ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The Miss America Pageant is in Atlantic City only once a year, but visitors to the seaside resort where the historic pageant began can now have their own crowning moments year-round.
The city dedicated a statue of Miss America on Monday, modeled loosely on former title holder Mallory Hagan but incorporating features from other past winners. The Boardwalk statue depicts Miss America holding out the crown for a new winner to wear.
It quickly became a popular photo spot for strollers at Kennedy Plaza, directly across from Boardwalk Hall where the pageant is held each September.
"For 365 days a year, someone can come to Kennedy Plaza and have something to do with Miss America," said Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance.
The Miss America Pageant returned to Atlantic City last year after a stint in Las Vegas, and casino, city and tourism officials have rarely missed an opportunity to remind people of it. The statue is part of a never-ending series of free events and attractions designed to widen the resort's tourism base beyond gamblers.
The reigning Miss America, Nina Davuluri, was at the ceremony, along with Suzette Charles, the Miss New Jersey who was elevated to Miss America in 1984 after Vanessa Williams lost the title in a nude photo scandal.
Since winning the title in September, Davuluri said she was struck by "how many people realize this year that Miss America was crowned in Atlantic City. It's where she belongs."
Davuluri, who had been Miss New York, also revealed a change of career plans. After winning the crown, she spoke of wanting to become a doctor. But on Monday, she acknowledged that was due to pressure from her family. She now wants to pursue a business degree once her reign as Miss America is over.
Davuluri is the first Miss America of Indian heritage and her victory in the pageant was initially met with some racist backlash on social media. She said she feels completely accepted.
"One of the things I wanted to change was the image of who Miss America was," she said. "I certainly think that's been achieved. I've always said, 'Be yourself, know who you are, be who you are. "
The nationally televised finale of this year's pageant will be held Sept. 14.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC