“The biggest misconception [about pageantry] is that title holders are just pretty girls who stand on a stage and wave.” For Yorkville native Alexandra Sprague, pageants are “not like that at all”. Pageant queens are actually community role models, regional representatives, agents for change, and public figures. “We work hard on our platforms and try to ignite social change. We raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network… We are so much more than just ‘pretty’.“
Sprague, Miss Mohawk Valley 2016, is one of three Utican residents who will be making their way to Staten Island in May to compete for the title of Miss New York. Thirty girls will spend a week together in the Big Apple before taking the stage to vie for the coveted state crown.
Utica is no stranger to pageant queens. Jeannette Adronis represented Utica at the 1922 Miss America pageant. Later, Marion Moselle competed and won Miss New York State 1942 as Miss Utica.
The Miss Oneida County pageant started in the early 1960s, and crowned a titleholder each year for nearly 40 years– including Miss New York 1981, Suzanne Alexander. Tammy Harris won the Miss Oneida County title in 1994, and then went on to win Miss New York State in 1996 as Miss Oswego County.
In 1953, Jeannine Bowman claimed the Miss Rome title and competed at Miss New York State pageant, where she took home the crown. Since then, there has been no Miss Rome competition held, and the Miss Oneida County pageant has since dissolved. However, this year marked the inaugural Miss Copper City pageant, held in Rome, for girls across the state. Ashley Davis, a Staten Island native, won the crown and will split her appearances between Rome and Staten Island.
During her private interview at the inaugural Miss Colonial Competition, Lauren Crandall, who went on to win the crown, was asked what she has gained from her seven years in pageantry. “When I first started competing I was a 17-year-old kid in highschool. I thought I had it all together, but in reality I had no idea. Through pageantry I have gained confidence, learned who I am, where I am going. I have a career path, plans to pursue my master’s degree, and a 5 year plan. I know who I am, what I want, and am willing to put forth the work to achieve my goals. The Miss America Organization has encouraged me to truly develop myself as a person and for that I am so thankful.”
Crandall, an Area Coordinator at Utica College, won her first pageant at age seventeen. The Miss Fonda Fair pageant is not a qualifying pageant for Miss New York, but she used it as a launching pad into pageantry. She competed for four more years, placing multiple times and often taking home community service awards, before finally winning a Miss New York local title: Miss Mohawk Valley 2014. From there she went on to win Miss Upstate New York 2015, and now Miss Colonial 2016.
Laurie Jean Britton of Rome, a former Oneida County pageant titleholder, experienced the positives of pageantry after competing in the Miss Greater Utica pageant, and then holding many titles in the Miss America System. “Some years later when I was done competing and the Miss Oneida County pageant no longer took place I wanted to provide a similar opportunity to young women from across the local region and so I began the Miss Mohawk Valley Scholarship Program in 2004.” This pageant gives girls from Oneida, Herkimer, Fulton, Montgomery, and now Schenectady Counties the chance to represent the Mohawk Valley at the state pageant.
Amanda Abdagic, graduate of Thomas R. Proctor High, won her first pageant when she was just eighteen. She competed in the 2013 Miss Mohawk Valley pageant held in Verona, where she performed an original poem explaining the unbreakable bond she has with her mother. She dedicated her year of service advocating for her platform “Coming Together to Say NO to Bullying.” This year she holds the title of Miss Empire Rose.
Amanda and Lauren will be returning to Staten Island to compete at Miss New York, but for Alex- this will be her first time competing. “These two women are absolutely amazing, and I consider myself so lucky to be able to go to Miss NY with them this May! As two former [Miss Mohawk Valleys], I know I can talk to them about anything and everything related to competing and they will be honest with me. I can’t wait to take on Staten Island with two other Uticans!”
“The Miss Mohawk Valley organization shaped me into the woman I am today.” Says co-executive director and former Miss Mohawk Valley 2012 Courtney Sheridan. “The best I can do is pay it forward by providing the same opportunities to the dynamic women of the Mohawk Valley.”
The last time three residents of Oneida County competed simultaneously at Miss New York was in 2000. Heather Jennie of Rome became Miss Oneida County, Katie Horn of Whitesboro became Miss Five Boroughs, and Laurie Jean (Fanfarillo) Britton of Rome became Miss Salt City.
The Miss New York pageant will be at the St. George Theater on Staten Island. The preliminary competition takes place May 27 and 28. The final competition, where the winner will be crowned, is May 29th.