LAS VEGAS – A 22-year-old Virginia woman who said she once thought her only talent was singing is the nation's newest Miss America, emerging from a field of 53 contestants picked for their beauty, compassion and interview savvy.
Caressa Cameron, a broadcast journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University, now plans a second year away from college as she travels extensively to raise money for charity and carry the 89-year-old pageant's crown.
"I hope to gain inspiration, I hope to gain momentum so that when this 365 days is over, I can shoot through the moon," Cameron told The Associated Press.
Cameron, the first black Miss America since Ericka Dunlap in 2005, says she wants to get a master's degree and eventually become a news anchor.
Cameron, the daughter of a background researcher for the government and a contractor, said she was inspired to compete in pageants at age 14, when Miss Virginia 2003 Nancy Redd visited her school.
"At that time, all I knew that I could do was sing — that's all I had," the Fredericksburg, Va., native said.
Cameron said that after that visit, she decided to try out for a school musical, which snowballed into more opportunities in the arts, drama and other areas.
"More doors and more doors continued to open," she said. "It's so important that we reach our young people, because there are so many young people that are at the very same crossroads that I was at."
"We need those people to let them know that just because your circumstances are a certain way, you don't have to succumb to them," she said. "You can do something amazing, like become Miss America."
The last Miss America from Virginia was Nicole Johnson in 1999.
Cameron won the title and a $50,000 scholarship Saturday night after strutting in a skintight yellow dress, belting Beyonce's "Listen" from "Dreamgirls" and advising parents to limit video games and television when asked about childhood obesity during an onstage interview.
"We need to get our kids back outside, playing with sticks in the street like I did when I was little," she said. "Expand your mind, go outside and get to see what this world is like."
Miss California Kristy Cavinder was the first runner-up, winning $25,000.
The young women who came out on stage at the beginning of the pageant and danced to "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas are from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
After a week of preliminary competition that counted 30 percent toward their final scores, they each introduced themselves to the crowd Saturday at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
"From the home of the Governator, I am here to pump you up," Cavinder said as she was introduced.
The judges, the public and contestants themselves then trimmed the field over the next two hours.