Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Pageant Planet

In most states, the Class of 2011 is almost complete.  But in NY, we have a few locals in the fall, but a concentration of them in February - March.  So a lot of you are getting ready right now for locals and soon for state.  I have a suggestion for you!

I met Steve and Candace from The Pageant Planet at my Miss America send off party in NYC.  Now, I'll be joining a part of their family, participating in the VIP Coaching Call today, Tuesday February 22.  The Pageant Planet's VIP Call spends 2 hours every 2 weeks talking about current events from a variety of opinions and offers special guests to give suggestions on pageant preparation, specifically for interview.  I'll be the resident "expert" on today's call talking about some of my preparation for Miss America and Miss New York - things I found successful, things I could have avoided, etc.

In addition to these calls, The Pageant Planet offers a variety of free services - newsletters with interview questions, preparation tips and motivation and a place for pageant wardrobe reselling/buying.

Miss New York wants to help you with interview this Tuesday!This month I want to give you access to a couple of pageant coaches who will revolutionize your private interview. First you will get to speak with Claire Buffie, Miss New York 2010, who is going to tell you exactly what questions were asked in the Miss America interview room, what the set up was, what other girls were wearing, how the judges acted...she will tell all! 

In short, Claire is going to tell you EXACTLY what to expect inside the Miss America interview room. And she is going to share with us how she made national news as a state titleholder. Think about that...the judges got to know her month's before the pageant.. what an advantage!?

Click now to get all the details: 

ThePageantPlanet.com is your online pageant coach, dedicated to gathering the best success strategies from the most reliable sources to ensure your success in pageantry.

In less than 1 year "The Pageant Planet.com grew to become the #1 resource for pageant information on the web! More than 80,000 girls come every month come to learn how to successfully compete, receive pageant coaching, purchase their gowns, and to connect with other girls competing for the crown.

Join the family. Dominate the crown.

Find The Pageant Planet on Facebook  |  Twitter

Monday, February 21, 2011

Everything else during RFA Week

Aside from schools presentations for Respect For All Week (blogpost), I've done some other great appearances this week including Miss Brooklyn's Cupid's Cure, The State of the City and the Senator Klein's Bronx VA hospital visit.

Saturday, Linda Carbo and I went to Miss Brooklyn, Christina Moore's fundraiser Cupid's Cure to benefit the Sarcoma Foundation in honor of her aunt, a sarcoma survivor. The event was fantastic - a real testament to Christina's work ethic and dedication to community service as well as maximizing her opportunity as local titleholder to make a difference. I want to share this video to show you that the Miss America Organization is so much more that the one girl with the big title and big crown - it's the 1,200 local titleholders that make this organization what it is. Congratulations, Christina on a wonderful event!

Tuesday, I was invited to the State of the City address by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. In attendance were all 5 Borough Presidents, Comptroller John Lui, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, District Attorney Vance and the entire membership of the City Council.  She focused on affordable housing, parking issues, and especially small businesses.  As far as the status of city funding, she proposes we start paying out capital funds up front, steadily increasing our out-of-pocket payments so that we don't leave our kids with the bill. Start investing 1 billion a year. The two major catch phrases I took from her speech follow:  

  • "Small problems can turn into big issues. But small actions can create a huge difference. Simple improvements make a profound difference."  
  • "Government only succeeds when we serve as a microphone to the people and work outside of the walls of City Hall."

Thursday, straight from Lyons Community HS in Washington Heights, I quickly headed over to the Bronx Veterans Hospital for Senator Jeffery Klein's 16th Annual Valentines Day celebration.  The PS choir sang wonderful songs and made tons of Valentines to pass out to the veterans.  I've been in quite a few children's hospital because of CMN, but this was my first VA hospital.  These men and women are amazing with the stories and inspiration they share.  After the program, the Senator, Miss Teen USA Kamie Crawford and I did some bedside visits, delivering Valentines and packages to those who couldn't attend the program.  I'm looking forward to working with Senator Klein on upcoming Marriage Equality events and press conferences.  It was fantastic meeting Kamie as well - an absolute sweetheart and so beautiful as well!  So cute to visit one room and the man says "Oh! You're the new one!" and pointed to the wall where he had a picture with Miss Teen USA from the year before.  Hopefully we can make this a tradition for Miss New York as well.

