The Miss America Pageant got under way Tuesday in Atlantic City with preliminary awards in the swimsuit and talent competitions. Cierra Jackson of the District of Columbia won over judges by sporting a pink by designer Irene West. The award, in the lifestyle and fitness category, yielded Jackson a $1,000 scholarship. Jackson is a 2014 graduate of Spelman College, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science. Among the causes benefiting from her volunteer work are the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Ronald McDonald House, Salvation Army, the Humane Society, the Boys and Girls Club, local education campaigns and tutoring programs. Jackson is a pageant veteran who has worn a wide variety of titles.

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Georgia wins talent competition

Grace Burgess of Tennessee won Tuesday’s preliminary talent competition. She performed a vocal of “Desperado,” a song written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles. The performance earned her a $2,000 scholarship. Burgess is a child development major at the University of Memphis. She campaigns on behalf of child literacy projects.

Finals are Sunday

Preliminary competition continues each evening through Thursday.

Final competition is scheduled for Sunday. The final night of pageantry and the crowning of a new Miss America will be televised live by the ABC television network. In addition to swimsuit and talent categories, contestants will be judged on the basis of evening gowns, off-stage interviews and on-stage answers to questions.

Betty Cantrell’s reign

The reigning Miss America is Betty Cantrell of Warner Robins, Georgia. She has attended Mount De Sales Academy, Wesleyan College and Mercer University.

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Her goal is to graduate from a conservatory for music and to sing professionally. Her eye is on performing on Broadway in New York City. During her reign, she has promoted her cause of “Healthy Children, Strong America” and served as goodwill ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals. At last year’s pageant, she sang “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio.”

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