WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Becoming Miss America was a dream for Nia Franklin.
Now it’s her reality.
Franklin, a native of Winston-Salem, stood on a national stage Sunday night, in shock and elation as the crown was placed on her head amid cheers.
“Being Miss America 2.0 is historic. It was so surreal,” said Franklin, who was crowned Miss New York in June. “When they called the name of the first runner-up, I realized I’d won. My first thought was ‘Yes, I’ve done it,’ and then I realized my life was about to change in the blink of an eye.”
Franklin, 25, receives a $50,000 scholarship and a year-round job as Miss America 2019, the new face of the competition.
Since winning the title Sunday night, Franklin has made television appearances on “Good Morning America” and “Live with Kelly and Ryan.”
“I realized we were making history just by being there without the swimsuit portion and instead more of a focus on what we’re doing in our lives and our careers,” Franklin said.
This year’s revamped competition, dubbed Miss America 2.0, replaced the swimsuit portion — which had been part of every Miss America pageant from 1940 to 2017 — with a live interactive session with the judges to emphasize the contestants’ passion, aspirations, intelligence and overall understanding of the role of Miss America.
While the changes were controversial when announced in June, Franklin said it’s “important to be mindful and embrace changes, otherwise you stay stagnant.”
The new interview portion gave her a chance to share her passion of equal access to arts education for all students.
“Some wealthier areas have access to violin lessons and piano lessons, but other kids don’t have those kind of opportunities and aren’t getting enough attention to their arts education in school … so I want to even the playing field,” Franklin said. “I wanted to let the judges know who I am. I’ve been singing classical music for eight years. I’m a musician to my core.”
She wowed the judges with her performance of “Quando m’en vo” from Puccini’s opera “La Boheme.”
She said she felt consistent in each of the categories and enjoyed the opportunity to compete alongside the other 50 women.
Becoming Miss America gives her a chance to redefine the role of Miss America in the midst of the changing competition, she said.
“I’m sure there are already things on the calendar, but I definitely want to try to do some new things,” she said. “I am a musician so I’d love to do a benefit concert to raise money for the arts.”
When her father, James Franklin, received a diagnosis of cancer she put on a small benefit concert in 2016 to raise money for cancer awareness and research.
She also donated stem cells to her father, who had spent years undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments.
“With something negative, my dad’s diagnoses, I wanted to make something positive,” Franklin said of the 2016 concert and her continued support for cancer research.
Franklin attended North Davidson High School before pursuing an undergraduate degree in music composition at East Carolina University
She then completed a master’s degree in music composition at UNC School of the Arts, which she said was the only master’s program she applied to.
At UNCSA, she also participated in ArtistCorps, an artist-driven AmeriCorps service program that puts accomplished artists in public schools and community-based institutions to work with high-needs students.
“It was a blessing, a perfect match for me,” Franklin said. “The staff and teachers believed in me so much.”
In 2016, she was crowned Miss Capital City in Raleigh, which meant a space in the Miss North Carolina pageant. She didn’t win the state title, but she didn’t give up. In June 2017, after graduating from UNCSA, Franklin moved to New York and won Miss New York a year later. She faced some backlash for her short residency in the state despite contest rules that say a contestant only has to be a resident for at least six months.
Over the next year, Franklin will travel around the country as a national ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and to promote her mission of equal opportunities for art education.
In 2015, she taught music at her home church, Mount Zion Baptist Church on File Street in Winston-Salem, which she said was a springboard for her passion.
“It was a small difference; I didn’t meet with hundreds of kids but that’s what I’m trying to do with Miss America,” she said. “I’m really excited.”