I was over at Purchase College’s Performing Arts Center today as contestants rehearsed for the Miss New York USA pageant this weekend. Runway coach Lu Sierra was giving pointers to the sash-wearing teens and women: Smile! Don’t rush the lady in front of you! Don’t run, Tribeca, don’t run!”
With her own viral video and a comedic take on beauty pageants, contestant Laura Hajek seems to embody the personality of this weekend’s Miss New York pageant at Purchase College.
Hajek is a Purchase College literature student who loves Dante, Chaucer and the Beat poets. She entered the pageant on a lark and made the video over Christmas break with friends in her hometown of Glens Falls. In the clip, puppet Sheldon Crest interviews Hajek as she shamelessly plugs New York, dressed in sash and tiara.
“This has been outrageously fun,” she said from a seat inside the Performing Arts Center as fellow contestants clicked across the stage in heels Friday in a practice for the swimsuit competition. “I feel like all of the cells in my body are moving at once.”
Hajek said that as an actress and artist, she felt the pageant would be a way to showcase her performing arts skills and become involved in community service. The video is a fresh look at a tradition, she said.
“It’s kind of modern, to look at events like this through the lens of comedy,” she said. “Because while it’s a very classically American type of event, America is changing. Things are different now. People have a better sense of humor about themselves. I don’t know if that’s just because of the Internet or what.”
Keith Lewis, the event’s producer, said the video fits in with an effort to modernize the pageant, moving away from a “plastic” display of beauty toward a showcase of individuality, helped by social media. He said he had urged the contestants to “brand” themselves.
“She really grasped her brand,” Lewis said. “She wanted to make sure that she was setting herself apart. This is an oppportunity, it’s a platform for them to further causes that they’re interested in and also further agendas that they have for themselves.”
Hajek works with a circle of creative friends, the Ravacon Collective, with a program called Channel 616.
“I’ve been able to see that people are interested in the kind of artwork we’re doing,” she said. “I feel like I’ve already won; it’s wonderful.”