2000 Miss America Heather Renee French, DAAP '97, MDes '01
by Mary Niehaus
In her fourth try for the title, UC graduate student Heather Renee French, DAAP '97, was crowned Miss America 2000.
"This is such a dream come true," she told reporters after receiving her crown in September. "It's like a Cinderella story. I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
Mostly, the new Miss America was smiling. A young woman with great spirit, French enjoyed substantial benefits: a $40,000 scholarship, up to $200,000 for personal appearances and speaking fees, and a complete wardrobe from New York designers like Kasper and Anne Klein. Acing the national swimsuit competition and honored for her "quality of life" speaker's platform on behalf of homeless Vietnam veterans garnered her another $2,500.
French readily acknowledged that it took more than brains, beauty and talent to be Miss America. Self-confidence, perseverance, maturity and the ability to think clearly and articulate one's thoughts were essential. Her co-op experience at UC helped develop those traits.
"Heather co-oped in a St. Louis design firm," said her mother, Diana French. "What she experienced there really helped her become a more mature, well-rounded person. She worked in graphic design, but she also helped with a promotional tape showing businesses how to interview people for jobs. That is Heather's strong point, the interview."
During questioning by pageant co-host Marie Osmond, French projected friendliness and poise. Osmond acknowledged the student's involvement in numerous musical, artistic and teaching projects, and asked whether she feared being labeled a "jack of all trades, master of none." "No," she replied. "In today's world, you have to be able to do many things well." Audience members applauded her comment that "when you stop learning, you stop living."
French also drew applause from DAAP's Dean Jay Chatterjee when she took time on national television to describe her college by its full name — Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Osmond had mistakenly referred to the university's "jazz" college.
Grace Meacham, professor of fashion design at UC, vouched for the new Miss America's persevering spirit, noting that "in this day and age, it's very different to find a student with this kind of drive." French had been part of the fashion design program for seven years, first as an undergrad and, at the time of the pageant, as an instructor in fashion drawing and an author of a textbook about the history of fashion design and illustration.
Taking a sabbatical to fulfill personal appearance and speaking obligations, French traveled about 20,000 miles a month. In her fist week as Miss America, she appeared on "Good Morning America," "The Donny and Marie Show" and "The David Letterman Show." Her parents, who lived in Maysville, Ky., kept up with their celebrity daughter through scheduled faxes to them by the Miss America organization.