When alumna Samantha Russo first got involved with the Miss America Organization on the local level in Feb. 2012, she entered the Miss Boston pageant and lost. Now, the former journalism student snagged the state title, Miss New Hampshire, and is one of 53 Miss America hopefuls competing for the crown on Sept. 15 in Atlantic City, N.J.
“It was my first time competing at the state level and I really didn’t believe it when I won,” said Russo, a Nashua, N.H. resident. “Now, I want to be the first Miss New Hampshire to be crowned Miss America.”
The self-proclaimed tomboy said she never pictured herself winning the state title, or even competing for the national title.
“When I did Miss Boston, I didn’t see the bigger picture,” she said. “I’m not your typical pageant girl.”
Russo’s interest in the competition sparked following graduation, as the reality of paying off student loans began to set in, she said.
“As we all know, college isn’t cheap and we’re not getting six-figure jobs right out of college,” said Russo. “The Miss America Organization provides women with more scholarship money than any organization in the world and, for this one year alone of competing, I have earned [a total of] $17,000 to pay off my student loans.”
Since being crowned Miss New Hampshire, Russo said she travels the state, speaking at events, performing her vocal talent, and promoting her platform, Kick Butts: Tobacco Education and Prevention.
“The reason I chose this as my platform is because I have watched many people in my family struggle with their tobacco addictions my whole life,” she said. “I want to do everything in my power to educate our youth on the dangers of tobacco.”
Aside from gaining recognition as a local celebrity, Russo said she also has to prepare for Miss America. According to the Miss America Organization’s website, the pageant is divided into phases including talent, lifestyle, and evening gown. Russo said she trained by taking voice lessons, following a strict fitness and nutrition plan, and participating in mock interviews.
“Everyone prepares differently and I am so lucky to have an amazing group of sponsors to help me out along the way,” she said.
Brenda Keith, the president and executive director of the Miss New Hampshire Organization, said Russo embodies the objectives of both the Miss America and Miss New Hampshire organizations.
“She is a lovely young woman whose work ethic is outstanding and she is very natural and relatable,” said Keith. “She is absolutely ready [for Miss America]—she was ready at least a month ago.”
However, the duties of a reigning state queen, Russo said, are far from all work and no play. Besides competition wardrobe and preparation sponsors, Russo said she is living the high life with a free car for a year, free manicures, make-up, and massages, as well as numerous gifts, prizes, and unforgettable experiences.
The contestants are currently in Atlantic City, Russo said in an Aug. 27 interview with the Beacon, attending rehearsals and participating in appearances such as a Phillies v. Braves game, private dinners, and a Blondie concert. This week, the girls will take part in preliminary competitions, divided into three nights, which began Sept. 10.
On the first night, Russo performed in the talent phase, singing her own rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from the musical Funny Girl, and took home a trophy and a $2,000 scholarship as the preliminary talent winner. She will also take part in the on-stage question and the eveningwear phases later on in the week leading up to the crowning event on Sept. 15.
With Miss America returning to Atlantic City after six years in Las Vegas comes the return of many age-old traditions, such as the Show Us Your Shoes parade, which will take place on Sept. 14, and showcase each contestant’s one-of-a-kind outfits and shoes designed to represent herself and her state.
After passing on her crown and title, Russo said she hopes to go back to school and get a Masters in Sports Business.
“I have gained confidence from each phase of competition,” Russo said. “My advice [for someone interested in pageants] is just to go for it because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
The Miss America competition will air on ABC Sept 15 at 8 p.m..