Miss America 2014: "I am solely here because of the women in my family"
Welcome to India, you look beautiful, who are you wearing?
First of all thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here and back in the motherland.Today I am wearing Saks Fifth Avenue and Chanel.
You went to University of Michigan..
Yea, I went to University of Michigan for my degree in Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science, so it was a mix of psychology and neural science. Intially I was pretty mad. My life kind of changed over the past year, so right now I am in the process of applying to graduate schools to purse my Masters in Business Administration.
Talk to us about STEM
One of the causes that I will be promoting this year is STEM education. Specifically women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math related fields. That's been a huge issue in America introducing young women from younger ages because we tend to loose our young women from middle school and high school and STEM related fields. Not only is it necessary but absolutely vital to survive in today's industry with the technology background. And India is of course very familiar with that so I am really looking forward to also promoting that aspect as well as I transition to life after Miss America although I will always be there as Nina Davuluri.
How was your life before winning the 'Miss America' title?
Pretty Normal! Its so funny I have always feel myself as the girl next door. That was kind of the image I came in to this organization and even competing in 'Miss America' is that she will always be known as that girl next door and a role model that people can reach out to and relate to. So for me what I really felt like I could never be in this world because I didn't fit the stereo type of what people must have seen 'Miss America' as in the past. I wasn't that typical blonde hair, blue eyed girl and so I grew up watching 'Miss America' feeling like I could have been this girl. So the night I won, it was great that my dream did come true but it was more about that young girl who I knew was watching 'Miss America' and for her to finally say well this year 'Miss America' looks like me and I don't have to be the stereo typical type to be involved in this organization and that's the beauty of being an American.
Role of your mother..
I am solely here because of the women in my family. And that turns out to be my grandmother as well. She founded a school in India way back and its now turned into a college and institution Education was something that was so important in my household. We had such strong women in my family for me to look upto. I remember hearing my grandmother speak once and I was just so enthralled at what she was saying. She is that kind of a person who is so captivating when she speaks and that's something I took away hopefully from her and of course my mom she really raised us well. Its so difficult to raise children in America and to still simulate the Indian culture and the American culture and stay true to your values and roots but also feel accepted. It was very difficult to find that balance and its still a learning process in my house hold to this day, but certainly my mom has been my number one champion through all of this.
What made you choose a Bollywood number in the competition
I grew up classically trained in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. So I was born in NewYork but my grandparents and uncle and aunt raised me in Vijaywada for two years so my first spoken language was Telugu and then I moved back to America when I was about three. So every summer we would always come back to India visit my grandparents and I remember my mother would say the dance master is coming today and I would say no I don't want to dance. But she would say oh! Well we already paid him, so you have to. But now I am very glad I did because just growing up in that environment of dance, culture is such a huge part of who I was. I am also trained in American dance and ballet, Jazz and Tap. I remember when I was competing and I was trying to choose between a classical piece and a Bollywood piece and what it really came down to was that now Bollywood is so much more mainstream in American culture so just makes sense to showcase something like that on the Miss America stage. Well, I am actually here with 'Dance India Dance' for Zee TV. I am very excited to be a judge and be on the other side of the table. So its been a really great experience.
You also had a health condition how did you overcome that?
Unfortunately mental health has a stigma globally surrounding it that I certainly hope it dissipates as more and more people talk about it. For me it was culturally very different because my parents didn't necessarily understand how to cope with it I suppose. My sister who is more like a best friend who was the one who really helped me take the next step to getting healthy. So throughout the entire experience I think I really learnt how to stay balanced and its a never ending battle, its a constant struggle. Not only mentally and physically but also running healthy balance mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually as well.
While you were growing up what did you always want to be..
I always wanted to be a doctor because I was always ill (Laughs). Its so funny so many of my peers we feel that pressure especially growing up in a South Asian family and that translates to other cultures as well so I have seen that from my side especially the second generation. We South Asians feel immense amount of pressure on us. I always jokingly say that my sister is a fourth year medical student right now and she is still the golden child in my family. Whats interesting is that this year there has been so many opportunities I could have never imagined so I am trying to explore those right now.
Tell us about those crucial moments when you were about to make history..
Its so hard to describe. There are two things I really remember about the Miss America experience and I will always say that I was really with the other 52 Miss Americas on that stage and any single one of us could have done the job but its just the matter of how the cards fall that night. And when you have 52 of the nation's most beautiful and intelligent, motivated and driven young women then you are automatically going to connect over something. So one of the things I remember is that before the final night of the competition at Atlantic city where we were there for two weeks without cellphones and TV with tight security. So before the final night we all got together and formed a prayer circle and we were all around and said something you know spiritual I suppose about our experience and our journey. And we prayed for the next 'Miss America' who ever is going to represent our class to do that with elegance and poise. And I certainly hope that I made my classmates proud. The second thing I remember is that after I won in that moment. You know I wanted to be one of the first Indian Miss America and that meant something to me as well as many people I think across the world and I remember right after I won one of the first things I said was 'Thank you Swami' and ABC caught it on television and its there. I really think without the grace of god I wouldn't have been able to be here today.
