FACT: You are more likely to have a son play in the Super Bowl than you are to have a daughter compete for Miss America.
This weekend, as people all over the US watch the biggest game of the year, dozens of women from across Nebraska are gathering in North Platte, hoping this is the first step in their journey to Atlantic City and the iconic crown.
Not so long ago, a New York college student was doing her own preparation.. planning, hard work and drive that ultimately catapulted her into the national spotlight and cemented her place in the storied history of the Miss America Program.
Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev
“I will always be incredibly proud to be associated with the Miss America title,” Kira told me recently. “Only about 90 women can even say that! It has enriched my life more than I can convey, not to mention the personal growth, relationships, and experiences I have had ever since.”
Kira grew up in California and showed early on she was a talented, charismatic leader. She held two state pageant titles by 16 years old, she was Student Body President of her high school, and a member of the Varsity Cheerleading Squad. Kira moved to New York after high school to triple major in political science, global studies and geography. At Hofstra University, Kira maintained a 3.6 GPA, she studied in Barcelona and she held multiple internships in political consultancy in Washington DC. Somewhere, she found time to compete for the title of Miss New York, winning on her second try in 2014.
“The thing about being Miss New York is that it’s unlike any other state, especially if you’ve spent any time living in the city,” said Kira. “You are fighting to maintain relevance in a place that has so much other stuff going on, you can easily slip into the shadows. You are also being exposed to high profile events, people and opportunities constantly which is great preparation for Miss America. In New York our pageant culture is very unique. The girl is very much in charge of her own preparation. I chose every piece of my wardrobe, I worked hard to get sponsors that I wanted, and I took the subway to the Bronx and Brooklyn for appearances that I scheduled myself. We have an incredible board and support team, but Miss New York herself leads the charge. It is tough and requires grit but that’s a recipe for one heck of a Miss America contestant.”
Proof: Kira made history in September of 2014, becoming the 3rd straight Miss New York to be crowned Miss America.
“I remember a blur of screaming and lights and turning around to see all of my Miss America sisters smiling and clapping,” said Kira.”
A dream come true for countless little girls and young women across America, one that was quickly tainted by a small group trying to muddy Kira’s reputation. They criticized her talent, a song-and-Solo-cup routine mirroring Anna Kendrick’s viral video. They questioned her character regarding her participation in sorority activities. Here was a woman who speaks three languages, was an honors student with three majors, an elite golfer, and she just did the impossible by becoming the 3rd consecutive contestant from one state to win that national title.. and she was being virtually assaulted by critics within days of her groundbreaking success.
“People focus on the negatives because 1: It makes them feel better about themselves and 2: The higher you rise, the more people will want to tear you down, because that is just the way many people are,” said Kira. “I learned that lesson very early on as Miss America. It taught me who my true friends were and who was really there for me. I don’t focus on the negative. If I did, I would still be sitting and responding to the millions of nasty tweets and comments I’ve gotten over the last few years. Instead, I focus on the positive, the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish, and the goals I continue to aspire to.”
Kira won me over through her reign as Miss America… starting with this:
…a photo shoot with her cup. She stood tall in the face of all the haters and OWNED it. Something about this photo made me smile and think ‘you go, girl!’
‘Miss America isn’t a talent show. Talent is meant to show you can entertain, you can connect with people. That is the job of Miss America.’
It was the first of MANY photos of Kira, taking the world by storm.
Kira returned the Miss America brand to the national spotlight, appearing at and/or presenting at numerous awards shows (and often featured in the Best Dressed section after!) She was the first Miss America in 43 years to visit troops overseas with the USO.
And Kira shared her spotlight with her biggest.. yet smallest fans, as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
‘Remember when you are fundraising, there are tiny human beings on the other end who benefit from that. No matter what challenges we face there are these little people who rely so much on us.’
She also embarked on a personal crusade against domestic violence, a campaign she dubbed ‘Put The Nail In It’. She partnered with Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, and started a social media revolution.
Kira painted her left ring fingernail purple, the color of the anti-domestic violence movement, and encouraged her half-million social media followers to do the same and unite together, as one collective voice, that we will support survivors and stop violence. Music stars, professional athletes, reality TV stars, and countless others across America proudly painted and posted.
