Former Miss Alaska: I Beat Sarah Palin in a Beauty Pageant

09/17/2008 at 02:00 PM EDT

Former Miss Alaska: I Beat Sarah Palin in a Beauty Pageant
Sarah Palin (née Heath) in 1984 (left); Maryline Blackburn today
Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman/AP;
A former Miss Alaska knows what it's like to run against Sarah Palin – and win.

"My first impression was, 'Oh my God, she's gorgeous, she'll probably be the one who wins,' " the Fairbanks-reared Maryline Blackburn, today a recording artist in Atlanta, told that city's Journal-Constitution about the 1984 Miss Alaska beauty pageant. Palin competed under her maiden name, Sarah Heath.

"She had this look about her, this look in her eyes that tells you she's calculating, figuring out, 'how am I going to win this competition?,' " Blackburn recalls. "There was a determination there."

But there was no crown. That went to Blackburn, who became Alaska's first African-American representative to the Miss America pageant.

Not that Palin, the former governor and now GOP vice-presidential candidate, was left out entirely in the Alaskan cold. She was voted first runner up and Miss Congeniality in the pageant 24 years ago.

Palin later wrote Blackburn a warm note on the back of a group photograph: "I do love you," she wrote. "You're more admired than even you know. And please keep God Number One. He's got great things for you, baby. Love, Sarah Heath."

Blackburn hasn't spoken to Palin in the years since. As for the forthcoming election, "I am in the Obama camp," she says.

See other famous beauty queens on the covers of PEOPLE!

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