I also did a photoshoot for Lauren Gabrielson -- you'll be able to see those pictures soon on her new website! www.laurengabrielson.com

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Respect for All Week

I've been busy with school presentations these past two weeks with the PFLAG Safe Schools Program, speaking to over 1,000 students for Respect for All Week. I started last Wednesday at Metropolitan HS in the Bronx. Do you remember the hate crime in the Bronx from a few months ago involving a gang attack? One of the men involved went to this high school.  Obviously our message is desperately needed there.

Thursday, we went to Lyons Community School, a progressive learning institution with a very accepting and conversational, compassionate staff and student body overall. However, even in an environment like this, they have issues. In a recent experience at a school, a 7th grade student was continually bullied and taunted for being gay, to a point where he was chased off school grounds into oncoming traffic where he was hit by a car. Thankfully, it was not a fatal accident, but the incident, deemed hate crime, resonated in the school and community. We were joined by members of the NYPD at this school to help the students understand the significance of hate crimes and the extreme consequences that are added when the discrimination bias of sexual orientation and gender identity arise.

This Wednesday (during the actual RFA week), I visited George Washington HS of Law and Public Service in Washington Heights. I spoke to 4 classes and opened a really great dialogue in their school. One question I was asked 3 times was "If your sister wasn't gay, would you still be here talking to us?" To that I was able to recognize that 4 years ago when I started competing, I did not have any question or thoughts other than equality when choosing my platform in the Miss America Organization. But, the titles I have held have increased my visibility, reach and opportunities to engage in PFLAG as a public figure, adding volume to the message I want to share. I also addressed our responsibility to challenge ourselves beyond tolerance to acceptance, and even further to advocacy. Straight allies are invaluable parts of this fight for equality.

Thursday, I visited our last high school for the week, Newtown HS in Queens. We spoke to their "No Place for Hate" alliance, so in a way, we were preaching to the choir. It gave us an opportunity to empower them to be the changemakers in their school and communities. I was joined by Council Member Danny Dromm. Danny is a former teacher - the first openly gay teacher in NYC public schools - who also started the PFLAG Queens chapter along with many other LGBT and equality advocacy groups. He has been a huge advocate in the City Council for PFLAG, especially with gaining funding from the city for our work and educational outreach programs. It was a wonderful honor to speak with him.

Friday, we wrapped things up at a Respect for All Press Conference at Brooklyn International High School.  You know you're Miss New York when you attend a press conference only to find that you're speaking at it!  It was an honor to speak on behalf of PFLAG and Straight for Equality: Let's Talk, while surrounded by the Respect for All Coalition, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black, New York City Council Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson and leaders from diverse organizations including Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Operation Respect, Anti-Defamation League, United Federation of Teachers, and many more.

Respect for All week has been successfully implemented in school curriculum in NYC in this second year, but we have to remind and challenge these students that although this is a week to highlight the importance of respect, it is only the beginning of changing attitudes in their schools for all year and years to come. The necessity for respect, dignity and equality goes beyond one week of focus an conversation. As I shared in the press conference, PFLAG spreads this message all year in our Safe Schools Program and as Chancellor Black wishes to take RFA Week nationally, I as Miss New York am taking it state-wide.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My mini upstate tour

Nope. The snow won't stop me. :) Saturday I hopped on a train and headed upstate to the Miss Fulton County pageant. This was their 40th year and they gave out amazing scholarships: $5040 to the winner, but each of the seven contestants received a scholarship just for competing! In between parts of the competition, I got to perform my Miss America talent as well as speak on stage, sharing a few fun announcements about the 2011 Miss New York State Pageant - June 13-19th in Staten Island, NY at the St. George Theatre where the community and borough president are really rolling out the red carpet for us! A new program this year is our Star Princess Program. I definitely signed autographs for some future Miss Fulton Counties and future Miss New Yorks, so I hope they participate!  Congratulations to Kieren Sheridan, Miss Fulton County 2011!! First RU Danielle Trumbull, 2nd RU Amanda Boyer (overall talent and interview awards), Community Service Misti Hilts and Miss Congeniality 3-way tie to Kieren Sheridan, Colleen Gagne and Misty Hilts!

