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Miss Florida wins early round in Miss America competition

Miss Florida Victoria Cowen wins Lifestyle and Fitness category during Miss America preliminary round

The new Miss America will be crowned Sunday night, but the competition has already begun with the first of three nights of preliminary rounds. Miss Florida Victoria Cowen has already taken one of the early awards, although she had to share the spotlight with a puppet.

Each of the three nights of early competition feature two winners. One winner gets $1,000 scholarship in the Lifestyle and Fitness category, and that was Cowen, who wore a pink Catalina swimsuit.

"I am truly LIVING in a dream right now!" Cowen tweeted from her account @MissFlorida2014. "Did I really just win preliminary SWIMSUIT at #MissAmerica???"

On her Instagram account (instagram.com/missflorida2014) she added, "Walking down that runway tonight felt like the culmination of everything I have worked so hard for my entire life.. I want to thank EVERYONE for all your kind words, support and love. You have no idea how much it means to me.. Keep the prayers coming."

The other winner is for the Talent competition. Monday night's winner in that category was Miss Ohio Mackenzie Bart who used a puppet who I must say had a vague resemblance to Miss Florida.

Miss Ohio performed a ventriloquism act with the puppet singing a version of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." That performance landed Bart a $2,000 scholarship.

More preliminary rounds will be held tonight and Thursday before the big event on Sunday in Atlantic City, N.J., which will be aired beginning at 8 p.m. on ABC.

There are 53 women from the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands vying for the crown.

Cowen, whose nickname is Tori, hails from Panama City. She came to the competition after winning Miss Florida in June. Running as Miss North Florida, she didn't know she had won title until five days after the crowning ceremony. Because of a tabulating error, the original winner was named as Leesburg resident Elizabeth Fechtel, who ended up being named first runner-up.

Cowen attends FSU and plans to get a master's degree in marketing and wants to pursue a career in medical device marketing and sales.  Each competitor has a designated charity. Cowen's is One Chance, One Choice, Inc., which is a youth mentor program that aims to instill high moral values to teens. It's a charity Cowen formed after growing up and having one teenage friend become pregnant and another become involved in drugs.

Unlike the Miss USA competition, the Miss America crown features a talent competition. Cowen's talent is lyrical dance. FSU fans have had a chance to see Cowen in action last year as a member of the Golden Girls, who perform during home football games at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.

That's similar to last year's Miss Florida contestant, Myrrhanda Jones, who was eventually named 3rd runner up. Her talent was baton twirling, a talent she performed as a Gatorette on game days at the University of Florida. Injured ahead of pageant night, she actually performer her talent wearing a knee brace decked out in jewels.

The 2014 Miss America pageant had a lot of storylines including Miss Florida's performance. There was also the not-so-gun-shy and tattooed Miss Kansas Theresa Vail, but it was Indian-American Nina Davuluri who took home the crown.

Last year's pageant was the first back in Atlantic City for the organization since 2005 and it returns this year for the 88th edition. Formed in 1921, the pageant moved to Las Vegas in 2006 for a seven-year run before last year's return.

If Cowen can pull off the win, she'll be only the third Miss Florida to be crowned Miss America. The previous winners from the Sunshine State were Eva Leanza Cornett in 1992 and UCF grad Ericka Dunlap in 2004.

We'll have to see which women make the headlines this week. There's no tattoos just yet, but there's already a ventriloquist act, and that's nothing to laugh at.

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