Morgan confident she’ll win crown|[01/14/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 14, 2008

Kimberly Morgan hopes that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there. She plans to return with the Miss America crown.

Morgan, 24, who was named Miss Mississippi July 14 in Vicksburg, said there won’t be time to get into trouble anyway when she joins 51 other young women vying for the title. “It’ll be strictly business,” Morgan said and laughed.

Sunday, in preparation for the main event, about 200 people saw her prospective wardrobe for the competition at a trunk show at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

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It was her 45th public appearance in the six months since winning the state crown, said her business manager, Karen Jones. Sunday’s event was the last before heading for Nevada Thursday.

Dating to 1921, the Miss America pageant began in Atlantic City, N.J., as a beauty contest. It was held there in the fall every year through 2004. In 2006, the pageant moved to Las Vegas. This year’s pageant will air on cable on TLC Jan. 26 live at 7 p.m. Contestants are now judged in five areas — a private interview, talent, lifestyle and fitness, evening wear and on-stage questioning. And for the first time, the public will also have a say in who goes to the finals. Online voters will select a 16th finalist. The primary prizes for the winner and the runners-up are scholarships to the schools of their choice. The Miss America scholarship program and its state and local affiliates are the largest providers of scholarship money to young women in the world.

Sunday, organizers had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate the audience, one of the largest in recent years.

As assistants prepped and double-checked a long row of outfits before the show, Morgan said she wasn’t worried about facing competition. Instead, “I just believe that focusing on myself to be the absolute best” will earn the top spot.

The Oxford native and Alcorn graduate has already had the chance to practice being in the spotlight. She joined the other contestants on “Miss America: Reality Check,” a TLC reality show that placed all the contestants in a house for a month, “Big Brother” style, while cameras rolled.

“The reality show was interesting,” she said. “I learned a lot about TV and being comfortable in front of the camera.” During some of the not-so-quick wardrobe changes, several announcers filled the time by engaging the audience, and the show was a hot topic.

Nearly every time Morgan appeared through the drapes on the stage, the crowd murmured in approval and applauded, while a handful of others snapped pictures of each outfit.

Of the 30 or so outfits showcased Sunday, Morgan said a red one with zebra stripes is one of her favorites. Others included a pink two-piece suit with black boots, Alcorn State University athletic gear and a swimsuit.

Morgan’s degree in music was awarded in 2006. Also during her collegiate career, she was elected Miss Alcorn State University 2005, Miss Capital City Classic 2003 and Miss Southwest 2006. Morgan said she would like to continue her education at the University of Mississippi and eventually establish a performing arts studio in a rural, low-income area. She credits a second-grade teacher, Gail Massey at Lafayette Elementary school, for inspiring her to greatness.

“I was interested at 8 years old,” and “I watched my first Miss America pageant in the second grade.” Morgan said her teacher encouraged her to aspire to be the best at whatever she wanted to be. In turn, Morgan’s brother, Brandon, 23, said his sister has inspired him as well.

“Kim has been a role model for me,” he said.

Morgan said she’s not sure how many Mississippians to expect in Las Vegas, but, “I’ve heard the Mississippi delegation to Miss America could be quite large.” But she knows her mother, father, brother and friends such as Caola Williams of Ridgeland will be there.

“This is my first trunk show, and I think Kim’s going to do it.” Williams said Morgan stays with her while traveling through or doing business in the Jackson area.

To close the show, Morgan performed and received a standing ovation for her rendition of “God Bless This Child.”

“I’m so ready to perform at Miss America,” Morgan told the crowd after singing. “I just can’t say ‘thank you’ enough,” to my family and “my friends — I have a lot of good friends.” “I pray that I represent to the best of my ability and I make you proud.”