Off the Runway: Miss New York Returns from Miss USA Battle

After over 20 days of wearing high heels, Miss New York pointed at her manicured feet and said, laughing, that she still couldn’t feel one of her toes.

The Observer wasn’t quite sure if she was joking, but we chuckled along with her anyway because – let’s face it – she has a knack for charisma, as all successful pageant contenders should.

Miss New York, or Amber Collins, just returned home to Manhattan after representing the Empire State (with makeup and hair fully done) in two activity-filled weeks in Las Vegas leading up to last Sunday’s Miss USA pageant itself.

“It feels good to get back to the real world!” Collins exclaimed, while admitting she still responds to all mentions of “New York” on the city streets as if someone were calling her pageant name, just without the “Miss”.

Although Collins reached the top 15 cut for the title of Miss USA, she did not make the top 8 after the swimsuit portion. Luckily, she said, there is no talent portion in the show, as Miss America requires.

“I have no regrets about what I wish I had done differently,” Collins said. “I think you have to go into it thinking you’re going to be Miss USA [but] I left feeling really good about myself. I had so many people behind me.”

After a few more minutes, though, she finally revealed herself a real person: “It sucks I didn’t win Miss USA. A lot of girls haven’t been through what I’ve been through. This kind of stuff doesn’t come easy.”

A self-described “granola kind of girl,” Collins is skinny, with a slight orange glow that stands out against the New York pale (someone stopped to take a photograph with her Tuesday in Urban Outfitters not because they knew who she was, but because they simply felt she was exceptionally pretty), and frequently flashes a bright smile. But still she separates herself from the beauty pageant stereotype: Collins grew up in a Texas trailer park.

Her mother has been a school bus driver for 38 years and her father worked for the city, so after sixteen-year-old Collins didn’t make the cut for the high school cheerleading squad or the dance team, she found herself seeking out sponsors in order to afford her new effort: entering the Miss Austin Teen pageant.

She placed as first runner-up.

About ten years later – and having participated in a handful of pageants since – Collins found herself last November again scraping for the money to compete in the Miss New York pageant. Using her loan money, she spent $1,000 on a used dress and hopped on a Megabus to Albany. She won.

“I would rather be Miss New York than Miss Texas any day,” she said, referring to her Austin heritage. (Residency requirement for the state competitions is a mere six months.) “New York represented this land of opportunity.”

Perhaps fulfilling the American Dream of pageant stories, Collins made certain to work hard. Balancing classes at NYU and babysitting jobs in the months following her victory, she woke up at 5:30 a.m. every day to ensure she would also have time for running three times a week, meeting with a trainer twice a week and attending a core fusion class four times a week by the end of which she said “your body burns like it has never burned before.”

Her best friends during the time? Coffee, green tea and nuts.

“It was me challenging myself to be the best I can be,” she said, admitting she grew hungry every few hours. “I really like the over-all self-improvement that pageants inspire.”

Still, Collins has lots in store for her final months as Miss New York, including teaching kids with ASD at Gramercy, planning out a business in which she and her friend would host runway birthday parties for young girls to play dress-up, and perhaps even writing a screenplay for an animated movie.

For now, the Miss USA apartment in Trump Tower will be occupied by the victorious Miss California. But keep an eye out for Miss New York at the Pride parade this Sunday – she’s hoping to be on a float.