Here She Is, Miss Manhattan! Comely Co-eds Compete in Archaic Pageant Ritual

On Sunday, March 30, about 100 people, some rather done up, were cramming the small performance space at the New Dance Group studios, a few blocks from Port Authority in midtown, for the sold-out Miss Manhattan and Miss Southern New York beauty pageants.

Kristen Caesar, 25, a graduate student at New York University who won Miss Black New York State this year, was among the audience members. Unlike other fellow pageant winners in the audience—Miss Jubilee, Miss New York and Miss Brooklyn Outstanding Teen—she was not wearing a fake-diamond tiara, but rather a low-key ensemble of boots, a sweater and jeans. She had come to see a friend, Contestant No. 9, Becca Anderson, also a grad student at N.Y.U. “I wonder how the dancers feel about having high heels on their beautiful dance floor,” Ms. Caesar remarked.

Before the bathing suit and evening gown competitions, contestants marched onstage to proclaim their “platforms.” Among the more memorable: “Teens for Safe Cosmetics,” from Contestant No. 10, the ambidextrous Kathleen Perkins; and, from Contestant No. 14, Amanda Richie, “The State of Our Nation.” Vanessa Manata, Contestant No. 12, concluded her platform on combating the child sex trade with the rousing entreaty, “So, come on New York, stop the traffic!” Whoo-hoo!

During an onstage questioning period that counted for 5 percent of the overall score, contestants opined on everything from whether large celebrity divorce settlements are hurting the institution of marriage to whether the Miss America competition is “unrelatable” to younger people. A question about whether Britney Spears should get custody of her kids elicited murmurs from the audience and a long silence among contestants before someone finally piped up to say that Ms. Spears has squandered ample opportunities to prove herself a fit parent.

The talent component of the contest was unsurprisingly heavy on musical theater numbers. Contestant No. 17, Brittney Griffin, who ultimately snagged second runner-up, performed a dizzyingly fast tap dance to a spoken-word piece called “Talking in Tongues.” Jessica Cagwin, Contestant No. 4, performed “My Short Skirt,” from The Vagina Monologues. The pageant delicately introduced the piece as “part of a collection of monologues about women’s empowerment,” prompting scattered snickers in the audience. But Ms. Cagwin, who wore an appropriately short black sequined skirt, kept the audience transfixed as she spoke. “My short skirt and everything under it is mine. Mine. Mine,” she said.

But not, alas, either of the title crowns, which went to LaMonica Falkquay (Miss Southern New York) and Melanie Hildebrant (Miss Manhattan).

Here She Is, Miss Manhattan! Comely Co-eds Compete in Archaic Pageant Ritual