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That Time I Met Miss America

by Jennifer Nachshen / Photos by photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization, photo by Jennifer Nachshen

I can sing the Miss America  theme song off by heart. I know what my talent would be (speed reading) and I have practiced wearing a tiara on a number of occasions, often after a glass of wine or three. I’m also really good at smiling. No, I’m lying about the last one.

But seriously, if I weren’t Canadian, shy about walking on stage in a bikini and over a decade too old, I’m pretty sure I could put up a good fight for the crown.

Or so I thought until I met Mallory Hagan, the Alabama-born Brooklynite who went from Miss New York to Miss America with a whip-smart answer about gun control (“I don’t think the proper way to fight violence is with violence.”) and a tap shoe tribute to James Brown. The smiley blond beauty is the kind of girl you hate to love, with high cheekbones, an even higher behind, an easy laugh and a surprisingly sharp sense of humour. Girl even knows how to eat a cupcake like a gentleman. And worst of all, she’s modest about all of it. Grrr.

The recently crowned Miss America was in town to pick out her wardrobe from local designer, Joseph Ribkoff, a longtime supporter of the Miss America program. Even though she’s sent a box of new duds for each stop on her tour, she likes to pop in and say hi to the crew that dresses her. She also stopped by the Montreal Children’s Hospital (tidbit: She’s not allowed to let anyone wear the crown, but she breaks the rules for little kids) and to have lunch with a few members of the media. Did I mention she chowed down on lasagna and chocolate mousse? Do you want to hate her? Well, you can’t. I won’t let you.

Mallory Hagan is a decidedly different Miss America in an organization that is evolving to rid itself of its fuddy duddy, beauty-focused image. Though the pageant originated as a swimsuit competition, Hogan tells us that Miss America is “finally moving away from that ideal of perfection and focusing a lot more on education. We’ve always been a scholarship-based organization but now we are really digging deep into science engineering technology and math careers to promote that for young women. It’s not about being the most beautiful. It’s about living a well-rounded lifestyle and being the best version of you that you can be.”

Hagan sees herself as one of the first Miss Americas who truly represents the more individualistic ideal. She told us: “Whenever you’re being judged you start becoming a version of what someone else has instructed you to be. It speaks volumes that we had so many girls like we had this year who are so strong in who they are. I was not the most beautiful contestant on the stage. I was not the most physically fit. I did not have the most outstanding talent. I didn’t win any of the preliminary awards. But I’m comfortable with who I am and I think that showed. They say Miss America is won in the interview, in how you express yourself and communicate with others. And I know that’s what set me apart.”

Hagan comes by pageantry honestly. Her mom was a pageant choreographer and she started competing in Alabama when she was thirteen.”I kept being a runner-up so I thought, maybe if I keep going back I’ll finally win,” she admitted. “So here I am, eleven years later…out of eight state pageants I was a runner-up five times. This year would have been my last shot.”

For the next 8 months, Hagan will be living out of suitcases, traveling around North America. She requested that all her hotels have an easily accessible gym, but she admitted the lunches and dinners are taking a toll on her enviably tiny waistline. She misses her boyfriend who lives in NYC and is frequently teased about dating Miss America. When she has a few days off she gets together with her co-contestants and past winners. Though we might like to believe the girls have sweetly sinister smiles and well-manicured claws, Hagan shared that it just isn’t the case:”I’ve actually hung out with every state title holder when I’ve been in their town. Every girl I know through Miss America has the people she competed with standing beside her when she gets married.  You get so close because no one else will ever understand what you went through other than the other girls who were there with you. So we all have that bond.”

What’s next for Miss America (once she turns back into Ms Hagan in September)? She’ll finish her degree in Fragrance and Cosmetics Marketing at the Fashion Institutes of Technology. She’ll keep speaking on behalf of her personal platform Stop it Now: Child Sexual Abuse, working with an organization that educates kids through child safety workshops. She’d also like to break into the entertainment industry as a host. And she’ll keep tap dancing, just because she loves it.

And no, she doesn’t have to give back her tiara.

Become a fan of Miss America on Facebook and follow Mallory on Twitter