Since I was in Fulton County on Saturday and in Albany on Tuesday, I decided (kind of last minute) to stay upstate, wonderfully hosted by Colleen Gagne and her parents. On medical leave from surgery, Brian was my traveling companion all day on Monday, taking me to four elementary schools, Amy's doctor's office to say hello and the Lincoln Day Dinner with the Republican Club. On Thursday when I confirmed with Colleen that I'd be coming, she went to town calling schools to get me appearances. I did an all-school assembly at Park Terrace Elementary, speaking on bullying and respect, handed out their citizen of the week awards and reading awards. Then it was off to Kingsborough Elementary where I spoke to two 5th grade classes (Colleen's 5th grade teacher) about bullying and the importance of working hard on your academics and education. Then I met some very curious 3rd graders at Pleasant Avenue, through the Miss Fulton County Executive Director Kathy Smith, asking about all of my favorites before a big group photo and high-five hug! And last stop, Kieren Sheridan's after school program at McNelty Academy. After a presentation, I got to recognize that their very own Miss Kieren was the new Miss Fulton County, and the kids were so excited!!!

Pleasant Avenue Elementary

As word traveled quickly that Miss NY was in town, I was invited to the Lincoln Dinner with the Republican Club. I was able to meet many of the public officials from the area including Assemblyman Marc Butler and State Senator Hugh Farley. Everyone was excited that I was visiting their schools with an anti-bullying message.

Talking with Assemblyman Butler and Charlie Potter
Senator Farley
Tuesday took me to Albany where I lobbied for marriage equality in New York State with Marriage Equality New York and people from districts all over the state. Only 4 districts were not represented and we covered their senators with education, letters and conversations. I met with my senator, Dan Squadron, who is one of our biggest allies in the senate. I remember during the discussion for the vote last year, he shared that after his own wedding to his wife, he first-hand experienced the joy of the most beautiful day of his life and therefore would never vote to not let every person experience that. So our meeting was about thanking him and asking advice for who we should speak to and with what approach. I also went to meetings with Sen. Carl Krueger (Brooklyn) and Sen. Adabbo (Queens). Both are Democrats who voted NO in the last marriage vote. In both meetings, their issue (relayed by council/staff) mainly came from the conflict of personal belief vs. voting to represent the opinions of their constituents. We were informed of the numbers: 40% Irish Catholic people, 40% Orthodox Jewish people, etc etc. To that I responded that I understood those percentages but also recognize that each stat ended with "people." Isn't that what this is all about? This is not a religious debate - remember separation of church and state? It is about affording all people equal human and civil rights - protection and recognition under the law. And there is no requirement for religious institutions to "marry" anyone.

My district's lobby group - good work everyone!
HRC liaison, David and Sen. Kennedy, Buffalo
A big question of the day: Why aren't civil unions enough? Because currently, there are 1,324 rights given to a couple with the word "marriage" whereas a civil union is not recognized the same in every state. If a couple who married in MA, CT or VT lives in NJ but works in NY, then they are married and unmarried every time they cross the Hudson River on the PATH train daily, because NJ and NY recognize civil unions differently. Doesn't that just seem silly?

Overall it was a fantastic few days upstate and I'm so thankful to the Gagne Family for being such wonderful hosts. I know I made an impact on the kids I spent time with, and come time for a vote on marriage equality in NY, we will see how much of an impact I had there in Albany. Regardless, it was motivating to see people's excitement about meeting Miss New York and seeing her active in their communities-that reminds me of the wonderful work the Miss America Organization continues to do through each of us.

Here is a great article from an interview I did with Syracuse.com following my trip upstate.
Miss N.Y. says her gay-rights platform has 'heart behind it'

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"I'm about to blog about you and your awesomeness..."

That's what I just said to Alyse Eady, Miss Arkansas and 1st RU to Miss America, but probably cooler - my roomie at Miss A. :) hehe just kidding.  Being 1st RU to Miss A is waaay cooler...and doing it as a ventriloquist.

