Some of the most successful Miss America contestants managed to turn their beauty pageant win into a showbiz career, but making the leap takes both talent and luck.
While Miss America 2015, Kira Kazantsev, brought a third consecutive win for New York, standing the test of time might prove more difficult than she currently anticipates. See the celebrities who actually made it after winning the crown or simply being part of the iconic beauty pageant.
Vanessa Williams Miss America 1983
The first African-American to win the pageant crown is also one of the most successful Miss America contestants. She’s also one of the few Miss America winners who had to give up her crown, once nude photos she had posed for were published in Penthouse magazine.
After becoming Miss America 1984, Williams’ career included multiple Emmy, Grammy and Tony nominations, and she’s starred in over 15 movies, along with TV shows like “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives”.
Gretchen Carlson Miss America 1989
Winner of the 1989 Miss America Pageant, Gretchen Carlson is known for co-hosting the Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends” from 2005 to 2013. She’s currently the host of her own current affairs program, “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson”, and she’s also the national celebrity spokesman for March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the health of pregnant women, mothers and babies.
Phyllis George Miss America 1971
Definitely one of the most successful Miss America contestants, Phyllis George was crowned Miss Texas 1970 and Miss America 1971. She became one of the first women sportscasters in 1975, and co-anchored the “CBS Morning News” a decade later. George was also First Lady of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983.
Katherine Shindle Miss America 1998
After winning the crown of Miss Illinois1997 and making it to the top as Miss America 1998, Katherine Shindle focused on her acting career. Shindle had small parts in films like “The Stepford Wives” and “Capote”, appeared in a Broadway production of “Jekyll & Hide”, and published her memoir, “Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain” in 2014.
Cloris Leachman Miss America 1946
One of the most successful Miss America contestants, Cloris Leachman represented Chicago in the 1946 Miss America Pageant. Over the course of her six decade career, she won 8 Primetime Emmys, one Academy Award for “The Last Picture Show”, and her most recent TV appearances include “Dancing with the Stars” and the “Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget”.
Lee Meriwether Miss America in 1955
Going from Miss California to Miss America in 1955, Lee Meriwether followed her dreams of acting and is known for her portrayal of Catwoman in the 1966 film version of “Batman”. The Golden Globe and Emmy nominated actress also played a recurring role in the soap opera “All My Children”.
Sarah Palin Miss Wasilla 1984
While she’s definitely one of the most successful Miss America contestants, Sarah Palin didn’t actually make it in the big league. Crowned as Miss Wasilla 1984, she placed third in the Miss Alaska Pageant, failing to make an impact on a national level on the beauty pageant circuit. After quitting her job as the Governor of Alaska, Palin found work as a TV personality and even launched her own online news network, The Sarah Palin Channel.
Delta Burke Miss Florida 1974
Best known from the CBS sitcom “Designing Women”, Delta Burke won the crown of Miss Florida 1974 as a high school senior, making her the youngest titleholder. She failed to make an impact at the Miss America 1975 pageant, but quickly found work in TV.
Michelle Pfeiffer Miss Orange County 1978
Becoming a Hollywood A-lister definitely makes Michelle Pfeiffer one of the most successful Miss America contestants. The actress was crowned Miss Orange County 1978 at the age of 19, and quickly found work in movies and TV. She also portrayed Catwoman in the 1992 film “Batman Returns”.
Elizabeth Gracen Miss America in 1982
While she’s renowned for claiming she had a one-night stand with President Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Gracen actually has an accomplished career as an actress, especially in the field of voice acting. She won the crown of Miss America in 1982, and a decade later posed for Playboy magazine.