Hawai'i contestant second at Miss America pageant
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Miss Hawai'i Kanoelani Gibson, right, embraces Miss Florida Ericka Dunlap as Dunlap is named Miss America.
The 22-year-old Miss Hawai'i won first runner-up in the nationally televised pageant last night in Atlantic City, N.J.
She took first place in the preliminary talent program Tuesday when she belted out "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman." That put her in a top position all week.
Miss Florida Ericka Dunlap was crowned Miss America 2004. Dunlap won both the evening gown and last night's talent portion, singing "If I Could." She correctly answered five of eight questions of a quiz given to the finalists.
Kanoelani Gibson ("Kanoe" to family and friends) is studying to be a high-school math teacher. She is a University of Hawai'i student on leave from her job as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines. Her focus issue is increasing awareness of learning disabilities.
Hawai'i's latest representative in the Miss America pageant apparently made history as the state's first "first runner-up," according to pageant officials and her sister, Maila Gibson, who traveled to the pageant to cheer her on.
Maila Gibson, 26, said watching her sister finish so close to the top was "bittersweet." While she was disappointed that her sister wasn't crowned Miss America, she's happy that they will be flying home today.
Kanoelani Gibson watches as Miss Florida Ericka Dunlap is named Miss America. Gibson came in as the first runner-up in the pageant after winning the preliminary talent program on Tuesday.
Kanoe told judges that she runs and surfs to keep in shape. She wore a red two-piece halter swimsuit for the competition but showed her playful side in the casual clothes category when she chose a black tank top emblazoned with "Hawaii Rocks" and tucked a white flower behind her left ear.
The honor that came with her second-place finish will also help ease the disappointment of missing the cut for "American Idol" two years ago. And Maila said it will give Kanoe something to share with her friend and former prom date, "Idol" finalist Jordan Segundo.
Maila said coming in second also will give her sister a chance to begin enjoying the opportunities that come with the competition, including $40,000 in scholarship money.
Maila and Kanoe live together in Kapolei. Maila sings professionally and has a compact disc due to be released this week, she said. Both she and Kanoe also sing at their church, New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu.
Maila said the national audience got a chance to see what Kanoe is like during the game-show-like portion of the pageant. "She's kind of crazy," she said with a laugh. "She puts everything in God's hands."
Kanoe has gone to school in Hawai'i and in Jefferson City, Mo., where her father lives. Her mother, Avon Riviera, who escorted her for the evening gown portion, is retired and lives on Kaua'i. Another sister, Mokihana lives in Jefferson City.
Recently, Kanoe has been performing with Soul Cafe at Aaron's Atop the Ala Moana, Maila said.
Two Hawai'i women have served as Miss America: Angela Perez Baraquio in 2001 and Carolyn Sapp in 1992. Pageant organizers said a Hawai'i woman first hit the top 10 in 1949, when Bee Jay Johnson was a semifinalist. Hawai'i women made the semifinals in 1953, 1956, 1957, 1962, 1965, 1970, 1985, 1989, 1994, 1997 and 1998.
Last night, Maila was still a bit dazed by the whirlwind around her sister. "We got to visit with her for about 15 minutes before they whisked her away."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com or 535-2429.