On Sept. 9, 2018, the 92nd Miss America will be crowned in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In the years since the pageant was founded, it and many others have been launchpads for some of the biggest names in entertainment, such as Oprah Winfrey, Gal Gadot and Halle Berry. In honor of the upcoming competition, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at 20 of the biggest names who've come out of the pageant world, starting with Olivia Culpo, who was crowned Miss Universe in 2012.
Olivia Culpo was a sophomore at Boston University when she entered the pageant world in 2011 with the Miss Rhode Island competition. The actress, model and lifestyle expert explained to GQ, "Miss Rhode Island was my first and I wore a $20 dress that I rented with a hole in the back. It still looked cute." She was named Miss USA then Miss Universe the following year.
Before Gal Gadot was Wonder Woman in 2016, the Israeli actress was Miss Israel in 2004.
"I was 18, I just graduated high school and I had some time in between going to the army," Gadot told W Magazine. "My mom figured, 'Hey, why don't I send your photo, you finished school and this like a proper pageant,' whatever… I got in and I never thought I would win and then I won and then it scared me. I was like, 'What? Miss Israel? All the responsibility of being Miss Israel?" She went on to represent her country in the Miss Universe pageant and then did her two years of mandatory military service.
In 1996, Ali Landry was crowned Miss USA. She transitioned that fame into modeling, eventually becoming a sensation for her role as "The Doritos Girl" in a 1998 Super Bowl commercial.
Ali Landry has remembered the intense pride her small town in Louisiana felt for her once she took home the Miss USA crown. "They were so excited. There were billboards, posters in every store, and even a giant parade," she told FabFitFun. "It just touched my heart and I realized that winning was so much bigger than just me."
In 1998, Vanessa Lachey (née Minnillo) was crowned Miss Teen USA. Nick Lachey's wife has maintained a presence on the pageant circuit since, judging Miss Teen USA and Miss USA pageants.
"This pageant is near and dear to my heart," Vanessa Lachey — pictured here with Miss USA 1999 and Miss Universe 1998 in 1999 — told Entertainment Weekly before judging Miss USA in 2018. "I believe everything professionally and emotionally good in my life has single-handedly come from this event. I even met Nick judging a Miss Teen USA in Palm Springs." Seventeen years old when she took home the title, the now 37-year-old has said that she was not the prettiest or best dressed girl during her pageant. "When I won I later asked the judges, 'What was it?' And they said, 'You acted like you were 17. You were just a fun, quirky 17 year old. You weren't trying to be somebody you weren't or answer the questions the way you thought the judges wanted them to be answered. You acted like you were 17 and that's what we want, Miss Teen USA,'" she recalled.
In 1998, Eva Longoria won Miss Corpus Christi USA and was gifted a trip to Hollywood, where she was bit by the acting bug.
Eva Longoria, pictured here in 1998, has said that she was considered the black sheep of her family (she was the youngest of four girls). "People used to come up to my mom and go, 'Your daughters are so beautiful and who's this?' I remember actually entering a beauty pageant in college and telling my mom, 'I'm going to enter this pageant,' and she goes, 'Oh, honey, are you sure you want to put yourself through that? You're not gonna win,'" Eva said on an episode of "MAKERS."
At the age of 17, Oprah Winfrey competed in the Miss Black Tennessee pageant. After winning the crown, she was offered an on-air job at a radio station that served the African-American community in Nashville, which propelled her into her broadcast career. She had also competed in 1971 — and won — the title of Miss Fire Prevention.
"I remember back in 1971 when I was a contestant that I just was so excited about being there. I considered it a major accomplishment just to get there and represent my state," Oprah Winfrey later recalled. "The Miss Black America Pageant put a flower in my mind."
Vanessa Williams became the first African-American woman to become Miss America when she won in 1983. However, she had to later resign from the position due to a nude photos scandal.
Ten months after Vanessa Williams won Miss America, Penthouse Magazine published nude photos of her that were taken before she won the title. She ended up resigning but there were rumors that the organization pressured her to do so. In 2015, the organization apologized to her onstage at that year's pageant. "I have been a close friend to this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years," CEO Sam Haskell told her during the telecast. "You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned. Though none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today's organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams," he continued. "I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be."
Halle Berry had an illustrious career on the beauty pageant circuit before taking over the acting world. At 18, she won the Miss Teen Ohio pageant, then won Miss Teen All-American. She later won Miss Ohio, became first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant and then became the first African-American woman from the United States in the Miss World competition.
Halle Berry is proud of her pageant roots. She's taken to Instagram to share a throwback photo from those days, captioning a photo of herself during the competition in a pink USA leotard and gold lamé belt, "Where it all began. #FBF #1986 #MissWorld."
1n 1994, Aishwarya Rai was crowned Miss World at age 21. She had lost the Miss India Universe title to Sushmita Sen, who went on to win the Miss Universe competition. As the runner-up, she was crowned Miss India World, giving her country a sweep in both major competitions.
Aishwarya Rai, who had been modeling up until the pageants, said shortly after winning that she was interested in Bollywood and Hollywood, even though she had been educated in architecture. "I am also very interested in filmmaking, considering the fact that I have been modeling," she told India Today, adding that she had received movie offers but had yet to accept any so soon after winning. "My life was taking its own course and I didn't want to jump from one bandwagon to another. There were so many modeling assignments. I had so many commitments. I had to complete this phase of my life. I have been in it for only two years. Winning this competition has brought in lots of offers."
