Sunday, May 5, 2013

Operation Prom

Spring is here! It's the season of allergies, warmer weather, and Proms! Ah yes, I remember my Junior and Senior Proms. There was so much excitement in planning the whole evening out. Who would be my date? What color dress would I wear, with which strappy high-heeled sandal? Hair up or down? And which lovely duo would win prom king and queen? Most high-schoolers have been looking forward to this event for years, and it's no different for teens who have been living in a hospital, being treated for terminal illness.

We decided on a red called "I tripped on the red carpet" haha
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the Montefiore Children's Hospital in the Bronx. Operation Prom wanted to make sure that these sick kids got the same prom experience as healthy peers had. Operation Prom was founded in 2005, and their mission is to "provide resources, opportunity and mentoring to students in need." This organization helps those who are in poor financial standing or health celebrate the right of passage that is prom. And help they did. When I arrived, I found a group of beautiful young ladies gathered around a large table covered in makeup, jewelry and nail polish. Many were still in hospital gowns with IVs in tow. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. What girl doesn't love to get all dolled up? My teen queen and I also made many room visits to those who wouldn't be attending prom, hoping to at least brighten up their day for a moment.

Impressed by the great nail art going on!
Man. Those two hours I spent at that hospital have had such an effect on me. For that period of time, all of my stresses and problems were insignificant. This experience puts it all in perspective. These are teens with hopes and dreams and crushes and insecurities same as anyone else. They are forced to grow up very quickly as they battle illness these young bodies shouldn't see for several more decades. So, we need to preserve their childhood anyway that we can. Yesterday, my mission was to make every child smile. I pulled out my one-liners, made fun of myself, and even told my muffin joke (for those of you who know it, it's not funny, and kids laugh at how bad it is). Seeing their eyes light up, seeing their parents' eyes light up is such a gratifying experience.

And then I started thinking about volunteerism. As Miss NY USA I get to participate in many  philanthropic projects that help those in my community. And after every time, I leave with a full heart and a renewed sense of faith in people. We should all spend a few hours a week focusing our attention and efforts on others. Because it's in that giving that we truly experience a return.

I encourage you all to visit . Your old prom dresses, suits, donations and time are greatly appreciated and can bring so much joy into the lives of those who need it most.

Loved their dresses!!
My best friend, Taylor! She lives in Hell's Kitchen too!
And now for my own embarrassing prom pictures...

With my date, John.

On Prom Court, making a stank face. Not sure why haha.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Two Months from Today we will have a New Miss USA!

June 16th. Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas. Live on NBC 9pm EST. Donald Trump's Miss USA Pageant. I will be there, representing the resilient, historic, and fabulous state that is New York... and the anxiety attacks begin now.

When I won the title of Miss New York USA 2013, I knew that meant I would be competing at the national level, but it didn't seem real until they announced it. I grew up watching the Miss USA pageant on tv. My wide eyes would be glued to the screen, in awe of the gorgeous gowns and perfect figures. While I loved the idea of pageants, it was never my life goal to become Miss USA. I knew I wanted to be a performer, but I never thought I would be considered pretty enough to compete with these seemingly perfect women. (The back-brace awkwardness didn't exactly fuel my confidence.)

However, if there's one thing I've always known about myself is that I am beyond driven. I have a deluded amount of self confidence. In 8th grade I was awarded the "Most Likely to Succeed" superlative. I knew how to get stuff done. Well, now I'm here. With the opportunity of a lifetime. An experience some women have been dreaming about and dedicating themselves to for their whole lives. And I want it.

This may not have been the path I envisioned for myself, but I believe that I am here for a reason. Every hardship and let down that I have endured has brought me to this moment. I didn't book those tv pilots I was so close to getting, because I was meant to be here and hungry for this experience. All those failed relationships have allowed me to stay focused on myself and be available to commit to this competition. Every time I was in despair over a set-back or let down, God (or the universe, or whatever higher power you believe in), was shaking her head and smiling down at me thinking, 'if only you knew the great blessings I have in store for you!' Things are truly falling into place just as they should, and knowing all this humbles me in an amazing way.
The "Seriously? What is my life" face, the night I won. Wow, remember my dark hair?!

