On September 20th Miss Florida 2003 Ericka Dunlap won the crown and title of Miss America 2004.
The victory, won her the coveted rhinestone tiara, a yearlong national speaking and appearance tour, the title of Miss America and $50,000 in scholarship aid, in addition too her $12,000 of scholarship aid from the Miss Florida pageant.
Ms. Dunlap age 21 is the daughter of a roofing contractor and a nurse. The youngest of five children, she has been involved in beauty pageants since she was six years old and won her first pageant at the age of 8.
A senior at the University of Central Florida, Dunlap plans to go to law school after graduation and become an attorney who specializes in sports and entertainment.
Ms. Dunlap is now taking a year off from her studies to fulfill her duties as Miss America.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ericka Dunlap at a Westside hotel during a recent trip she made to Los Angeles.
Q. What brings you to Los Angeles?
A. I came here to do Hollywood Squares, which we taped yesterday.
I had a great time. The cast was great. It was very fun, very relaxed. It was a great time. There were some big jackpot winners, lots of great prizes.
Q. When is your episode of the Hollywood Squares airing?
A. The first of December.
Q. Are you in town for very long?
A. Only for a few days.
Q. Talk to me about your platform as Miss America of Celebrating Cultural Diversity and Inclusiveness.
A. My platform is directed towards educating children and adults about the stereotypes that are associated with cultural groups. Not just the normal cultural groups that people think of, that of ethnicity and race. I am looking for a more broad scope of target when it comes to different cultural groups. Basically throughout my year of service I hope to really encourage people to embrace the diversity around them and to look inside a person as opposed to the outer factors that people usually associate with them.
Q. You're on a whirlwind speaking and appearance tour for the next year. How many cities are you planning on visiting?
A. I am not sure we haven't launched my platform yet and that is something that is determined every year with each new Miss America. Once we do that I will be able to pinpoint where we are going. I don't make my schedule it is made on a request basis. I am hoping to go to as many cities and states as possible.
Q. What is a platform launch?
A. A platform launch is when the tour is announced where we will be going and what it will entail. It always happens sometime in the middle of October. Every year there is a new Miss America and she has a new platform. From the time of the crowning, a team of P.R. people begin working on the platform with the current Miss America and the strategy is planned for the year.
Q. What were you thinking when you were taking your victory walk as the newly crowned Miss America?
A. I was so dumbfounded by the whole experience. I couldn't believe it. I don't really know what I was thinking. The first thing I thought of was getting my earring because my earring fell off. So that was the first thing. I can't walk down the runway without my earring. I had to pick it up and as sleek as possible so maybe no one could tell what I was doing. Other than that I was looking forward to seeing my parents and celebrating with them.
Q. Did you have a big party afterwards?
A. Not really. We had a press conference immediately after and then we went to a sponsor reception hosted by ABC. So we went and took pictures and greeted sponsors and then I went onto the suite at my hotel where my family and friends were. It was nice and intimate it wasn't overdone I was able to intimately celebrate with my friends and family, so that was nice. Then I got to sleep for two hours, which I think is a lot compared to other people that I talked to.
Q. Are you able to speak to the former Miss Americas, to help guide you along, show you the ropes?
A. Yes, I have spoken to quite a few of them especially form the 90's. I have spoken with them on various occasions. I have had dinner with Debbye Turner, and Susan Powell when we were in New York. I am looking forward to meeting with Leanza Cornett here in L.A. She was the first Miss Florida to win Miss America, the first and only until I came along so we have a very unique sisterhood.
Q. It has been a long ambition for you to become Miss America. How much dreaming and visioning have you put into it? Was it always something that you were confident about? Were there ever any doubts?
A. I really don't like to focus on negative things so I can't say that I doubted myself but I always saw room for improvement in myself and at times I would turn to people that I new who were constructive critics. They were able to tell me where I could make some self-improvement or just focusing on an area a little bit harder. This year I put more focus on myself than any year that I've been competing and I've been competing since I was six. So this is not something that is new to me by any means. It is not something that I just started with when I got into college it is something that I have always aspired to have under my belt and I went to Miss America last year and watched as Erika Harold was crowned and it was kind of ironic, I was thinking to myself gosh what are the odds that they would crown two Erickas back to back. I was thinking to myself ok you've been here. You've seen the competitions as a spectator. Now you know the keys to really getting it in gear and doing what you have to do so you can be at the competition if nothing else for next year. My main goal was really just to get to Miss America; this was last September. Then as time went on and I won my local pageant and I won my state competition. Then I went on to think ok this is very attainable you can do this. So what you need to do is really focus. I just kept telling myself, ok focus, think about you and spend a lot of time with yourself. Because there was plenty of time that I have given so much of myself to people and I didn't really focus on me. Once I did that then I was really able to realize and visualize it
Q. From the visualizing that you have done how is the reality comparing to the dream?
A. It is pretty neat because I was speaking to Miss America 1991 Marjorie Vincent and we were talking one day and she said you know whatever you do just visualize yourself as Miss America don't hype yourself. There is a very fine line that you can cross you can be over confident or you can be visualizing yourself in that mode. I had to really balance myself on that line because it is easy to jump over and be over confident but as long as you remain realistic. That this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for one young lady to have the title for a year and only 83 people out of the many that have participated in the program for the past 83 years. Only 83 people have had this title so you have to remain realistic. That is what kept me triggered.
Q. Anything you'd like to say to our readers?
A. I would like for people across the country to realize the potential within themselves. I guess this is more for the young crowd. I like to tell them all the time when I speak to younger audiences. That if you believe in yourself and if you see a goal and pay attention to yourself and know what you want go for it and no matter what no matter who tells you, you cant achieve it. Just defeat the odds and make it a battle against yourself not a battle against someone else to achieve that goal.
In a more general scope I'd like people to really find how to embrace diversity. I feel Florida and California have so much in common and as far as California there is so much obvious diversity within this state and it reflects throughout the nation. There are so many states in this nation that don't have the as much diversity as Florida, Texas and California do but I really believe that being the anchor states that we are. We can make really make a difference in out nation and if people will help me embrace this platform it would be very very helpful throughout the nation. Really showing that we can come together and we can all really make a difference to each other. I think we'll see that in the election on October 7th in not just the Governors race but with all of the topics on the ballot that are being proposed. I think it can really mold our nation
Q. What is the strangest question you have been asked?
A. I did a radio interview and someone asked me what do you think about young girls having tattoos? That was probably the strangest question. I mean everything is pretty much a long the same lines and I would expect to have a few questions that are out there. But that one was really out there. Apparently they were talking about it before I cam on. At least that is what I am thinking, they didn't brief me on it, but I am thinking they were talking about young girls and wanting to have tattoos.
Q. Thank you for your time.