In 1978, Michelle Pfeiffer won Miss Orange County and went on to compete in the Miss California pageant.
During the Miss California competition, Michelle Pfeiffer was introduced as "a softball player who also oil paints." Her aspirations are also mentioned, as the voiceover says she would like to become an actress. While the three-time Academy Award nominee certainly found plenty of success in Hollywood, she didn't have the same luck at Miss California, only placing sixth.
At the age of 17, Kathie Lee Gifford won Maryland's Junior Miss Pageant and qualified to compete on the national level in front of her idol, singer and political activist Anita Bryant, who was a judge.
Kathie Lee Gifford's time on the pageant scene was cut short, as she was disqualified from the finals. She did not realize that making friends with the pageant staff was against the rules and was not permitted to finish the competition.
When journalist Diane Sawyer was 17 years old, she won Kentucky's Junior Miss pageant.
After taking home the state crown in 1963, Diane Sawyer went on to win the national Junior Miss contest. The "ABC World News" anchor ended up using her prize money for a smart investment — her first year of college!
Before finding fame on "Wheel of Fortune," Vanna White was competing in pageants including the Miss Georgia 1978 contest.
Four years later, Vanna White (pictured here in 1980) began her career on "Wheel of Fortune," a job that has given her the opportunity to wear over 6,500 gowns, never repeating one! "My knees were shaking so much that I could hardly talk or walk," she told People of her game-show audition. "My lips were shaking too! I was so, so nervous."
In 1989, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson took home the title of Miss Minnesota and went on to win the Miss America crown.
Gretchen Carlson has stayed involved with the pageant, becoming chairwoman of Miss America in January 2018 — the first former Miss America to serve as its leader. She was part of the decision to remove the swimsuit and evening gown portions. "We are no longer judging our candidates on their outward physical appearance," she explained. "It is much more important to look at somebody and talk about their goals and achievements in life and how we can teach them leadership skills and really celebrate their talent."
Lynda Carter was crowned Miss World America in 1972 and finished as a semifinalist in the Miss World 1972 pageant. Just three years later, she took on the role of TV's Wonder Woman.
However, Lynda Carter does not look back fondly on her time competing. "Now that was objectifying, that was a meat market," she recalled to The Daily Beast. "I don't agree with beauty contests. I did it one time. It wasn't embarrassing being Wonder Woman, it was embarrassing walking around on stage in a bikini. It was ridiculous, stupid and humiliating."
Delta Burke spent a good chunk of her time in high school competing in pageants. In 1972, she won the Miss Flame crown from the Orlando Fire Department, ultimately becoming State Miss Flame. In 1974 during her senior year, she won the Miss Florida title.
"I knew that by becoming Miss America or at least breaking into the top 10, it would grease my way into the big time — showbiz," Delta Burke, pictured here seven years after the pageant, wrote in her book "Delta Style." "I chirped merrily to the pageant judges that, oh no, I didn't care about scholarship money. No, sir, I was going to be a star. And they just frowned upon that."
Priyanka Chopra won the Miss World competition in 2000, competing on behalf of India at age 18.
"I do think pageants are subject to a lot of stereotyping, and some of them deserve it too, but my experience with Miss World wasn't like that," Priyanka Chopra told ELLE UK in 2017. "It was focused on being a woman of substance — how well you'd be able to solve world issues, what kind of orator you are, etcetera. It wasn't just about being pretty but being well-spoken and having compassion. At 18, all of those values being drilled into me taught me so much about the world. It gave me confidence and made me feel great about myself."
If Sharon Stone never competed in pageants, she might still be in Pennsylvania. At the age of 17, she was in Hershey competing as Miss Crawford County in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant when something truly fateful happened to her.
While there, Sharon Stone — pictured here four years after her last pageant — met Muhammad Ali. "He called my father and offered me a part in his film that he was making," Sharon told "Entertainment Tonight." "My father said, 'She is not going to be in film.' He told my father, 'You may think that she is not, but she is. You cannot hide that girl under a bushel basket. Her light is too bright.'"
"The Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Kenya Moore was determined to come out on top in the Miss USA pageant in 1993.
Kenya Moore has explained that she used visualization to make her pageant dreams come true. "I visualized that I was already Miss USA," she told People magazine in 2018. "I had everyone referring to me as 'Kenya Moore, Miss USA 1993.' And for whatever reason, however the universe is designed, it worked. It just does."
Shanna Moakler was the first runner-up in the 1995 Miss USA competition but was eventually promoted when Miss USA became Miss Universe that year.
Shanna Moakler recalled her promotion to Miss USA during a chat with Pageant Interviews. "I was in my apartment in New York and I was watching the TV thinking… 'She's really going to win this!' When she did, my phone immediately started ringing with congratulations. I was actually a little scared, as I was a very successful model and I wasn't sure if going to L.A. was the best choice, but I sat down with my family and realized acting was where my heart is and also what a once-in-a-lifetime experience I was going to be able to get. Everything happens for a reason. For me, the role of Miss USA was a perfect fit, I liked traveling the States."