Current Miss Washington and two-time Miss Clark County winner Alicia Cooper ’15 took to the national stage in September at the Miss America competition and placed third runner-up (fourth place). She is the seventh contestant from the state of Washington to reach the Top-5 podium since 1939, according to Peggy Miller, executive director of the Miss Washington Scholarship Organization.
Cooper received the award during the final competition in Atlantic City, N.J. on September 11, 2016. She performed a tap dance and her community service platform was titled Live on Purpose: Defining Your Legacy. Her grandmother Rosemary is the influence for her platform. Her participation in the Miss America Organization over the years has been fruitful: she received a $17,000 college scholarship for her Miss America accolade that will enable her to graduate from Washington State University Vancouver (WSU Vancouver) in 2018 debt-free, and she also graduated from Clark College without accruing debt.
We had a conversation with Cooper in September about her experiences and what the year ahead holds for her as the reigning Miss Washington. Her answers have been edited for brevity.
Clark College Foundation (CCF): You are 22 years old now, but you’ve been competing in pageants for some time. What got you started and what keeps you motivated to continue?
Alicia Cooper (AC): I started competing in the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen program at the age of 16. I was crowned Miss Clark County’s Outstanding Teen in 2011 and went on to compete for the title of Miss Washington’s Outstanding Teen in which I placed first runner-up. Because of this program I was able to receive scholarships for college and many valuable life skills. Not only was I able to start working on my public speaking and interviewing skills, but I was able to start immersing myself in our local community at the age of 16. The average teenager doesn’t generally get out into the community and feel the reward of giving back and helping others. Once I started to do that it was easy not to focus on myself, and instead focus on how I can positively impact others. The Miss America Organization helped me find my passion in giving back to my community.
In 2013, I won the title of Miss Clark County. I was 18 and had just graduated from high school. I was the recipient of the Clark College Foundation scholarship, as well as an additional scholarship for winning the title of Miss Clark County. I was able to start my Clark College career debt-free. I went on to compete for Miss Washington later in July 2013 and placed in the top 10 and again in 2014 placing in the top five. After two years of competing at the state level, I was awarded enough scholarship dollars to be debt-free through my first two years of college. Seeing the financial benefits of competing in the Miss America Organization made me excited to continue my journey with the program.
(CCF): When will you finish your college degree?
(AC): I will graduate from WSU Vancouver in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in social science, specializing in personnel psychology and human resources, with a professional sales certificate. I earned my associate of arts degree from Clark College in 2015 and transferred to WSU Vancouver.
In 2014, I became a licensed real estate broker in Washington. I work for Real Living Real Estate Group in Clark County and I specialize in luxury homes, first-time homebuyers and land transactions. I plan to resume my full-time real estate career and my final year of college next fall.
(CCF): How did you prepare for the national spotlight? Is it different than what you do for the local and state contests?
(AC): It is actually very similar to the county or state level. There are five stages of scored competition to determine the final results. To prepare, I did a lot of mock interviews and I kept up with national and worldwide current events. At Miss America I had a private interview with seven judges. They asked everything, from current events to my personal life goals, but they also focused on my personal platform. My platform is about the younger generations: helping them learn to live life to the fullest and how they can leave an impactful legacy on the world throughout their lives.
During my Miss America interview, I was asked about my opinion of the (then) presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They asked if I would get homesick after winning the title of Miss America because I would have to travel 20,000 miles a month.
But the heart of the interview was about who I am as an individual. They wanted to know about my goals, family background and where I saw my future heading. I enjoyed every second of the interview. I’m confident with myself and I’m quick on my feet. They just really wanted to know how I would be a great Miss America.
(CCF): Do you have a routine before you go onstage?
(AC): I pray. I am very strong in my faith. I rely on God to guide my way. I didn’t have a nervous, anxious feeling at all during the pageant. I was very comfortable in everything that happened. I know that as long as I’m true to myself then everything will go the way that it was meant to go. It’s a good feeling to be calm and confident with yourself.
(CCF): Did you have a team that prepared you for the national pageant or for your Miss Washington events?
(AC): Actually, I do my own hair and makeup. The clothing comes from various sponsors who support the Miss Washington program. My entire wardrobe was sponsored at no cost to me. I am very fortunate to have the support that I do. My sponsors helped me feel ready for the job of Miss America.
(CCF): Do you have to return the gowns?
(AC): I get to keep all the clothing. I don’t know where I’ll wear that evening gown after my year as Miss Washington, but I’m bound and determined to find a place.
(CCF): Are there rivalries at the national competition?
(AC): Definitely not. In all reality the competition is subjective. It comes down to the opinion of a panel of judges. All we can do is do the best job that we can and in a sense compete against ourselves. It’s not like a basketball game where you’re scoring points. There is a saying, “Different judges; different outcome.” All of the contestants at Miss America are the cream of the crop. At first you might get intimidated, but everyone was there to create long-lasting friendships. I walked away with more than 20 really, really close friends. But I also do things to relax and keep my head in the game: I put my headphones on and zoned out before the pageant started. At the end of the day we were all there to support each other and there is no greater feeling then having all of the girls who didn’t make it as finalists cheering us on during the final night of competition.
(CCF): You appeared calm, collected and not disappointed on television when you didn’t win. What were the final seconds like?
(AC): It was kind of bittersweet. I was ready and wanted the job of Miss America. It was a little bit of letdown, because you do work so hard. When you’re in the final seven, you don’t necessary want your name to be called, because you want to be Miss America. I bowed my head a little. But it was incredible to place in the top five. I love the newest Miss America (Savvy Shields from Arkansas). She will do an incredible job as Miss America.
(CCF): You’ll be serving full time in the role of Miss Washington until July of next year when the next woman is crowned. What are you focusing on?
(AC): My main goal is to have a voice in our state. I want to build relationships so that after I’m done as Miss Washington, I can still speak about my platform. I always want to have an active part in our community. My main goal is to continue to work with children and young adults, helping them find their purpose and stay on the path to a successful future. I want to help them remain focused on their goals and give them that extra push when they need it.
I’m not afraid to get on my hands and knees and do what I can to help others. For a lot of kids, you have to show them why you’re there to support them. Not just Miss Washington standing in front of them; rather, I’m Alicia Cooper trying to help them find their way.
(CCF): Opponents to these pageants say the contests showcase women in an offensive way by focusing on their bodies. What is your opinion?
(AC): The swimsuit competition is one of my favorite parts of competition. It’s about being confident in your own skin and I think it helps girls break through insecurities. If you’re going to be on stage in a bikini, you have to have a healthy lifestyle. The girls like showing off all their hard work, myself included.
I am the first to admit that I have gone through times when I wasn’t happy with how I looked, but at the end of day I learned to love me for me and I am confident in my own skin. My goal when I compete in a swimsuit is to help encourage other young girls to find their inner confidence.
(CCF): What is your favorite junk food?
(AC): Brownies with peanut butter on top. I’ve had my fair share of pizza too since Miss America. I believe in moderation. If you want a brownie, eat a brownie. Life is too short!
Washington in the Top 5
A snapshot of Washington’s Top 5 finishers at Miss America over the years.
Annamarie Schoonover – Second runner-up in 1939
Sharon Vaughn – Second runner-up in 1959
Laurie Nelson – Fourth runner-up in 1978
Honey Castro – Third runner-up in 1985.
Elyse Umemoto – Second runner-up 2007
Jacquie Brown -Third runner-up 2010
Alicia Cooper – Third runner-up 2016
Source: Miss Washington Scholarship Organization