Alicia Cooper started tap dancing as a preschooler at Hazel Dell area studio, but she’s about to find a much bigger stage as Washington’s representative in the Miss America Competition.
Cooper was crowned Miss Washington 2016 on July 3, becoming the fourth representative from Clark County to win the title. She is preparing to fly to Atlantic City, N.J., to compete for the 2017 Miss America title.
The 21-year-old Felida native attended Felida Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and graduated from Skyview High School. She was named Miss Clark County’s Outstanding Teen in 2011 and Miss Clark County in 2013 and 2016.
“I fell in love with the (Miss America) program, how it encourages young women to achieve their dreams and provides scholarship opportunities,” Cooper said.
From winning the Miss Washington crown, Cooper received a $11,000 cash scholarship, which will help her achieve her goal of graduating debt-free with a bachelor’s degree in social science with an emphasis in psychology and human resources from Washington State University Vancouver.
Bringing more scholarships to the program is one of her main goals during her reign as Miss Washington.
Defining a legacy
“My mom and dad grew up watching Miss America (on the television),” Cooper said during a recent interview.
“It was a big family event. So seeing their daughter compete is a really neat experience. There’s a funny old saying that a parent is more likely to see their son in the NFL than their daughter on the Miss America stage.”
A Miss Washington has never won the national competition, though many have come close. Jacquie Brown, Miss Greater Vancouver, made the Miss America Top 5 in 2010, earning third runner-up.
All contestants run on a platform. For Cooper, it is “Live On Purpose: Defining Your Legacy.”
Cooper said her platform was inspired by her grandmother Rosemary, known as Rosie to most.
“She passed away six years ago, but seeing how many people were touched by her life, she touched people on a deep level,” Cooper said.
The idea is to not wait until it’s too late to create a legacy, Cooper said, but to actively think about how you want to be remembered and how you can positively affect and build up those around you.
“My grandmother would be tickled pink to see me competing for Miss America,” Cooper said. “When I was being crowned Miss Washington, I felt the warmth of her with me on stage, washing over me, blessing me with this wonderful moment.”
Another legacy Cooper hailed in a recent interview was the Project Legacy program that Gaiser Middle School has been piloting for the past three years.
“The two main goals are to work on helping kids leave a powerful and long-lasting legacy, and rewarding kids with positive reinforcement,” Cooper said.
She said the school has seen higher test scores, fewer students being written up and a more positive atmosphere in the school — “not just for the students, but for the faculty, as well.”
“You can point to Gaiser, you can see real results from this program,” she said. Cooper would like to help spread the program to other schools in Washington state, she said.
The Miss America Competition actually begins two weeks before the nation tunes in on Sept. 11. There are five preliminary phases — interview, onstage questions, swimsuit, evening gown and talent — during three days of preliminaries. Cooper stressed the importance on staying up to date on current events.
“Miss America should show that she has strong stances and opinions, but also an open mind because she’s representing the nation,” she said.
For the talent portion, Cooper will be reprising her Miss Washington tap dancing routine from to Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud,” adding in new twists for the national competition. “I’ve been a tap dancer for 18 years, going on 19,” she said.
She started tap at the age of 3 at Schell Dance Studio in Hazel Dell. Mark Schell, who now lives in Las Vegas and has taught Cooper since she was 8 years old, flew in to help her with choreography.
Miss America competitors form a small sisterhood and a legacy of their own, said Cooper.
“Everyone is so supportive — to have this tight-knit group of women to turn to, is amazing,” she said. “It’s 51 amazing women who all have the same mindset, goals and values as you — that same mentality is hard to find. We all understand where we’re coming from; it’s this great sisterhood. It really is the Miss America sorority — just with only one roommate.”
There’s even some unexpected connections. Portland’s Alexis Mather won the title of Miss Oregon and grew up in Astoria, Ore. She and Cooper share a mutual friend, but they had never met until the Miss America competition.
“We’re literally sister states,” said Cooper.
While only the final night of the Miss America pageant is broadcast on television, the public can still get involved. There’s also an online voting component called America’s Choice. The contestant with the most votes will be placed in the Top 15, though often the public votes align with the judges. The public can vote at www.missamerica.org/vote through Sept. 5.
But like the rest of us, Alicia Cooper won’t find out who’s made the Top 15 until the live announcement on Sept. 11 on ABC.
“I’m so blessed,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m going full force.”
Ashley Swanson: 360-735-4556; firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/col_life