A divinity student at Berkeley’s Pacific School of Religion (PSR) was crowned Miss California last weekend, winning $12,000 and a trip to the storied Miss America pageant.
Nicole Lamarche, 24, had twice been the first runner-up in state pageants—she finished second to Jennifer Glover, Miss Contra Costa County, in last year’s Miss California pageant and as an undergraduate student in Arizona came in second in that pageant two years ago.
“Once I made finals this year I was just waiting for them to say ‘First runner-up: Nicole Lamarche,’” she said. “I was so used to it.”
But the third time proved to be the charm for Lamarche, who is entering her third year at PSR and is seeking ordination in the United Church of Christ.
Lamarche won the competition with a combination of her vocal performance, her photogenic qualities and her interview.
Lamarche won the overall interview competition, scoring big points with judges for her answers about topics such as affirmative action, gay marriage and the conflict in the Middle East. The interview was worth 40 percent of the overall score, giving Lamarche the points needed to beat Miss Hollywood, Erynn Lewis, who came in second.
A platform that stemmed from personal experience helped Lamarche secure the title as well. She spoke about making college a realistic option for all students by making it affordable, an issue close to her heart because neither of her parents earned a bachelor’s degree.
“There are so many options out there now, especially in California,” Lamarche said. “Keeping college affordable can help to motivate ‘at-risk’ kids.”
Lamarche qualified for the state pageant by winning the title of Miss San Francisco, the regional competition that covers San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley. That pageant, which attracted about 15 competitors this year, requires no qualifier or entry fee in hopes of making the pageant scene more accessible.
As the first Miss San Francisco to win the Miss California title in 50 years, Lamarche has a reputation to live up to. Miss San Francisco 1954, Lee Ann Meriwether, went on to win Miss America and then maintain an acting career highlighted by her role as Catwoman in the 1966 movie “Batman.”
But no matter how much success Lamarche has in pageants, she says her career ambition will not change. Although she will postpone her third year of seminary, she is committed to completing her degree so she can be ordained.
“It’s really important to me to finish the Master’s of Divinity so I can become a minister in the church,” she said.
Though Lamarche’s seminary friends at first found her participation in beauty pageants “a bit strange,” they have since realized the benefits it can have.
“They’ve seen what it’s done for me,” Lamarche said. “It forced me to be comfortable in my own skin, and plus it’s paid for a bunch of my education.”
Now, Lamarche’s focus will turn to the Miss America pageant, which will be held in Atlantic City, N.J., in September. She has relocated from her Berkeley home to San Diego, where her days are spent working with makeup artists, wardrobe consultants, voice instructors and personal trainers to prepare her for the competition.
“There’s a lot of shopping involved,” she laughed.
In early September, Lamarche will fly to Washington, D.C., to meet the other Miss America competitors for a few days of sightseeing. From there, the group will travel to Atlantic City, where they will begin interviews and preliminary rounds of the pageant. Although most Americans see only one night of Miss America competition, the pageant begins two weeks prior to the Sept. 20 television broadcast.
“I know there’s another competition out there, but I’m so excited just to have won Miss California that I can’t see much past that right now,” Lamarche said. “But I don’t expect to win. It will just be a great experience.”