In a Nia State of Mind

Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin talks about her passion for the arts and her New York grit

Atlantic City, New Jersey threw out the red carpet for the newest incarnation of the Miss America 2019 competition, known as Miss America 2.0. Although the news, especially social media, promoted a negative story-line, the excitement of the state candidates, their supporters, and especially those traveling to witness the ABC telecast, was palpable as the music commenced and the stage lights flashed. Clearly, from the outset, this would be a night unlike any other in the ninety-seven year history of Miss America.
Quickly, following the Parade of States and personal introductions, the quest for the title of Miss America began with the announcement of the Top 15: Miss Florida Taylor Tyson, Miss Minnesota Michaelene Karlen, Miss District of Columbia Allison Farris, Miss Colorado Ellery Jones, Miss Idaho Nina Forest, Miss Wisconsin Tianna Vanderhei, Miss Louisiana Holli Conway, Miss Indiana Lydia Tremaine,
Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras, Miss Washington Danamarie McNichol, Miss Nebraska Jessica Shultis, Miss New York Nia Franklin, Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei,
Miss Oklahoma Ashley Thompson, and Miss Alabama
Callie Walker.
With the stage set for Miss America 2.0 (2019), the first competition of the evening, the Peer-to-Peer Job Interview, would begin to narrow the field. A new addition to the Miss America Competition format, the interview process is worth 25% of the final score and brought each young woman to center stage to address a question posed to her by one of the other finalists. And, to add to the pressure of answering a question from your peer, there was a twenty second time limit to succinctly address the question. The result? The candidates for Miss America 2019 were winnowed to the Top 10.
In another twist to the iconic competition, the remaining delegates of DC, LA, AL, CO, FL, MA, CT, NE, NY, and ID presented themselves within the Red Carpet Competition, worth 20% of the final score, similar to what one would expect of walking the carpet during a Hollywood premier, complete with a quick question and answer opportunity. And if anyone was wondering what would be worn on the red carpet, although the choice of outfit was optional, each candidate graced the red carpet in an evening gown.
Next up was the Miss America tradition of the Talent Competition, worth 30% of the final score. A staple of Miss America, the Talent Presentation showcased each of the 10 finalists’ unique talent before narrowing the field. The live and telecast audience were treated to a variety of talents, including piano, vocal (both pop and operatic), spoken word, ballet en pointe, and an Irish Step Dance. Following the final Talent Presentation, the Top 10 Miss America finalists were reduced to 5.
The remaining five candidates vying for the Miss America 2019 title, New York, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Florida, and Connecticut, only had one more challenge remaining between them and the crown, scholarships, and accolades–the Final Interview. Following a random drawing in selecting a judge, the finalists approached the judges table to answer a specific and unique question, each hoping her answer would impress upon the judges her qualification to become Miss America 2019.
From 51 to 15, to 10, to a final 5 candidates, young and empowered women had welcomed the opportunity to compete for the crown. With the live audience screaming their support, the final results of Miss America 2019 were announced: 4th runner-up Miss Massachusetts ($10,000 scholarship), 3rd runner-up Miss Florida ($15,000 scholarship), and 2nd runner-up Miss Louisiana ($20,000 scholarship). All that remained was the proclamation of Miss America and her 1st runner-up. As the final two awaited the ultimate decision in the traditional anxiety filled center stage lead-up, the crowd erupted as Miss Connecticut was presented as 1st runner-up ($25,000 scholarship) and the operatic vocalist from New York, Nia Franklin, recipient of a $50,000 scholarship, would forever be known as Miss America 2019.
As the lights dimmed and the stage grew quiet, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin immediately embraced her new job, one of promoting the voice of empowerment of young women everywhere, while creating a social impact initiative which will define her role as Miss America 2019. Miss America 2.0, it is a new world.

Pageantry magazine: What could possibly have been going through your mind as you stood there center stage awaiting the final announcement for Miss America 2019?
Nia Franklin: Many things were going through my mind. I had visions of me winning the crown and what that would be like. But also, I was still blessed to be the first runner up to Miss America and kind of what I would do from that point on as Miss New York, because I definitely wanted to do as much as I could for the organization either way, whether that was representing New York for the remainder of the year or as Miss America. But there was a moment in crowning, and as I keep seeing it played over and over on different shows that I go to and they play that moment before I won, and my eyes just kind of blink once because I was so, just honored and humbled and a little bit in shock that it was really happening and coming to fruition.

PM: Many of your predecessors as Miss New York have captured the Miss America title. What is it about New York that seems to prepare you so well?
NF: Miss New York is a title and an organization that really allows you to do things that you want to do during your year. I think also being in the North, and specifically, I live in New York City where you have to be very independent and you also have to be aware of different cultures and diversity. You have to kind of fight for the relevancy and fight for attention in a way. I mean, you’re competing against Broadway and the Opera and the New York Ballet.

PM: You’ve stated before that you have New York grit. What does that mean?
NF: That phrase, everyone is just so intrigued by my New York grit. What it really means to me is, I moved up here with kind of a dollar and a dream.
I had just finished competing as Miss Durham in the Miss North Carolina organization that summer of 2017, and I was coming up here for a Lincoln Center fellowship. I’ve already done things in my life that I would consider hard and things that I’ve had to overcome, different adversities, but moving to New York is what gave me kind of the title to put on the grit that I already had.
I’ve done a lot in my life. I premiered my first ever opera when I was 21 years old, and I was one of two female composers to graduate my year from school. And so I’ve always been very hard on myself, and I’ve always wanted to do things that were a little outside of the box. I’ve always been a hard worker when it came to my music and my career. So moving to New York really solidified my work ethic, because New York can be very, very competitive. Just to get a job can be very competitive in New York, let alone in the field of music and the arts, which are very hard industries to break into, especially as a female composer.

