For the third time in three years, Miss New York was crowned Miss America. 22-year-old Kira Kazantsev became the third consecutive young woman from the Empire State to bring home the national crown, following Mallory Hagan and Nina Davuluri.
Kazantsev said her $50,000 scholarship will go toward her law degree. A student at Notre Dame, she deferred for a year to serve under her new title.
“I so look forward to graduating, hopefully debt-free,” Kazantsev said in a post-crowning press conference.
Kasantsev also thanked her parents, who immigrated to the United States from Russia 24 years ago.
“Their daughter is Miss America,” she said. “It’s the culmination of the American Dream.
During the talent portion of the competition, Kasantsev sang the song, “Happy,” while sitting on the edge of the stage, and using a red cup as a percussion instrument.
She said the movie “Pitch Perfect” was the inspiration for that performance, but there was also another reason.
“I wanted every single little girl in America to see that you can do whatever talent you want on national television…and still be Miss America,” she said.
This year, the Miss America Organization’s emphasis was on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, and the contestants began their two weeks with a trip to Washington, D.C. to talk to education leaders.
Kasantsev also said she looks forward to continuing to work promoting STEM, “to make sure that little girls, regardless of what their dreams are, that they can push through that education.”
Kasantsev’s personal platform, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Protecting Women Against Domestic Violence,” is not only timely, but dear to her heart. “I want every woman in America to know that regardless of anything that has happened in her past, that she has the power to control the outcome of her future,” Kasantsev said.
The organization also announced its new partnership with Dick Clark Productions which will most certainly bring enhancements to the program for 2015.
During the competition, the contestants had a mixed bag of impressions as to what the judges were looking for in the next Miss America.
“Interview was all about us, and what we are going to do as the next Miss America, and to help the program,” said Miss Ohio, Mackenzie Bart, who also won a preliminary talent award for her ventriloquism performance with her dummy ‘Roxy.’ “They want someone who is going to be a great role model for service, and for STEM.”
“They did ask a lot of social media questions,” said Miss Vermont Lucy Edwards. “It’s important to know that we are staying plugged in, and that we are communicating with the people that we are serving.”
“I think they’re looking for someone that children can look up to,” said Miss Virgin Islands Ashley Gabriel. “Someone they wouldn’t mind having as a role model for their own family members, and the younger generation. Someone poised and smart, and can relate to people on all levels.”
“She definitely has to be well put together,” said Miss Rhode Island Ivy DePew, “and confident in her speaking. But, she also has to be relatable. They wanted to see how in touch I was with the rest of the world. They didn’t just care about my opinions and what I care about.”
“I’ve never had such a fun interview,” said Miss Maine Audrey Thames. “This panel is a loving, caring, very uplifting panel. They just want you to do well. I think they’re definitely looking for someone who is going to bring this program into a much more relatable light. For a very long time, Miss America has been a pivotal woman. I think they are trying to turn the corner and say that Miss America is really the girl next door.”
“They are really looking for someone who is going to be a role model,” said Miss Mississippi Jasmine Murray.
“I think they’re just looking for someone who’s well-rounded, and conversational,” said Miss Pennsylvania Amanda Smith said. “I had a great time. We laughed, and we had some really serious topics, too.”
“I felt like they really wanted to make sure I was sure of myself, and that I couldn’t be thrown,” said Miss New Hampshire Megan Cooley. “They asked me questions they thought I didn’t know the answer to. They would also cut me off, and not let me finish, and that’s like a press conference – you have to not be shaken.”
“I have no idea what they’re looking for, said Miss Massachusetts Lauren Kuhn. “I found that I was really challenged in my interview, so by them challenging me, and asking me hard questions, obviously they are looking for someone who can think on their feet.”
“I really think they are looking for someone who’s ready to serve,” said Miss Virginia Courtney Garrett. “This is a very difficult job. It’s not just being on TV one night. It’s a 365-day job. You are working day-in and day-out and you don’t get a break from serving people. They’re also looking for someone who can really market it, and sell the brand.”
“I really felt like I was in charge in the interview, and got do drive home not only why I should be Miss America, but why I would be a good Miss America, and that was really exciting for me,” said Miss Connecticut Acacia Courtney. “I was really calm. I felt like I could stay and talk to them all day. It was very much about my platform and about the job of Miss America.”
“It’s hard to tell,” said Miss Delaware Brittany Lewis. “I am sure they will choose the best possible contestant.”
After the trip to visit the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., the contestants were welcomed with open arms by the city the pageant returned to just last year, and were described, by themselves as well as outside observers, as the best class ever, in terms of the sisterhood and getting along. One of the class of 2015’s innovations was the “Sparkle Cup” – a bowl in which contestants could leave a compliment for another contestants, which were read each night just before prelims.
“We put encouraging comments for one another,” Garrett said, about the Sparkle Cup. “The hostess read them to us, and they are anonymous. It’s really great to see everyone be so supportive of one another.”
“I got one yesterday, before [Tuesday’s] prelims, and it said ‘Miss Connecticut, you are so beautiful inside and out.’ It was something we as a group decided to do, and that’s just how we are. We’ve all been really supporting each other. As a group, we’ve been breaking stereotypes.”
“We all have bonded so well,” Thames said. “We always joke that we’re going to be in each other’s weddings and we’ll all have 52 bridesmaids.”
