December 7, 2019 was one of the biggest days leading up to the Miss New York USA pageant. The Pre-Pageant Orientation was the first opportunity for us to meet our fellow contestants in person as we approached one of the busiest and most exciting weekends.
The night before, I got a manicure and went to bed early, since there was a long and busy day ahead. I prepared my clothes for easy access in the morning – black High-Waisted Stevie Ponte-Knit Pants from Old Navy, a lace floral print shirt from Boom Babies, and black patent leather booties from DSW. No dress code was specified, and I had no idea what others would be wearing, so the uncertainty made me a bit nervous.
That Saturday morning, I woke up early and made my way to Grand Central to catch the Metro North Train to White Plains, NY. The host hotel for pageant weekend was the Crown Plaza White Plains-Downtown, and this was also where the pre-orientation took place. The hotel was a 7-minute Uber ride from the train station. I arrived really early, so I spent a significant amount of time sitting in the hotel lobby. Since some contestants were not local, they had stayed overnight at the hotel. As I saw them passing through the lobby, their outfits varied; some wore jeans, a sweater, and flats; and others wore a jumpsuit and stilettos. I definitely felt comfortable in my attire choice.
During this time before the orientation started, there was a trunk show with evening gowns, jewelry, and activewear. At this time, I was all set with my attire, so I just admired dresses from afar. I had considered purchasing jewelry but ended up not doing so. Before the pre-orientation, contestants could also have made an appointment to have their makeup done and program headshots taken by the photographer sponsor.
At the beginning of the program, a pageant staff member said, “Everyone close your eyes. Raise your hand if you have never competed in a pageant. Now open.” I opened my eyes and saw many other hands raised – definitely more than half the room. The pageant staff member continued, “See, we didn’t lie to you when we spoke on the phone.”
The producer for the pageant led most of the orientation and discussed logistics, dos and don’ts, roommates, attire, and expectations. During the pre-orientation, if we met someone we’d want to room with, we could sign up as roommates. Contestants can only have roommates in their division, so a Miss contestant cannot room with a Teen contestant. In addition to the attire that we needed to wear for competing, we were advised to keep all of our belongings organized and to label everything, such as shoes and luggage. The producer shared stories of disorganized contestants being unable to find a shoe, borrowing one from another contestant, and competing in the finals in two different sized left shoes. The same goes for misplacing swimsuits, especially those that are two-piece. Need I say more?
Regarding the expectations for the competition, the producer emphasized the importance of finishing what you start, regardless of the outcome. This weekend is about competing with the best version of yourself. Also, if you don’t win, it’s okay to be disappointed, but you cannot be devastated.
We were introduced to the pageant weekend security, as they reviewed safety procedures. As both security and the producer said, there are curfews each night for when we needed to be in our hotel room for the night. If someone is asleep, chaperones doing bed checks will pull back blankets to make sure the correct contestant is there. If someone is in the shower at the time of her bed check, the chaperone will either wait or the contestant can pop her head out the bathroom door. No contestants are allowed in any rooms, other than her own, including her parents’ hotel room. No family members are allowed in contestant rooms.
Things got really interesting at orientation when we were informed of the opening dance number. There were four groups in which we would assign ourselves, based on our dance experience – easy, medium, hard, and elite. I went for the easy group, since I haven’t danced since the after-school program in 4th grade. The group we chose did not need the be our group for the pageant. We were going to be emailed instructional videos to practice each of the dances following pre-orientation, so if a contestant did not attend pre-orientation or thought that she would be better suited for another group, she could decide upon watching the other instructional dance videos.
Once we split into our four groups, we rotated through different sessions. One session included, checking in with pageant staff to see if all of our paperwork was turned in, what was missing, and how much sponsorship is outstanding. Another session was shopping at the trunk show and meeting with pageant sponsors, such as the CIA Agency, which is the pageant weekend hair and makeup company. I told the representative from CIA Agency how I would like my hair for the competition. Since I have curly hair, she said to come with my hair clean and blown out straight; the staff would be working with many contestants and coming with hair blown out would save time, so hair styling can immediately begin.
After these sessions, I went downstairs to a hotel conference room, where we met with the reigning queens; Florinda Kajtazi, Miss New York USA 2019 and Hailey Germano, Miss New York Teen USA 2019. This was an opportunity for the 2020 state finalists to ask the queens questions. Questions ranged from their experience competing in the state pageant, competing in Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, challenges they’ve faced as queens, and nail polish color for the pageant. Florinda informed the Miss contestants of the importance of purchasing butt glue for the swimsuit competition. This is important, because naturally, the swimsuit will move as we walk. When contestants make it to the end of the runway and turn around, we don’t want the audience to see the swimsuit “riding up.” She also informed us of how to apply it:
- Put on the swimsuit, as normal
- Give yourself a wedgie with the swimsuit
- Apply the glue to your butt cheeks
- Undo the wedgie and smoothly lay the swimsuit over your tush
Following pre-orientation, I purchased It Stays Roll-On Body Adhesive.
Not to give too much information, but since I have sensitive skin, I tested it when it arrived to ensure that I wasn’t allergic.
Prior to leaving the session with the queens, we were able to take photos with them.
My last session was with the choreographers, as we learned the easy portion of the dance for the opening number. The choreographers taught a few steps at a time, practiced the dance, then gradually added on steps. I caught on pretty quickly, the steps were relatively simple, and I didn’t feel totally awkward. We were dancing to Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels by Todrick Hall. They informed us of the importance of practicing the dance once we received the video, as there would not be time to teach the dance, only rehearse, during pageant weekend.
Following these sessions everyone regrouped in the hotel ballroom for closing remarks. Many contestants left when orientation concluded, but I didn’t. I signed up for a walking class. I guess I’ve been walking the wrong way my whole life….