Persistence key to Miss America's win

The Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. Some things you should know about Miss America Shawntel Smith: Her real first name is LaCricia, it took her four tries to get to the pageant and she's the first redhead to wear the crown in 51 years.

One more thing: She won the title Saturday on her 24th birthday. Between now and her next one, she will earn about $250,000 in appearance fees and receive a $40,000 scholarship to go with $12,000 she already won competing in Miss Oklahoma.

No wonder she woke up yesterday wondering if it was just another dream like the one she had last week in which she was crowned Miss America 1996.

''I had to go over and look at my crown to make sure,'' said Smith, whose middle name is Shawntel.

The 5-foot-3 1/2, blue-eyed Smith is from Muldrow, a town of about 3,200 in eastern Oklahoma. She works as a marketing director for Northeastern State University and plans to earn a master's in business administration from Oklahoma City University.

Or at least she did before the pageant. Now, Smith will travel up to 20,000 miles a month making speeches and other appearances as Miss America.

Her platform, ''School to Work Education,'' involves teaching school children about careers early on as a means of preparing them for the job market.

She might consider stressing the importance of persistence. After all, she knows a thing or two about it, having lost in three Miss Oklahoma pageants before she finally won.

The promise of scholarship aid kept her coming back, she said.

''The main thing that kept me going was the scholarship money. My father could have paid for my college, but I'm glad he didn't have to,'' said Smith, who put herself through Northeastern State with money won in pageants.

On Saturday, she wowed the judges with her rendition of ''Woman In the Moon,'' from the Barbra Streisand remake of ''A Star Is Born.''

Smith is the fourth Miss Oklahoma to wear the Miss America crown. The others were Norma Smallwood in 1926, Jane Jayroe in 1967 and Susan Powell in 1981.

Miss Oregon Emily John Orton was first runner-up, followed by Miss Arkansas Paula Gaye Montgomery, Miss California Tiffany Stoker and Miss Illinois Tracy Hayes.

Swimsuits were the other big winner Saturday: Viewers voted overwhelmingly to keep swimsuit competition in the pageant. In a live, unscientific call-in vote, 79 percent of the nearly 1 million callers who got through favored swimsuits, officials said.

''As far as I'm concerned, that puts an end to the swimsuit controversy, at least for a few years,'' Leonard Horn, president of the pageant, said yesterday.

Horn said most of the money generated by the calls, which cost 50 cents each, went to pay for the poll. The remainder as much as $50,000 will be split between the Miss America Scholarship Foundation and a charity to be chosen by NBC.

Read Next Article