From Jeri Ryan to Claire Buffie, ‘Miss America’ contestants who rose to fame despite losing beauty pageant title

Over the years, the contest has produced several title winners and some of the most talented women, who through their participation in ‘Miss America’ have established themselves in various fields of life.


                            From Jeri Ryan to Claire Buffie, ‘Miss America’ contestants who rose to fame despite losing beauty pageant title
Delta Burke, Jeri Ryan and Mary Hart (Getty Images)

Initiated as a mode to generate revenue during the economic depression, ‘Miss America’ has now evolved to be one of the biggest annual beauty pageants by advocating women empowerment. Over the years, the contest has produced several title winners and some of the most talented women, who through their participation in ‘Miss America’ have established themselves in various fields of life. While some of them are known for their appearances on-screen, some are still recognized for creating history during their participation in the beauty contest. 

Cloris Leachman 

Actress Cloris Leachman poses backstage at the 56th Annual Writers Guild Awards held on February 21, 2004 at the Century Plaza Hotel, in Century City, California. (Getty Images)

Cloris Leachman was one of the top 16 contestants in the 20th ‘Miss America’, held in 1946. Although she did not take home the grand trophy, in her acting career spanning over seven decades, Leachman has racked up a total of eight Primetime Emmy Awards, a Daytime Emmy Award and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in ‘The Last Picture’.

Aside from featuring in films and television shows, she also contested in the seventh season of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in 2008, at the age of 82. Her recent work in television includes ‘Raising Hope’ and ‘American Gods’. 

Delta Burke

Actress Delta Burke arrives at the BraveHeart Awards for Brave Hearts at The Westin Hotel LAX on October 3, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

By winning ‘Miss Florida’ in her senior year of high school, Delta Burke became the youngest titleholder in the history of the beauty pageant. Although she did not win ‘Miss America’, the diva used her talent scholarship to pursue her studies in music and drama, which eventually led her to act. She was nominated for ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series’ for her role in CBS’s sitcom ‘Designing Women’. Aside from her feature in ‘Delta’, ‘Women of the House’ and ‘DAG’, Burke had a recurring role in the hit series ‘Boston Legal’. 

Mary Hart 

Mary Hart attends the 2018 Children's Hospital Los Angeles "From Paris With Love" Gala at LA Live on October 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

After winning Miss South Dakota in 1970, Mary Hart made her way to the top in ‘Miss America’ 1971 pageant by holding the semi-finalist position. She eventually went on to serve as a host on the long-running ‘Entertainment Tonight’, which aired from 1982 to 2011. 

Jeri Ryan

Jeri Ryan arrives at Chaz Dean Winter Party 2017 benefiting Love is Louder on December 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Jeri Ryan finished as the third runner-up in ‘Miss America’ 1990 pageant and even won the preliminary swimsuit competition, which has now been ruled out. She is best known for appearing as the Seven of Nine in ‘Stark Trek: Voyager’. Her recent work includes Amazon Prime’s ‘Bosch’, portraying as Veronica Allen. 

Meanwhile, here are some of the contestants who left marks in ‘Miss America’ history, by breaking the conventional norms. 

Claire Buffie

Claire Buffie attends the Family Equality Council's "Night At The Pier" Gala at Chelsea Piers on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Getty Images)

One of the top 12 of ‘Miss America’ 2011, Claire Buffie was the contestant to advocate the gay-right platform. Buffie emerged as the second runner-up on Miss Indiana held in 2008. Prior to her participation in ‘Miss America’, she had won the preliminary swimsuit round in Miss New York 2009 pageant.

Kayla Martell 

Kayla Martell, Miss Delaware, dances in the talent competition during the 2011 Miss America Pageant at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino January 15, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

Winner of ‘Miss Delaware’ 2010, Kayla Martell became the first bald contestant in ‘Miss America’ history, placing herself in the top 10. She was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata at a very young age, a condition that causes complete. She was soon subjected to public admiration for her standing in defiance against conventional beauty standards. 

Alexis Wineman 

Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana, competes in the swimsuit competition during the 2013 Miss America Pageant at PH Live at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on January 12, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

Alexis Wineman became the first autistic contestant to participate in ‘Miss America’ pageant in 2013, where she was awarded ‘America’s Choice’. She was also the youngest contestant on ‘Miss America’ 2013. Wineman was diagnosed with PD-NOS at the age of 11.

Cheryl Browne

Cheryl Adrienne Browne became the first African American contestant to participate in ‘Miss America’ pageant when the earlier rule stating “contestants must be of good health and of the white race” in 1970 was finally abolished. Although Browne’s participation left a mark in the ‘Miss America’ history, she was subjected to public backlash.

Nicole Kelly 

Nicole Kelly was 72nd woman to hold the title of ’Miss Iowa’ and the first contestant without a forearm to participate in ‘Miss America’ beauty pageant. She became the second competitor in the pageant to have a disability. 

Erin O’Flaherty 

Erin O’Flaherty presented herself as the first openly lesbian contestant on ‘Miss America’ beauty contest. She was also crowned ‘Miss Missouri’ the same year. She closely works with The Trevor Project, a hotline for LGBT youth.

If you have a news scoop or an interesting story for us, please reach out at (323) 421-7514