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Miss America 2024 crowns first US Air Force officer

An active-duty United States Air Force officer has been named Miss America 2024 for the first time in the pageant’s history.

On Sunday 14 January, Madison Marsh was crowned Miss America’s latest winner in Orlando, Florida. In addition to being a 22-year-old second lieutenant, she is also a master’s student in the public policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Marsh, who was representing the state of Colorado, had competed against 50 other women from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“You can achieve anything. The sky is not the limit and the only person that’s stopping you is you,” Marsh said in an interview shared on Miss America’s Instagram Story. She added that if she could come from “a small town, not being part of the pageant” circuit and later step into the pageant world, then so could anybody else.

Prior to this year’s Miss America pageant, each contestant competed in three nights worth of preliminary competitions. Judges then chose 10 women to move on to the major pageant, while the 11th contestant was chosen based on a public vote open to people across the country.

The final 11 women then competed in four different rounds of competition. One round included a fitness showcase, in which contestants walked down a runway wearing athleisure outfits. The “hot topics” round consisted of talking points, replacing the pageant’s former question and answer session. Other rounds included a talent performance and an evening gown presentation.

The group was then narrowed down to five finalists, who were asked to speak about their dreams and goals after potentially being crowned Miss America. Marsh responded by highlighting her military credentials as an embodiment of her commitment to learning and leading “with passion”.

Although topics for the discussion round included terrorism, technology, nutrition, and climate change, Marsh specifically addressed “drugs in America” and opened up about her late mother’s experience with pancreatic cancer. For the talent portion of the competition, she performed a spoken word piece about receiving her pilot’s license at 16 years old.

After Marsh was crowned winner, Ellie Breaux of Texas was named first runner-up. The two were followed by Cydney Bridges of Indiana, who was the second runner-up; Mallory Hudson of Kentucky, the third-runner-up; and Caroline Parente of Rhode Island, who was fourth runner-up.

Ahead of the pageant, Marsh opened up about what motivated her to take part in the Miss America competition. “It’s an awesome experience to bring both sides of the favourite parts of my life together, and hopefully make a difference for others to be able to realise that you don’t have to limit yourself,” Marsh told SWNS, per the New York Post.

She continued: “In the military, it’s an open space to really lead in the way that you want to lead - in and out of uniform. I felt like pageants, and specifically winning Miss Colorado, was a way to truly exemplify that and to set the tone to help make other people feel more comfortable finding what means most to them.”