That brings us to the question, why do I want to win? I've always had a very competitive spirit, but even more than that, I feel a strong sense of responsibility. Being Miss USA is a job. Yes, photo shoots are fun, and red carpets are glamorous, but millions of young impressionable women, like 12-year-old back-brace wearing me, are looking up to you. As Miss USA, you are given the privilege of having a voice that others will listen to. It is an opportunity to do good work that last through several successors and change the lives of many. I am willing and prepared to take on that job and represent a hard-working, educated, and beautiful woman.

All that said, I'm still one of the biggest cheese-balls you'll ever meet. I love to make people laugh and laugh at myself. So, I need to find the humor in this. Otherwise, I will most likely go nuts. Yes, I want to do everything in my power to be prepared and be my best, but all that pressure on myself will take it's toll. For those who really know me, it's absolutely absurd that I wound up here. I must remember to enjoy the present moment, and not take myself too seriously. My quirkiness and animated spirit is what will set me apart, make me relatable to the public, and award me the Miss USA crown!
Stealing focus since the age of four :)

For all of you who have been there through my mini melt-downs and panic attacks, I appreciate you and thank you for your support and encouragement. I <3 NY

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Theatre and Activism. My Tuesday Night.

Who doesn't love a provocative piece of theatre? Classic musicals will always have their toe-tapping charm, but there's nothing like a play that leaves you inspired and perturbed. On Tuesday night, "Hit the Wall," an exciting play by Chicago playwright Ike Holter, did just that.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago describes the play like this:

"It's the summer of '69 and the death of music icon Judy Garland has emboldened her gay followers. A routine police raid on an underground Greenwich Village hotspot erupts in to a full-scale riot, the impetus of the modern gay rights movement. That's the well-known, oft-rehearsed myth of Stonewall, anyhow. Smash that myth against the vivid theatrical imagination of playwright Ike Holter, add a howling live rock 'n roll band, and you get the world premiere play, Hit the Wall. Remixing this historic confrontation reveals ten unlikely revolutionaries, caught in the turmoil and fighting to claim 'I was there.'"

"Hit the Wall" was first produced by The Inconvenience in Chicago, and then moved to the Barrow Street Theatre, just steps away from the Stonewall Inn. I walked down those very streets where the riots  happened only a few decades ago to get to the theatre. Talk about surreal. Even more surreal was watching one of my close high school friends perform with this brilliant ensemble cast. I always knew Arturo Soria would have a brilliant career. I also knew him when he was just Arthur. Sitting in that audience, I was so proud of his selfless, honest, and intelligent performance.

This production is a must see. I don't enjoy writing theatre critiques; I did enough of them in college, but I do enjoy discussing the experience. So please, go see this highly relevant and passionate piece of theatre, and then we can go get coffee and talk about how fabulous it was. I will, however, leave you with a few comments about the performance.

I felt helpless at many times throughout the show. This play is very up-front about our society's view of homosexuality in the late 60's, and as an audience member you realize how not much has changed today. Yes, we are making progress when it comes to equal rights regardless of sexual orientation, however, equality is more than a law. Equality is a viewpoint, and unfortunately, many American's still choose to be blind. Barrow Street Theatre could not have picked a better time to produce this play. As the Supreme Court hears cases on marriage equality, we are reminded of all the work that still needs to be done.

I loved the experimental space, the lighting, the poetic use of language, and intimate blocking. I also loved looking at all the extremely handsome men in the audience. Although, let's be serious, I wasn't their type.

There he is! Arturo Soria! So proud!

Arturo, my sister Mary, and myself. Friends for about a decade!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pageant Bootcamp!

Pageant Bootcamp. This combination of words sounds both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. It also sparks images of America's Next Top Model type challenges where beautiful girls in gowns and stilettos must scale walls and flip tires. Thankfully, the "pageant bootcamp" I attended was a little less intense, although just as dramatic (wink).

My New York pageant directors also produce the California and New Hampshire State Pageants. Their headquarters are in LA, so every year, they fly out their titleholders for an eventful weekend. Seriously cool. The idea behind bootcamp is to prepare us for our national competitions while also getting to know our sister queens better.