Racism..Racism..Racism on Social Media
Well, that's essentially my platform and every contestant in the organization promotes a platform and a cause that they choose to champion for the year of service and so I was celebrating diversity through cultural competency. I grew up with so many stereo types about Indian culture like; What the red dot means, If I was having an arranged marriage, do you watch cows, and the list goes on. So, many of these remarks were not necessarily emotional but simply due to the fact of ignorance. I think what happened with Twitter was so timely and it was really at the point because it just showcased how necessary my platform was and how important was it to be able to talk about it. Throughout my entire year I have been able to speak to almost 30 different colleges and universities across the entire country promoting cultural competency with various groups and organization which is non-profit so I am proud of so many things but what I am most proud of is that this year has given me a voice and now I hope to take that voice here to India and champion change across here.
In India people are obsessed about fair skin..
I love this question because we always discuss it in colleges and universities and I always open the floor to about 20 minutes of questions and answers. So this is top of the conversation, very frequently actually because growing up in America it was very conflicting I suppose in terms of beauty ideals and in India you see one thing and I remember being told don't go out in the sun, you are getting dark but when I would be in class my peers would say oh my goodness you're so tan. So its the ideal of wanting what we don't have and one of the message is that yes it was great that I was able to influence a part of the demographic in America but also reaching Indians here. For a young woman here to be able to say you don't have to ultimately feel definition of the standard beauty but you can define that in your own way. I think India is ready for the change and I think they've embraced it I certainly felt I am very welcomed across the world and I hope young women see that and know that they themselves can define their own beauty.
Hosting the iconic Madison Square Garden event..
I was so humbled when I got the phone call to be able to host something like this in 'Madison Square Garden' and for Prime Minister Narendra Modi the reception has never happened before in the history and I think it really showcases the economic ties between India and America. I think I was very blessed to be in a unique situation and represent ideally both sides the American and Indians and no one has had that opportunity. So its been very humbling experience as I was able to take part in three events surrounding his visits with the Indian ambassador in newyork city and department of state function with vice president Biden and secretary John Kerry. That was quite a n incredible experience. I thought Modi's message was great and am excited to see where it will go from here.
What do you think about women empowerment
One of the things I really like to talk about is about women empowerment. This doesn't apply only to India but America as well. That's something that 'Miss America' has always been the icon of that strong representative young woman of today's society. We should encourage a young woman to first and foremost to achieve their education. Yes it's great that I was Miss America but I wouldn't ultimately have been as good as Miss America, if I didn't have my education. And that's the most important thing and the most valuable resource we can provide.
Safety of women in India has been a huge concern, especially in Delhi. Do you plan to raise awareness surrounding women safety
I would be open to that and this year what I love about this job is that its very much a service oriented job. I work with many non-profit organizations in America that helps children with any sort of disability, providing them health care that insurance cannot provide them. I am working with my own platform and organizations and STEM education like you said. I think now as i transistion to this Indian introduction, service is going to be a huge aspect of that and that's where my heart is.
Are you a shopoholic?
So whats really interesting is I am one of those typical Indian but I love the sale rack. I would never buy anything of full price. I just can't do it..So I am one of those people that will go to the outlets. I walk through the racks and there are hidden gems everywhere. I am more of a budget shopper and it can absolutely be done. Its been interesting this year because I have been living out of suitcases and hotel rooms so i don't necessarily have time to shop. Thankfully, I had generous wardrobe sponsors that dressed me during 'Miss America'. But now I am getting back into my own style and I am more excited to kind of find my own style again.
What's you fitness and diet routine like
To be honest its hard when you are travelling and its hard to squeeze out time for workouts. But typically I try to do a mix of cardio and strength training three times a week for half and hour.I think strength training is really helped me though lot of women don't do it because they feel like they will get bulkier. I assure you that will not happen. Physically you cannot; unless you are taking a bunch of steroids. So taking vitamins, and eating right which is the hardest part since I have a huge sweet tooth (Laughs)
Your relationship status and your idea of an ideal man
Oh my goodness!! Well I am single and I have to say that my ideal man has to be genuine and also he also has to be able to handle an independently strong woman and which I associate myself as hopefully and so it will be interesting to see who falls in that category.
Who is your favourite Actor or a Bollywood film?
My favourite Hindi film is 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' and I will never get tired of it. I am a little old school Bollywood so I love Madhuri Dixit and I love watching her perform. She is such a classic icon.
Dream destination you plan to visit or you visited
It would be Australia. I have never been there so I would love to go there. I actually traveled to Egypt in 2009 and just the history there and being able to see everything was amazing. So that was really a fun trip that I have been too.
What do you have to say to all those loving fans
Just a huge thankyou. I have seen every facebook post, tweets and instagram comments. I see them and they are so heart warming and loving. And now I am here safely and I am excited to be in the motherland!!