Well, I got really lucky at Miss America because I had an awesome roommate. You spend a lot of time with this person, and they're the person around during your "downtime" or "personal time," so it's not so personal.  But that's the reason Alyse and I were such good roommates - we had a great time talking and getting to know each other, and we had a great time not talking, sitting in our beds texting our families, directors and boyfriends, not worrying about entertaining each other.  Many of the roommates become very close at Miss A and then rarely see each other because they live half way across the country.  Well Alyse and I do, but because of her awesomeness and ventriloquism entertainment, Alyse came out to NYC the two weekends following Miss A for media, so we got to keep seeing each other!

The first weekend was David Letterman, where she got to perform "I Want to Be a Cowboy Sweetheart," her talent from Miss America, and [kinda] receive flowers from David Letterman - hahaha it was a wonderfully awkward moment that got a lot of laughs on TV. She impressed the other guests obviously, because each of them mentioned her in their interviews with Mr. Letterman.  I was able to go to the show taping and watch it live in the audience - so exciting! Afterwards to celebrate, we went with her traveling companion to Jersey Boys on Broadway then watched the David Lettermen show together later that evening.  Back to Arkansas.

Back to NYC! This time, Alyse came to perform and interview LIVE on Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.  Then Egypt happened.  So instead of performing live, we waited, she rehearsed, we took a break to meet up with Kaitlin Davis and Maria DeSantis for Crumbs Cupcakes, and came back at about 10:30pm to tape her segment for a later air date, TBD.  It was so neat because I got to be right there on set with her and watch the whole thing live.  Rachel Maddow LOVES Alyse Eady and her talent.  haha She is obsessed.  Right after Miss America, she played videos of her talent from Miss A and from Miss Teen Arkansas (click to view).  And now that Egypt has settled, Rachel Maddow featured the Alyse Eady segment as the Moment of Joy for the week (Friday 2/11/11).  She got to sing a new song, and this time interview as well which is just as wonderful to watch.

Afterwards, since it was a taped segment rather than a live show, we got to hang out with Rachel a bit and chat.  I was really honored to meet her, yes because she's Rachel Maddow, but also because Alyse and I have a friendship where she wanted me to be there and meet Rachel, knowing that I wasn't there to try to steal her thunder, but instead this was something we were experiencing excitedly together.  That's a really cool thing.  We had a great talk about my platform but then the real question came.  "So how do you pose like that? Can you teach me??"  And so this video ensued...

Alyse Eady, current Miss Arkansas and first runner up in 2011 Miss America pageant,
and Claire Buffie, Miss New York, teach Rachel Maddow how to pose for a photograph like a model.

There are other behind the scenes videos of Alyse on set as well. What a cool experience!!

•  Alyse explains how to work "Rosie"  -- haha with Rachel and my conversation in the background.
•  Executive Producer gives a sneak peek

Friday, February 11, 2011

Back in full force...

After my much needed bit of hibernation, drowned in thank you notes and sponsor recognition, attempting to sift through emails (although I know I haven't made it through them all), I am back at it, full-throttle. After the Block Institute's Brightest Star kicked off my appearances, I had a great week that included visiting PS 41 in Staten Island and taking a little tour with Linda Carbo, checking out some of the new host restaurants and hotels for the 2011 Miss NY Week. At the school I hung out with a 1st grade class and then headed into the auditorium for an assembly of all 4th and 5th graders. Once again, they took the responsibility to end bullying on themselves - accepting their duties as bystanders to become "upstanders."
Miss Salice's 1st graders at PS 41
with the Principal, Vice Principal and Miss Salice of PS 41
That evening, I shifted gears and attended a fundraiser for the Ali Forney Center, also Ronnie Kroell's birthday celebration, as a celebrity host. Thursday brought the Fox5 taping with Aman, Block Institute's Brightest Star, a meeting with a former judge of mine who had a lot of wisdom to share, and a pre-event for Jeffery Fashion Cares at David Yurman on Madison Ave. I was able to meet a lot of great people, some excited fans of Miss America, and people who are doing great things for the LGBT community. Jackie Holmes, Miss Manhattan, attended the event with me. Since I will not be able to attend the actual JFC event because I'll be in Washington DC, I wanted to make the intro so that the next Miss Manhattan could have the opportunity!

