, third runner-up; and Miss Virginia, Nancy Glisson, 22, of Williamsburg, fourth runner-up.
Aiken, 18, of Columbia, S.C., sang George Gershwin’s “Summertime” for the talent competition. She said she will use her year as queen to promote long-term solutions to homelessness.
“We sometimes donate food and clothing to homeless shelters, but we never see what happens to them,” said the University of South Carolina student. “I’ve seen a lot of homeless people. I’ve worked in homeless shelters. It’s something we all need to get involved in.”
In addition to the title, the 1994 Miss America receives a $35,000 scholarship, a car and an estimated $200,000 in speaking fees.
Aiken succeeds Leanza Cornett, 22, of Jacksonville, Fla. Cornett, who traveled 20,000 miles a month speaking about AIDS awareness, said she will be in her new Los Angeles home Monday to prepare for her job on the syndicated television show “Entertainment Tonight.”
The Miss America organization hired a new producer and made rule changes this year aimed at bringing the 73-year-old competition up to date. Contestants had to do their own hair and makeup, and the dress code for the evening wear competition was relaxed.
This year’s competitors, who chose such speaking issues as eating disorders, literacy and nutrition, arrived in Atlantic City on Labor Day.
They had been interviewed by judges and hundreds of reporters, made frequent appearances before civic organizations and the public and spent long hours rehearsing for the televised pageant.
Celebrity judges brought in for the final round of competition were TV producer Suzanne de Passe, TV and Broadway producer Pierre Cossette, Miss America 1971 Phyllis George, People magazine Publisher Ann Moore, model Kim Alexis, actress Joan Van Ark and talk show host Dick Cavett.
Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford repeated their roles as hosts of the show for the third consecutive year.