PM: You headed off to the initial media tour in New York. How many did you visit and what was that like?
NF: We did a lot of media. We kicked off the morning at Good Morning, America, and it was so cool to be on there. Then we went to Live with Kelly and Ryan, and that was also crazy. They let me sing one of my songs, and they just had such a great energy. They were so energetic and excited for me, and I even had conversations with them after the interview on camera.

PM: While in New York, weren’t you a special guest at the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night?
NF: I was able to be a special guest at the Met Opera’s opening night gala. The whole night was just such a magical night, from walking on the Step and Repeat red carpet to seeing legends in the opera industry, such as Anna Netrebko, and being able to see the opera that night. It was a really great production. Then I finished up with the dinner where I was able to sit with very important people of the Met that I plan on working with during my year to continue promoting arts education.

PM: You’ve been composing since a young age, correct?
NF: Yes, I’ve been writing songs my whole life. I started at about five years old. That was when I wrote my first song. Then I went on to study music composition for six years. So I have my degree in music composition. I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in music composition.

PM: How does it feel when you’re performing on stage?
NF: It feels like I get to share a piece of who I am with the audience. Music is deeply embedded into who I am. I’ve always been just infatuated with music and the sounds that it makes and how it makes you feel. It makes me feel like I have a purpose in life, and being on the stage is a moment for me to live out my purpose.

PM: Why do you feel the arts are so important in today’s society?
NF: The arts are important because a lot of times they tell a story. Whether it’s the artist telling their story and getting their message out into the world or whether you’re on the other end of that and you’re receiving the arts, you learn something new about that person, the world, and even yourself. And so the arts, as cliché as it may sound, they really do allow you to express yourself. And for me, on a personal note, being involved in the arts, especially when I was growing up, a lot of times you don’t know who you are when you’re in middle school and even high school. You can feel lost, and you don’t know what you want to do with your life, and you can feel sometimes like an outcast, which that was kind of the case for me through a lot of my schooling, being one of the only minorities in my school. Sometimes even within your own group, you can feel like you don’t belong. And that’s simply because of the color of your skin, and that doesn’t define who you are.

PM: What are you looking forward to most?
NF: I’m really looking forward to going to my teen’s (MAOTeen London Hibbs) homecoming in Texas. I’ve never been to Texas before, and I really haven’t gotten the chance to spend much time with her since I won. This is a mentor program, and so I’m excited to go support her and make sure that she feels loved and special during
that time.
I’m also looking forward to going to Orange County’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. That would be my first official visit as Miss America. And then lastly, I am very excited to just continue spreading the message that the arts matter, music matters.

PM: You donated stem cells to your father as he was battling non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Was that a hard decision?
NF: No, it wasn’t a hard decision at all. I didn’t really even give it a second thought. I didn’t know all that was going to go into it at the time, but I didn’t really care. I knew that whatever I could do for my father, my personal emotions or feelings aside, it didn’t matter. So I was just really focused on him at the time. And it turns out that the risks of being a stem cell donor can be different for different people and different procedures that you do. The biggest risk with the type of stem cell donation that I did, which was peripheral stem cell donation, was that I could have been at risk for getting blood clots and having trouble breathing and also fainting, which did happen to me during the time of the procedure when they were harvesting the stem cells. But it was really wonderful to do all that for him. I think it made me a stronger person. It made me a more empathetic person, and at the end of the day, it really helped to save his life, because without that procedure I don’t know that he would be here today with us.

PM: Miss America is renowned as the largest scholarship provider for women in the world. How much have you earned through the organization?
NF: To date I have earned about $67,000. I’ve been competing in the system for about three years now, and between my local competitions and my state competitions, and obviously the Miss America Organization where I received the biggest scholarship to date, I’ve been able to pay off some of my loans and even get supplies that I needed for school. So, that has been super helpful. I’m so grateful for the Miss America Organization, because that’s one of the main reasons that I decided to get involved.

PM: What would you tell other young ladies, looking to become involved in the organization?
NF: I would tell them to certainly just give it a try. Locals are happening almost every weekend. We’re kind of getting in the heat of the season, so I would say look for a local that you feel you can really make an impact in. Also, I would really encourage the young women that want to get involved in the locals to find someone who can mentor them, because that is a huge part of this organization the mentorship aspect.

PM: When you eventually crown your successor, how do you want to be remembered?
NF: I want to be remembered as someone who was true to herself and just was authentic and was able to bring that to the organization and to promote the history of our organization. I think there can be a lot of stereotypes about pageants, and we’re not calling them that anymore, but that is part of our history. I want to be remembered as someone who was able to bring a sense of authenticity to everything that Miss America represents and someone that encourages people and inspires people to be themselves and not feel like they have to put on a fake persona to become Miss America.

PM: Is there anything you would like to address?
NF: I would just like for everyone to get involved, even if it’s as a volunteer. If you’re looking for ways to be involved in your community, you can volunteer at locals or even become a part of your state committee in some way. And I’d also like to encourage people out there to remember that the arts matter, they are important, and be looking out for things that I have coming up this year with my social impact initiative advocating for the arts, because I am really excited about doing some cool things this year, so stay tuned.

PM: And how can people keep up with you throughout the year?
NF: Well, I obviously have social media because that is what you have in 2018, so you can follow my journey as Miss America at @niaimanifranklin. You can follow me on YouTube, and that link is on my personal page if you opt to follow and keep up with me and my blog series, as well.