“No one can prepare themselves for suddenly being the face of a social media movement!” said Kira. “But it was my greatest honor to be part of the creation of the ‘Put The Nail In It’ campaign. It continues to garner huge impressions on social media while spreading awareness for the cause. I couldn’t be more proud of it!”
By September of 2015, Kira Kazantsev was both sad to pass on her crown to new Miss America Betty Cantrell (click here to read more!) yet ready to begin a new adventure on her own.
“It was really hard for me to let go of a role I loved so much,” Kira told me. “At the same time, I was ecstatic to take everything I’d learned and venture out into the world as just Kira.”
Kira has since expanded upon the connections she made and experiences she had as Miss America. She’s hosted multiple events from the red carpet to the the non-profit world, she has performed and spoken at high profile venues across the country, and she’s played in numerous charity golf tournaments including the BMW Pro Am, and the Tiger Jam for the Tiger Woods Foundation. She is now based in Los Angeles, using her extraordinary social media knowledge and experience as the Director of Community Engagement for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the same organization she devoted so much of her life to as Miss America.
“I’ve definitely taken time to travel and do things for me, but sometimes my schedule these days feels just as busy if not busier than my time as Miss America and I love that!” said Kira. “I find that I’ve grown accustomed to that pace and If I’m not constantly doing something then I just feel a little off. I try to balance as much as I can but there’s nothing better than the thrill of accomplishment.”
And through that balance, Kira continues to be a role model for women of all ages and backgrounds. Through her social media and blog (click here for more!), Kira continues to advocate for health and fitness, chronicling how she faces the same challenges so many working women do regarding fast food and finding time to work out.
“It is always a struggle,” Kira told me. “I just remind myself that people battle disease, hunger, homelessness and far bigger problems than I could ever imagine every day, so I think I can find the will to make healthier eating choices and to get myself to the gym. Now, I’m not always on top of it, but I do my best and that’s all anyone can do. Life is full of choices and if we make the choice to take care of our bodies then somehow, someway, we find the time and we get it done. It is all about perspective.”
Kira is sharing that insight with dozens of Nebraska women this weekend at Crowns and Gowns 2017 in North Platte as a featured guest. She often thinks back on her own pageant journey, both her successes and her regrets.
“A million, but such is life and there is nothing I can do about them now,” said Kira. “I try and work on this, but instinctually after every appearance, speech, and interaction, I turn it over in my head a million times. Self doubt is my constant companion. However, I know that I am being my best possible self and putting my best foot forward, always, and I am proud of everything I have accomplished and continue to pursue.”
That is the self evaluation, the search within one’s self, that Kira hopes young women learn from her story. To speak out on what you believe in. To define this competition anyway you like and share your talents with the world. To set larger than life goals whether you are a local titleholder, or Miss America.
“Miss America is evolving and the ones who can keep up with those changes and be cutting edge in their definition of titleholders will remain at the forefront,” said Kira.
And to all of the young women competing for Miss Nebraska this year, dreaming of the day they could follow in Kira Kazantsev’s footsteps, this advocate, speaker, host and former Miss America has a message.
“Please just be YOU!” she said. “Be genuine, real and off the cuff but always be prepared. Do your research and work ahead of time and READY for a JOB. This is more than a pageant, it’s an opportunity that can change your life forever and bring you incredible experiences. At the same time, if it doesn’t work out, no big deal! We all have a plan and maybe being Miss Blah Blah isn’t part of yours and that’s ok. Miss America is A dream, not THE dream. There should be other things in your life that you are aspiring to like internships, colleges, charity work, and larger than life dreams. You’ve got this, and only YOU can make it happen.”
‘As a titleholder, you have the power to have a positive impact on somebody’s life. That’s why we do this, it’s not for the crown, it’s for these kids. It’s not about me, it’s about the title and what it makes people feel. Hold on to who you are and be confident in the person you want to be.’
Kira Kazantsev is available for public appearances and events. For booking information and more about Kira, CLICK HERE to visit her website. You can also follow Kira on social media: CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook, HERE to follow on Instagram.
The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.
CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook
The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.
CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook
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To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!