“I think you’re warned before coming here that everyone is going to be really intense,” Cooley said. “It wasn’t. It wasn’t what I expected at all. It doesn’t do anything to waste your energy hating others or hoping that they do bad.”
“I’d heard some really great things and some negative things as well, but I haven’t met any one person in our class that I haven’t liked,” Smith said. “We definitely got lucky with the class of 2015.”
So much fun was being had that some even forgot about the reason everyone was assembled.
“When I started with interview on Monday, I thought ‘Oh, we’re here to compete, and not just to do fun things in Atlantic City,” Courtney said. “I’ve just been happy the entire time.”
“It’s been amazing,” said Miss Mississippi Jasmine Murray. “I’ve just loved every minute of it, and have been soaking all in.”
“It’s just been one great ride,” said Thames. “They incorporated something this year called ‘Miss America serves’ and we got to go to the Atlantic City Mission, and help out there. Adding things like that is giving us the full Miss America experience. We really got to see what she’s going to do as Miss America throughout her year.”
“Everything has been really wonderful,” said Lewis, who grew up in Brigantine, New Jersey, and used to watch the pageant festivities, including the ‘Show Us Your Shoes’ Parade. “It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m just glad to represent the state of Delaware. Now to be here and be one of the contestants, it is really special.”
“It’s been fantastic,” said Edwards, who was also one of the top ten finalists for a STEM award. “I’m making so many friends. D.C. was a blast. It’s amazing how everyone gets along. My roommate is Miss Virgin Islands. She’s wonderful. She’s hilarious.”
“We have fun imitating each other,” Gabriel said. “Sometimes we just go in each other’s rooms and make fun of each other.”
“Especially the girls who I’m close to in the alphabet,” Kuhn said. “Maryland and Michigan – I am always around them, so we’re having a lot of fun together.”
There were, as always, several things that happened during the week to make the contestants laugh and keep their spirits up.
“There have been a lot of funny things,” Kuhn said. “Right before I went out on stage [during prelims] I had weird big streaks of spray tan all over my body.”
“I did wake up late one day, and sprinted out to the elevator with no makeup and my rollers in,” Edwards said. “I got down to breakfast, and everyone was all made up. It all worked out, but it was definitely a funny look.”
“Last night we had on-stage question,” Garrett said. “Everyone has been taping their sashes and doing a good job. Well, last night we got new sashes and of course I didn’t tape it, because I didn’t think about it, and I went out on stage and it fell.”
“I’m having fun,” said Gabriel. “We’ve connected and it’s really nice to get to know everyone.”
“We’re a funny bunch,” Bart said. “ABC has been filming a lot behind the scenes, so if you tune it, you’ll see a lot of good stuff.”
Those who did not take home the ultimate crown still felt like the experience is one they will cherish forever, as well as one that would change them for the better.
“It’s something that so few people get to experience, and it’s something you only get to do once,” Courtney said. “Acacia has already gotten a lot out of this. I think the friendships are something I’m going to have forever. We’ve been called the closest class ever, and it’s so true.”
“I just started participating in the Miss America Organization last February, and I am in it for the four values – scholarship, style, service, and success,” Edwards said. “I’m going to keep living those four points of the crown just be so grateful for having this experience.”
“I’ve already made all of these friendships,” Garrett said. “We keep joking that we’re all going to have 52 bridesmaids at our weddings. Besides these relationships, it’s an accomplishment to walk out on that stage. That and the friendships are going to last far beyond the crown.”
“I think one of the best things was that this was a pivotal year for the Miss America Organization in bringing us to D.C. first. We went to the Department of Education to talk about STEM and higher education, and my career goal is to be the Secretary of Education. So, I’m hoping that even if I don’t become Miss America, that I will still have my foot in the door there so that I can continue to work my way up.”
“I’m definitely inspired by all the women here,” DePew said. “I have stood alongside greatness. I have the goal [back in Rhode Island] of writing bigger and better grants, so we can have bigger scholarships for the Miss Rhode Island Organization.”
“I just hope I grow a little more as a person,” Smith said. “I just want to take a little piece of every girl I’ve been honored to call my friend for these two weeks. I think we’ll all be changed for the better.”
Kira Kasantsev poses for photos at her press conference, with some new bling on her head.
Miss Connecticut Acacia Courtney performs her ballet en pointe. Photos by Steve Smith.
Miss Virgin Islands said she and her classmates had fun picking on each other.
Miss Mississippi Jasmine Murray looks amazing in her gown.
Miss Texas Monique Evans totally rocks her swimsuit.
Miss Maine Audrey Thames and Miss Massachusetts Lauren Kuhn make their entrance during preliminaries.
Miss Delaware Brittany Lewis brought a lot of fans to Atlantic City.
Miss America Kira Kasantsev answers questions at her first press conference under her national crown.
Miss Vermont Lucy Edwards sings despite battling laryngitis.
Miss New Jersey Cierra Kaler-Jones performs her talent.
Miss Puerto Rico Yarelis Salgado had an elaborate costume during her talent routine.
Miss Iowa Aly Olson looks stunning in her evening gown. Photo by Steve Smith.
Miss Connecticut Acacia Courtney shows off her dancer’s physique.