We met 2015 Miss America Kira Kazantsev at the Union Square Hotel recently. Kira has Long Island connections, she graduated from Hofstra University.
What's your favorite thing about being Miss America?
My favorite thing about being Miss America is getting to hang out with kiddos like you guys. You make my job so fun. I serve as a national goodwill ambassador for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. So it means I visit a lot of kids in hospitals all over the country. So when I get to see kids it really makes my day. It makes me happy. It makes me feel like I'm really making an impact.
What was your first job?
I think when I was 12 or 13, I was a golf cart girl at a local golf course and washed golf carts. And then I did a little bit at the Cheesecake Factory. I was a hostess there when I was 17 or 18. I worked in restaurants my whole life and actually when I won Miss America I was working at a restaurant at the time right down the street. So my life has really changed.
Did you ever think you would ever be Miss America?
Growing up I thought you had to be super tall. I don't know if you noticed I'm only 5' 5". I'm not tall, I'm kind of short. So when I was little I just didn't think it was something that I could do and two years ago I thought, you know what I'm just going to try, I'm going to see what happens and here I am hanging out with you guys.
Do you have any pets?
I do. I have a dog named Max who's a chocolate Lab. He's getting a little old. He lives with my parents in California. Unfortunately I can't travel with him. I'm only allowed two suitcases so he would take up an entire part of my luggage.
What is your favorite food?
I love pizza so much. I love street hot dogs especially New York City ones. I think pizza might beat street hot dogs. Do you know what I like to eat it with? I like to eat it with ranch dressing. It's like my favorite. It's kind of weird. You've got to try it sometime.
What's your favorite thing about being in a pageant?
There's this stereotype of all the girls being really mean to each other, but in my case that's really not true. My favorite part are the friends that I made and every single day the girls, they text me, they call me; they make sure I'm doing OK. They're constantly checking in on me. My favorite part of the pageant is making friends with people that understand what you're going through.
How long does it take to get ready?
It's a big process. Leading up to Miss America, that was two years worth of stuff because you have to develop your platform, you have to be healthy, for lifestyle and fitness, you have get a dress and talent and all these different things. Between winning Miss New York and winning Miss America, I had about 3 months. But I had already done so much other preparation even before I won Miss New York. It's just an ongoing thing that you're constantly working toward.
Is being Miss America fun?
Yes it's really fun. I get to travel. I'm actually in a different city every 48 hours and I do about 20,000 miles a month on the road. It's a lot of traveling and I get to meet different people like you guys and do some really cool stuff. Things only Miss America gets to do. So it's really fun. It's a lot of hard work.
Who inspired you?
I worked for Sen. [Kirsten] Gillibrand, the U.S. Senator from New York, one of them. And I was an intern for her. And she inspired me to really be a strong advocate for women and be a strong female role model. So she inspired that side of it, but on the other side, my mom. My mom is an amazing talented woman that I always wanted to be like. So she really inspires me.
What did you think when they called your name as Miss America?
I don't know if you guys have seen that on YouTube, but it's quite the experience. When he said three-peat that meant I was the third Miss New York in a row to win Miss America. So I knew three-peat meant I had won. My mind was just, 'Oh, my God, this is insane.' Just that moment of walking down the runway and all your hard work paying off is a really special thing.