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Miss California, from Garden Grove, is going for the big crown

Miss California, from Garden Grove, is going for the big crown
Miss California Bree Morse of Garden Grove will advance to the Miss America pageant Sunday. (Courtesy Bree Morse / Daily Pilot)

Bree Morse knows what it's like to represent her home state.

As the reigning Miss California, the Garden Grove native has spent the past year celebrating all the Golden State has to offer, particularly her hometown and surrounding areas.

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She remembers going to the Strawberry Festival, attending football games at Pacifica High School, eating at In-N-Out Burger and meeting friends at Seal Beach.

Morse, who competed as Miss Orange Coast, was crowned Miss California 2015 in June, earning her a $12,000 scholarship from the Miss California pageant and advancement to the Miss America pageant Sunday in Atlantic City, N.J.

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"I'm really excited to be going to Miss America to represent California, especially Orange County," Morse said. "I'm really proud. I hope I can capture the essence of Orange County and relate that to the stage."

Morse, whose father is a truck driver and mother is a bus driver, ran for the Miss California title before, having been named Miss Garden Grove, Miss North County, Miss Orange County and Miss Orange Coast.

The first time she didn't place, the second time she was in the top 12, and the following year she was second runner-up. The fourth time was the charm.

"I was so excited, but I lost it when my sister came on stage and she was crying," Morse said. "My parents raised us to be very humble and have philanthropic values, so I'm very lucky to have such positive role models."

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A graduate of Cal State Long Beach, Morse, 23, majored in marketing. She wants to one day obtain an MBA, teach English and become a school vice principal.

For the national competition, she will showcase her tap-dancing skills and speak about her support for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, an organization that provides information about the hair loss disease and funds research.

Her involvement with the organization began last year, when Morse learned she had alopecia, a type of hair loss that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles.

She noticed a chunk of her hair was missing and felt self-conscious and too ashamed to tell her friends and family.

"When you start losing your hair in the public eye, you start to realize how much you invest in your appearance," she said. "But I quickly learned that your personal beauty isn't definitive on what's on your head. It's about inner beauty."

Morse said that when her dermatologist told her there was no cure, she wrote a letter in an attempt to persuade her local congressional representatives to fund research leading to potential treatments.

Sharing her story with fellow beauty pageant contestants from across the country during the competition helped her form friendships.

"You get really close with these girls because we're all going to school and have philanthropic interests," Morse said. "It's like being in a sorority and finding parallels in these common interests."

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The judging panel for the 95th anniversary of the pageant will include pop star Zendaya, "Shark Tank" businessman Kevin O'Leary, country music singer Brett Eldredge, actress Danica McKellar, snowboarding bronze medalist Amy Purdy and Taya Kyle, author and wife of the late U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle.

And 32 years after being crowned the first African-American Miss America — a year later she was forced to resign after the surfacing of nude photos taken earlier — Vanessa Williams will return to the Miss America stage as head judge.

Williams will join host Chris Harrison and co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet. Nick Jonas will be a music curator.

Morse said she is honored to be a part of the Miss America organization and is proud to participate in a beauty pageant that supports women's personal and professional goals.

"Miss America has an extraordinary amount of possible opportunities to be a relatable role model to young women," Morse said. "It has been a life-changing experience for me."

ABC-7 will air this year's Miss America competition starting at 6 p.m. PST.

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