The First Bouncer To Win Miss Hawaii

Malika Dudley, in Las Vegas this week for the first Miss America pageant outside Atlantic City, has high hopes of bringing home another crown

Katie Young
Friday - January 20, 2006
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Malika Dudley in a gown designed by Takeo
Malika Dudley in a gown
designed by Takeo

It’s likely that you’ll find a few unlikely things about Miss Hawaii 2005 Malika Dudley. A native of Hilo, Dudley is a standout at 5 feet 10 inches, half Algerian and half Caucasian, with green eyes and curly blond/brown hair. But your typical pageant queen, she’s not. She could kick your okole if she needed to. Dudley holds a third degree black belt in karate, and her job, aside from representing our state as Miss Hawaii, is as a bouncer at local hot spot The W Hotel on weekends.

Dressed all in black with her hair slicked back, Dudley is hardly recognizable to people who know her as Miss Hawaii.

“A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘You know, there’s a lot of big Polynesian bouncers here, but you’re the one I think I shouldn’t mess with,’” says Dudley, vale-dictorian of her Hilo High class of 2000, with a laugh.

If not for her martial arts training, however, Dudley probably wouldn’t have gotten her job as one of the few female bouncers in a sea of big brutes, and she would-n’t, she says, have become Miss Hawaii, either.

“I was a really shy child,” says Dudley, 23, who earned her bachelor’s degrees in both French and speech communication from the University of Hawaii, and is currently going for a master’s degree, also in speech communication. “But martial arts is what got me out of my shell. It forced me to be up in front of people by myself and be judged. I think it really helped with my confidence and the discipline you need to have. You have to train every day and you have to have the perseverance to get what you want. When you fail, you just need to try harder.”

Now Dudley heads to the Miss America Pageant this week to compete with 51 other beauties in a landmark year for the 84-year-old event, which is getting a major overhaul. The pageant will air for the first time on Country Music Television (CMT) instead of ABC on Jan. 21.

In addition to the new TV home, there’s also a seasonal move (the event has long been held in September) and new location (moving from its home in Atlantic City to the Aladdin Resort and Casino in Las Vegas).

The Miss America Organization decided to shake things up this year in an attempt to re-brand what is the fourth-longest-running live event in television history. It has survived wars, depressions, social movements and scandals and still remains about celebrating excellence, scholarship, talent and beauty in young women.

Businessmen in Atlantic City, N.J., launched the Miss America pageant in 1921 to lengthen the resort community’s summer tourist season beyond Labor Day. When the competition was broadcast on TV for the first time in 1954, it attracted 27 million viewers and it remained one of TV’s highest-rated annual events for years despite protests in the 1960s and ‘70s from feminist groups and complaints in the ‘80s that the pageant was racist.

But last year fewer than 10 million viewers watched the show, and the Miss America Organization decided that something needed to be done to bring the pageant back to its former glory days. Interestingly enough, the plan to hip-up the show includes a return to the traditions of the original pageant. The focus will be more on the talent portion and personalities of the contestants, not just on an elaborate “fashion show” of casual, evening and bathing suit wear.

“My feelings about holding the pageant in Las Vegas are that it’s difficult to break tradition, but sometimes we are forced to,” says Thom McGarvey, chairman of the Miss Hawaii board. “The important thing is to select a good Miss America who is capable of helping to re-brand the Miss America program for the 21st century. The change of venue may just be the outward sign that the organization is ready for change too. The pageant is relevant today, only if we make it relevant. It is only the title holder who can do that.”

McGarvey, of course, would like to see Dudley take on that task.

“She is bright, beautiful and talented,” he says. “She has lived and breathed her platform (on mentoring), which has helped to develop her communication skills. She’s a born marketer, and as Miss America, she would have no trouble walking into the office of the CEO of a big company and coming out with an avid supporter for the program.”

Dudley has been in Las Vegas this week preparing for the final televised event. She competed in the preliminary swimsuit and evening wear on Tuesday, the talent portion on Wednesday and the on-stage question on Thursday.

Dudley, who also lived in France for five years with her family when her parents were on sabbatical, tried twice to become Miss Hawaii before securing the crown, winning both the swimsuit and the talent phases of the competition as well as the academic portion. Her first attempt landed her in the fourth-runner-up position and gave her enough money to get started on graduate school.

The scholarship money is really the only thing that first prompted Dudley to enter the unfamiliar world of pageants.

“I was a Regent Scholar and I had a full ride through my undergrad,” she says. “I didn’t really know what to do when I got out of undergrad. I thought I might travel or learn something totally different like culinary school or how to fix cars in a trade school. I didn’t think I could afford to go to graduate school right then.”

Dudley always planned to pay her own way through school if she could. Her parents, UH-Hilo oceanography professor Walter Dudley and UH-Hilo French instructor Kamila Dudley, are also raising Malika’s three other siblings, Emily, 20, and fraternal twins, Melanie and Christopher, 15.

“I felt like if I could pay for school, I wanted to,” says Dudley who adds that her family has always been her biggest support in whatever she does. “This model friend of mine was telling me I should run [for Miss Hawaii], but at first I thought it was all about having looks and no brains.”

But then Dudley had a chance to meet with Miss Hawaii 1993, Traci Toguchi, who lured Dudley in with the integrity of the program.

The Miss America Organization provides $45 million annually in scholarship money to contestants and is known as the world’s largest provider of academic assistance for young women.

For more than 20 years, the organization has also made a big impact in the realm of community service. Each year contestants participate in 12,000 community projects, logging more than 500,000 hours.

Dudley’s own community service efforts started long before she ran in the scholarship pageant, and she continues her work with Big Brothers Big Sisters and HUGS - all part of her platform of helping to mentor children.

As for her future, Dudley plans on becoming a teacher.

“Because my parents are teachers, I resisted it for so many years,” she says. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I was pre-med for three years. But I realized I was doing it more because I could, not because I wanted to.”

Dudley has taught karate for years as well as French to elementary school children and finally realized it was her passion.

“I think being a teacher is where I belong,” she says. “But I also might go for my Ph.D. first.”

Dudley is constantly learning, especially in her preparation for the Miss America pageant. “This year is definitely different from past years because the girls usually have the momentum from Miss Hawaii in June leading up to Miss America in September,” she says. “With me, we didn’t even know when it was going to be until a couple of months ago.”

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