First time in the Pacific!
oh hey palm trees!
I had never been to California before, so needless to say, I couldn't wait to soak up some west coast sun. We all stayed in a gorgeous beach house on Manhattan Beach that was just steps away from the Pacific. We spent most of our time in that house taking lessons and training, but we did manage to sneak in some beach time as well!

Our first day was photo shoot madness/gloriousness. I had the privilege of working with Gail Bowman. She has an amazing editorial eye that makes every woman look like a Victoria's Secret model. We did a beauty look, a swimsuit shoot, and an editorial look. I can not wait to show everyone my swimsuit photos. Two years ago, if you told me I'd be modeling in a bikini on a California beach, I would have laughed in your face and then reached for another donut. I never thought I would be at the level of fitness or confidence required to do what I did this weekend, but I am just constantly surprising myself. And I love it!

My Miss NY Teen USA and I getting primped :)
Keylee's cooking class!
The fruits, or veggies, of our labor!
This weekend we stuck to a super healthy diet. Now, I love vegetables and lean protein and fruit, but I'm often just eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because I am both worthless in the kitchen and poor. So, our director Keylee not only prepared some amazing meals for us, but taught us how to make them. There should have been a video camera there when all of the girls were cooking together. I'll just say, thank goodness we have other talents and day jobs.

On Sunday, we were invited to the Santa Anita Racetrack to watch some races as well the announcement of the new Ms. Racing Queen finalists. I grew up by a racetrack, but had never actually been inside one before. We were able to stand right by the finish line and take pictures with the winning horses. Best part of it all, my New York fans expressing their loyalty despite being in California ;)

I was gifted one of the jockey's goggles...and left them in Cali. oops.
I am really bummed that this weekend is over. Of course, it stinks to be heading back to cold weather and bartending shifts, but the thing I'll miss most is having days full of doing things I love. I have a goal for myself. I have a focus and I'm committed to a plan that I will work to make happen. Every day, I feel more and more grateful to be where I am. I am proud to be a part of the K2 Productions family, and I'm so thankful to them for this unforgettable experience.

Best Directors ever! Keylee and Mackenzie!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Back to School!

This past week, I was very fortunate to visit two outstanding schools and meet some amazing kids. The Lewis School of Princeton and the Block Institute of Brooklyn are true pioneers of education. They use different creative methods of teaching in order to accommodate those with learning and developmental disabilities.

Ashley or "Ms. Aliano" and myself :)
Ashley, one of my friends from high school, received her Masters in speech pathology and now works at the Lewis School of Princeton. The Lewis School is a small private school that works with elementary age children on up to post graduate youth. These kids have language-based learning disabilities like dyslexia and auditory processing. When Ashley heard about my win and arts advocacy platform, she asked me to come in and speak to her students. The School's music department had just been cut, and we want to make sure no more cuts happen to other avenues of performance.

I talked about Daniel Day Lewis a lot, ha.
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect upon my arrival to the Lewis School. I knew I'd be speaking to the drama club, but had no clue how interested they would be or what they would ask. Turns out, the group of about 16 teens were very excited to see me. Their enthusiasm made me feel like I was being interviewed on "Inside the Actors' Studio" rather than a small classroom. We discussed favorite plays I've seen, roles I've performed, methods of acting, and audition/interview skills. They seemed genuinely interested in my advice and opinions. I really hope that my visit inspired these kids. The aspect I love most about acting is the opportunity to affect an audience, and even if one student left reenergized, driven, and more committed to drama club, then I have done my job.

The drama club!

Later in the week, in honor of Read Across America, I visited the Block Institute of Brooklyn with a handful of my Miss New York pageant girlies. The Block Institute is "dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families"( We visited different classrooms all day, reading to children ages 4-8 who have special needs. These kids were so excited to meet "real princesses." Many of them have difficulty holding their attention, so when they kept their focus on me for the entirety of a picture book, I felt it was a little victory.

With my teen queen reading to the kiddies!
Now I must end this by saying I was in awe of the educators I met this week. Both of my parents were school teachers, and I had even entertained the idea while growing up, but there is no way I could do what these teachers do. The patience, enthusiasm, and energy I witnessed last week was remarkable. I give credit to all teachers, but especially those that work with special needs kids. I'm convinced that their hearts are of twice the normal size, and they deserve twice their actual paycheck.

