Ali Rogers couldn’t have gotten any closer.
Rogers, Miss South Carolina 2012, was the first runner-up in Saturday night’s Miss America pageant. She finished second to Miss New York Mallory Hytes Hagan, who took the crown from Laura Kaeppeler.
It was a state representative’s best finish since Kimberly Aiken was crowned Miss America in 1994.
Rogers, who always presents a calm and cool demeanor and does things her way, was a favorite at the pageant, broadcast live from Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. It was as if the camera couldn’t get enough of her.
She had one of the best introductions: “From the state where we use sushi as bait, and no, y’all are the ones with the accent, I am Miss South Carolina Ali Rogers,” she said.
When the top 15 was announced, a video clip of Rogers talking about her pet chickens — Lucy, Pearl and Dinosaur — was played.
“I’m from the South, so it’s really not all that weird,” she said. “Except maybe the names.”
Rogers — and the Miss South Carolina pageant — were featured prominently on “Pageant Confidential: The Road to Miss America,” a special edition of “20/20” that preceded the pageant. Production cameras were recording backstage at July’s Miss S.C. pageant at Township Auditorium.
“I’m going to Miss America and I cannot believe it,” Rogers, 21, said to the camera after she won.
The cameras followed her to her hometown of Laurens, capturing her in the kitchen while her mother cooked a meal. They also shot her working out when her trainer told her she had to lose seven to eight pounds. Rogers even had one-on-one time with the show’s host, Lara Spencer.
“I don’t know where I was going with that,” Rogers said when she lost her train of thought during the interview. “Dang it.”
A snippet of her 10-minute interview with the Miss America judges was also shown. When asked what she had changed for the pageant, Rogers responded, “I didn’t change anything.”
She might’ve been thinking about her blue toenails. Rogers refused to have her toes painted a more muted color at the behest of Miss S.C. pageant directors. As a sign of solidarity, the look was adopted by many of the 300 people the traveled from South Carolina to Las Vegas. More than 200 were from Laurens.
“Some just weren’t going to crack a smile the whole time no matter what,” Rogers said after the judges’ interview ended. “I did everything I could do to prepare.”
Something else Rogers said while the cameras were rolling became prophetic: “If I don’t win, I can go home and continue to serve South Carolina,” she said.
Rogers performed with ease in front of an estimated viewing audience of 15 million. She flirted with the camera as she walked out in her swimsuit, and when the pageant needed a shot of energy, Rogers’ jazzy rendition of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” had the right amount of pep. And her talent outfit was fresh and original, as she wore a sequins top and black pants with sequins piping on the right leg.
For her on-stage question, Rogers was asked about ESPN announcer Brent Musberger’s comments about the attractiveness of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend during the BCS championship game and whether they improperly objectified women.
“As a football fan and as someone who would like to be featured, not so much on the stage, but at a football game, I think he has every right to point out her beauty,” Rogers said of Musberger in a composed tone. “She is in fact gorgeous, and I think this is something we can display, not only on the Miss America stage, but, hey, at a football game, too.”
The understated blue dress Rogers wore for her onstage question was her choice, another pick over the objections of pageant directors who wanted something flashier. It was the dress she wore to the press conference the morning after she won the Miss South Carolina crown.
She was close to having to select another press conference dress.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.