Randy Jones, from the Village People, at Ronnie Kroell's Fundraiser
Ronnie Kroell, me, Jackie Holmes Miss Manhattan, at David Yurman / Jeffrey Cares pre-launch
Friday, I went back out to Long Island for another school presentation with an auditorium FULL of 5th-8th graders at Plainview Old-Bethpage MS. At the end of their Tolerance and Spirit week, I spoke on Tolerance - but pushed it to true acceptance, respect and embracing diversity of course - and Rohan Murphy spoke on Spirit. He had quite an exciting and motivating story: a very determined, hard-working and as a result, very successful high school and college wrestler, all without legs. Try to follow that. Well I did, and I think we really summed up their week in an exciting way, but of course with an important message from two different perspectives.

Rohan Murphy - Tolerance & Spirit week at Plainview Old Bethpage MS

When signing autographs for the kids, I had one special girl, Maddie, come up to me.  In my presentation I had shared my favorite quote: 

Look out for your thoughts; they'll soon become your words.
Look out for your words; they'll soon become your actions.
Look out for your actions; they'll soon become your habits.
Look out for your habits; they'll soon become your character.
Look out for your character; it will soon become your destiny.

She was very inspired by the quote and in turn wanted to share her favorite with me...that she wrote:

If the whole world was blind,
we could not have discrimination differences,
but since we are blessed to see,
we should focus on seeing the goodness in people.

It's moments like this that make me remember that I have the best job in the world!

Block Institute's Brightest Star

Last Saturday, Keelie Sheridan, Miss Greater NYC, invited and organized a few local titleholders and myself to participate in the Block Institute's Brightest Star competition. It was the final round of the Institute's pageant competition wherein 10 finalists represented their preliminary awards including .... I was a guest judge and it was definitely a hard job! The video presentations were impressive, giving a glimpse into the lives of these very capable yet developmentally disabled adults, highlighting their independence and community service.

Aman and Phillip - two of my favorites!
The Judges and Aman, Block Institute's Brightest Star

Aman Khajah came away the winner, a fan favorite because of his Michael Jackson dance moves. I was excited to be featured on Fox5 Good Day Street Talk with Aman and his father on Saturday. Check it out!

The Brooklyn Eagle also wrote an article...HERE

About Block Institute:

Block Institute of Brooklyn, New York, a non-profit, non-sectarian agency is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families. Established in 1962, Block Institute has extensive experience providing individualized services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

For nearly 50 years, Block Institute has been a beacon of hope for the developmentally disabled and their families. Our program offerings include Special Education and Evaluation Services for children with special needs ages three to eight years old. For adults with disabilities who are age 18 and older, we provide Day Habilitation, Vocational Services, Day Treatment, and quality Residential Care in a family like setting. Our adult programs help individuals with disabilities to develop increased independence, individuality, productivity and community inclusion. We firmly believe that every individual, no matter his or her disability, has the potential to achieve greater independence, and lead a more fulfilling life.

Block Institute is committed to community awareness, sensitivity, and acceptance of individuals with disabilities. We are devoted to providing our services in environments that promote dignity, personal well-being, and good health.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Here's how we did it...

This is part of a conversation I had yesterday...
friend: "...you need to take a class on it, though."
me: "I have about $15,000 in scholarship, so that's definitely something I can look into at NYU."
friend: "But let's be honest, didn't it cost you $15K to go to Miss America? The dresses, the talent....?"

Thanks to my incredible sponsors...no! Now did I wear about $15K at Miss America? Perhaps! But just take a look at how it all happens in the lovely descriptions below :) (yes, total nerd alert. But a very thankful nerd at that!)

Evening Gown
Back in September, I met Carry O'Neal from Regalia Magnificent Apparel (Orlando, FL) at the Jovani headquarters in NYC to pick out this dress from the Jovani Couture Collection. It was the first day the dress had arrived - no one had even tried it on yet! I knew it was THE dress and they just said ok! We won't even photograph it for the website and it will be seen on you first at Miss America! (Alterations by Debbie Smith at Red Carpet Pageant and Prom - Alisha Hill shoes from Regalia)

Miss America provides each contestant with a few swimsuit choices sponsored by La Blanca and shoes by DSW. (Alterations by Jody Pelletier)

My personal training was provided by Ben Yosef, president of MiBoLife Fitness. I paid for my gym membership and he donated his services for free, working me out 3-5 times a week from September to January. Extra cardio and great studios for rehearsal space for talent all took place at New York Health and Racquet Club who gives Miss NY a year membership for free!

