- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) Miss Illinois Erika Harold, who put Harvard University law school on hold so she could compete in the Miss America Pageant, won it last night.
Miss Harold, 22, an opera singer from Urbana, Ill., wowed judges with "Habanera," an aria from the opera "Carmen," and performed ably on a newly added contemporary culture pop quiz given to the five finalists.
She gasped, covered her mouth and bent her knees in disbelief when her name was announced as Miss America 2003, then ducked her head to receive the crown from outgoing Miss America Katie Harman.
Miss Alabama Scarlotte Deupree was first runner-up, Miss Oklahoma Casey Preslar was second runner-up, Miss Nevada Teresa Benitez was third runner-up and Miss Maryland Camille Lewis of Silver Spring rounded out the finalists.
Miss Virginia Jennifer Pitts and Miss D.C. Sarah-Elizabeth Langford did not make the first cut from 51 to 15 contestants.
Miss Harold, a University of Illinois graduate who wants to practice public policy law and run for national office someday, was supposed to start at Harvard this fall. She delayed her enrollment after winning her state pageant and a shot at Miss America.
A year with the crown will help her pay tuition: She earned a $50,000 scholarship for winning last night, and thousands more in winning her state crown and Miss America preliminaries.
The pop quiz, aimed at showing the contestants' brain power, added a pinch of "Jeopardy" to the staid old beauty pageant, with host Wayne Brady quizzing the five women on contemporary culture and American history.
Miss Harold correctly answered 10 of the 16 multiple-choice questions, which was second-best among the finalists. Miss Deupree answered 11 right.
Miss Harold's crowning may boost the Miss America Organization's never-ending crusade to be taken seriously as something other than a bathing beauty festival. The organization is the largest provider of scholarships to women in the world, but its swimsuit competition and emphasis on beauty have hampered those efforts.
The events leading up to this year's Miss America pageant had cast a shadow over the contest, with publicity being given to a topless photo claim and court battle over the Miss North Carolina title.
Producers for the live, three-hour telecast said during the week they hoped the turmoil would increase public interest.
The photo flap centered on Miss North Carolina Rebekah Revels, an English teacher who gave up her crown after an ex-boyfriend told pageant executives he had topless photos of her.

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