For the Miss America talent show, Nina Davuluri performed a dance on the song Dhoom Taana from the
Bollywood film Om Shanti Om. The act
was choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan,
celebrity choreographer on So
You Think You Can Dance.
“She went into the competi-
tion knowing very well that
she could be the first South
Asian to win it,” Mahajan told
India Abroad. “Her getting
this recognition is a big deal
for South Asians, and I don’t
mean just for girls or just in
terms of beauty. But for every-
one, this is a really big
moment — it reminds us that
we do have a place in the
He added that Davaluri,
trained in Bharata Natyam
and Kuchipudi, wanted to
bring a Bollywood twist to her
“And it was perfect. It’s no surprise that
America loves Bollywood. There’s no question about it,” he said.
In an interview to Bollyspice. com, Mahajan
said that in June he got an email from the
Miss New York organization asking if he
would be interested in choreographing
Nina’s Bollywood number for the talent
round in the Miss America pageant.
He added that Nina reached out to him
saying that if she won she would be the first
Miss America of Indian descent.
‘That just made me excited right there. I
felt that this girl has the possibility of being
on a huge platform and if I can help her in
anyway possible then that’s my duty, that’s
why I am here,’ Mahajan was quoted by the
Web site as saying. ‘She could have easily
gone somewhere else on the East Coast but
it was very nice of her to have the Miss New
York organization fly her out to Los
Angeles. She learned her number from me
in two days.’
The Washington Post reported that some
other contestants discouraged Davuluri
from doing a Bollywood dance number,
warning her that it would highlight her difference.
She was not deterred. Davuluri intentionally played up her Indianness in the competition, rather than hoping her ethnicity
would be muted by a Westernized accent
and a talent performance of singing, tap
dancing, or twirling a baton.
She has said in the past that being
Indian has only helped in her long pageant journey.
— Chaya Babu
tled obesity and bulimia as a teenager. Davuluri said she had
lost 60 pounds to compete in the Miss New York pageant.
‘People who have been overweight, especially women, feel like
at a moment’s notice we can go back to where we were,’ she told
the paper. ‘It makes you more sympathetic, more empathetic.
You don’t judge. I’ve been there, and if I can pull myself out of
where I’ve been, anyone can.’
The racist row
Twitter and Facebook were flooded with mixed reactions after
her win. Many openly acknowledged the need for such visible
diversity and said Davuluri’s win was a step toward embracing
a new and evolving face of America.
‘First Indian American Woman to
win #MissAmerica?! Love it!! She
is stunning and well spoken. Great
‘A lot of negative reactions to an
Indian American Miss America.
Truth is, racists exist. Lets not
empower them by giving them
importance:),’ actor Kunal Nayyar
Others openly slammed her win.
Some of them felt that the new Miss
America didn’t deserve the crown
because she was too foreign or not
white. Others linked Davuluri to
Davuluri brushed aside the mudslinging.
‘I have to rise above that. I always
viewed myself as first and foremost
American,’ she said at a post-win
Even before winning the crown,
there was controversy about
Davuluri when, according to an
article in The New York Post, some
of her friends were overheard making inappropriate comments about
last year’s Miss America Mallory Hagan.
At the time, Davuluri said the remarks were made by ‘people
in her room’ and the Miss America organizers found ‘no validity’ to the report.
‘It was such an unfortunate situation. I never made those
comments. I called Mallory and have apologized to her
because it was the right thing to do,’ Davuluri was quoted by
USA Today as saying on Good Morning America, September
16. ‘And we worked it out. She’s been an incredible resource
throughout this journey.’
Born in Syracuse, New York, Nina Davuluri moved to Oklahoma with her sister and parents, and then back to
; Her parents immigrated to the United States over 30 years
; She speaks fluent Telugu.
; She attended the University of Michigan and graduated in
2012 with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science.
; She loves science fiction. Star Trek and Star Wars being her
; She hopes to be a doctor like her father.
; She won a $50,000 scholarship as part of the pageant title.
All about Nina
Desi girl, Miss America
‘For a nation of
upon a land of
‘Brand USA has
become so famous
- Ruchika Tulshyan
on Forbes blog
Nina Davuluri was reportedly warned against doing a Bollywood dance number
for the talent round of Miss America, but she intentionally played up her
Indianness. Inset, Nakul Dev Mahajan.
with her mother
Shiela Ranjani, left, and
LUCAS JACKSON/REU TERS