Red Carpet Pageant and Prom (Wayne/Sewell, NJ) sponsored my talent outfit: a custom made dance costume by Jody Pelletier (Atlanta, GA). I flew down - first class for free on AirTran, Miss NY's flight sponsor, and Jody had made 2 different mock-ups based on our phone discussions and photo sharing of Miley Cyrus/Dancing with the Stars costumes. I tried them on and later that night, came back for a fitting and feather planning!

My heels were provided by Phil LaDuca of LaDuca Shoes, thanks to the introduction of my amazing choreographer, Laurie Kanyok.

All of my choreography fees for Laurie and some rehearsal space was sponsored by Break the Floor productions, owned and operated by Gil Stroming (Alison, MNYOT's older brother).

My music, "Bye Bye Blackbird," was a custom arrangement and creation by Jeremy Roberts. The Miss NY organization paid for this track, much thanks to the Evening with Miss NY, put on by Ronnie Kroell in November.

On-stage Question 
This one is funny...at Red Carpet Pageant and Prom in Wayne, NJ, I found this GREAT red dress-asymmetric, texture/structure, totally me-it was a size 14, and the only one left from a designer who had closed his line. This is where Debbie Smith really impressed me. She did not just alter this dress, but practically remade it! You try taking a size 14 dress down to a 4, belt included! Amazing.

Off Night Dresses 
Tuesday preliminary, I wore a gorgeous Sherri Hill, ice blue crystal empire waist chiffon dress borrowed from Red Carpet. And Wednesday preliminary, I wore my white, Miss NY state dress, a Jovani dress originally from Red Carpet.

Cocktail Dresses 
One visitation dress was my on-stage question dress, in addition to 2 other fantastic cocktail dresses altered and sponsored by Red Carpet. Also, my up close and personal dress that I also wore at the Eiffel Tower appearance and my Miss America send off was provided by Red Carpet.

Debbie (alterations), Chris, me, Trish (owner Red Carpet), Lynn (Wayne location)

Cosmetic Sponsors
My tanning, custom airbrush, and iSunless to take during the week (and spray Miss VA and AR) was all sponsored by Beach Bum Tanning.

Hair by Vartali Salon - color by Michael, and cut by the owner, Vartan.

Skin treatment by Dr. Virgil Hatcher and Violeta, aesthetician, at Chelsea Dermatology.

Tooth whitening and contouring from Dr. Goldstein in Atlanta, GA.

So what did I pay for? 
With the $1,100 from Miss America (so really I didn't pay for much...) that each contestant receives, I bought a set of HD makeup and brushes and lip gloss from Sephora, accessories, 1 new pair of black shoes, parade attire (except the shoes sponsored by DSW of course), all the extras (adds up!!!) and my interview outfit.

My interview dress is by Lauren Gabrielson. So awesome to be able to walk in my Miss America interview as Miss NY with "Made in Manhattan" on my tag! Although I paid for my dress, Lauren has offered to let me wear her dresses any time for appearances. I tried on an army green dress, asked to have it made in blue and when we received it, something was just off...so I talked to Lauren who gave me the options of altering the blue for free or just exchanging for the green, which I went with. And LOVED!

And I flew to Vegas VIP first class, for free, with free baggage including the overweight one, thanks to Miss America luggage tags, on AirTran Airways!

When I got to Las Vegas, I was totally ready because I had incredible preparation from our Miss NY board and family, specifically Leigh-Taylor Smith for interview, Paul, Kenny, Gene, Ken and Diane and many of their friends on mock interviews, Hannah Kiefer for mocks, and Kandice Pelletier for motivation, styling (intro to Lauren Gabrielson) and talent/presentation.  Of course my family is hugely supportive and made this entire experience possible, emotionally and mentally; my parents in particular have granted me incredible security during my year as Miss NY in order to make the most of every opportunity to serve my community and spread our message.

Now you can agree that I'm one of the luckiest girls on earth!