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Live Interview on Fox News

Remember those dreaded pop-quizzes in school? You try desperately to absorb as much of your scrawled out notes as possible in the five minutes your teacher graces you with. The cool teachers were always the ones who warned you about the pop-quiz the day before. My life as Miss NY USA is one pop-quiz after another. Events are scheduled last minute, plans are changed, and interviews pop up without much notice. But that's just the nature of the business. And I love it. It keeps me on my toes and hungry for more. So when my Fox News tour/ meet and greet, turned into a live on air interview with an audience of a couple million, I was thrilled! Thrilled and absolutely terrified at the same time. However, there was no time to be nervous, I had some serious studying to do.

If you happened to watch my interview with Neil Cavuto, (and if you haven't you totally should) we discussed Mayor Bloomberg's ban on large sugary drinks. I was told this would be the topic, and I was asked to pick an opinion. While I knew about Bloomberg's actions and the uproar in response, it's not a topic I go preaching about. I don't drink soda, or ice-tea, or Gatorade even. It's not my thing, but we all pick our poison. As Miss New York USA, I am an advocate of health and fitness, so undoubtedly, I agree that no one needs that much soda. I splurge like everyone else on treats, but I do so in moderation, which is something not many people think about. Upon picking my side to debate, I did as much research as I could. Who wants to feel stumped on live tv?

Now, I am very happy with my entire experience at Fox News. The staff was more than accommodating, the crew was beyond professional, and the hosts/anchors made me feel very comfortable. Neil Cavuto definitely challenged me and my opinion, but I think the segment made for excellent tv. Who doesn't love a debate? I learned that I deflect to jokes and charm when I don't know what to say, and I say "umm" entirely way too much. We can fix the "umm"s.

Then, I received my twitter/ Facebook responses. This was not something I even thought about. I didn't have time to. Who might I offend with my opinion? Apparently, quite a few people. I joked with my publicist about the hate tweets. That means I've really made it! I'm not upset by the less than favorable comments. These people are entitled to their opinions as much as I am. Not everyone is as lucky to have their views broadcast to the country, so they do so in whatever outlet they can. I love learning about all sides to an argument, so please, if anyone really wants to educate me, you are more than welcome to do so in a private message. I will read it.

However, in response, just a few things. I am actually very educated. I graduated summa cum laude from a great university. While I was a theatre student and do not know much about business or politics, I opted to take classes in social and medical ethics, biology, and personal finance, because I actually enjoy learning new subjects. I consider all sides to an argument before forming an opinion. I'm a libra. It's what I do. And my grandfather ultimately died from type 2 diabetes. He was a naturally thin man, but his high sugar diet really took a toll on his health.

I hope that this post gives everyone a little more insight into my first experience with a live tv debate. I may even want to have a media/ hosting career in the future. Who knows!

Watch the Live interview here!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

BK has some serious talent!

I love a good talent show. No surprise there. So You Think You Can Dance. The Voice. America's Next Top Model. I love seeing young people work hard and doing something they have a real passion for. I myself, am a talent show veteran. In middle school, I always looked forward to spring, when I would inevitably perform a dance to a Michael or Janet Jackson song, choreographed by my sister. I became known as "that girl who can moonwalk." Talent shows taught me how to be professional, how to captivate an audience, and was a way to define myself apart from "back-brace girl."

All that said, I love seeing these kids perform in the All Stars Talent Show, and I love being a judge! It's cool being on the other side of things. This was my second time judging the show. I feel like no matter how many times I may be involved, I will never quit being in awe of these kids. The creativity, effort, and professionalism they bring to the stage inspires me. We don't censor our performers, so their rap lyrics and dance moves are their truest form of self expression. And to top it all off, it feels great being surrounded by such a positive and supportive audience. The community is gathered together creating one giant performance of appreciation.

Yesterday's winners were a rap duo. I likened them to Jay-Z and Drake. They were my top scorers because of their energy and confidence. They looked and acted like pros up there. Hopefully they will invest their $500 winnings in themselves, and I'll see them on the Grammy's some day soon!

Here are some photos from yesterday's show! If you want to learn more about The All Stars Project or even become a volunteer, check out their website.