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Samantha Russo, 22, of Nashua, reacts after being crowned Miss New Hampshire by outgoing titleholder Megan Lyman. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

Nashua woman wins Miss New Hampshire title

DERRY - For Samantha Russo, the first time was a charm.

Russo, 22, of Nashua, was crowned the newest Miss New Hampshire Saturday night. Unlike many other contestants, this was Russo's first time on the Miss New Hampshire stage.

The Emerson College graduate, who works for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, wasn't afraid to show off her goofy side, even agreeing to an impromptu moonwalk across the Stockbridge Theatre stage at Pinkerton Academy.

An aspiring sports reporter whose platform cause is "Kick Butts: Tobacco Education and Prevention,'' she dedicated her performance of "Don't Rain on My Parade" to her grandfather, who sat in the audience.

Twenty-eight women, each of whom had earned a regional title over the past year to qualify for the contest, competed in the 54th annual event. Russo held the Miss Souhegan title.

A dozen finalists made it past the preliminary rounds. In addition to Russo, the other finalists were: Miss Lakes Region Holly Blanchard of Derry; Miss Monadnock Region Jillian Granucci of Manchester; Miss Capital Area Lauren Campbell of Raymond; Miss Greater Derry Kendall Wipff of Goffstown; Miss Deerfield Fair Lauren April of Auburn; Miss Kingston Sarah Mousseau of Stratham; Miss Londonderry Megan Cooley of Auburn; Miss Winnipesaukee Jessica Avelar of Nashua; Miss Rockingham County Kristin Crossland of Seabrook; Miss Seacoast Elysha Greenberg of Windham; and Miss Bedford Julia Neveu of Manchester.

Neveu earned fourth runner-up, Avelar was third runner-up and Mousseau was second runner-up. Wipff was first runner-up.

During the three-hour final round, the finalists were judged on talent, eveningwear and swimwear as they competed for the title and for thousands of dollars in college scholarship money.

Departing Miss New Hampshire Megan Lyman, whose platform cause this past year was in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, had one last surprise before she passed down her crown.

Lyman crowned Abby Strover, a Make-A-Wish-child, as the state's first ever "Miss NH Princess." The Merrimack first-grader has cystic fibrosis.

Lyman had a few words of advice for this year's contestants.

"Have the time of your life," she told them. "And don't forget to smile."

Open to women ages 17 to 24, the Miss New Hampshire competition has awarded $141,450 in scholarships to date.

As the newly crowned Miss New Hampshire, Russo will travel to Atlantic City this September, where she'll have a shot at the Miss America title. That 13-day pageant begins Labor Day weekend, and the finale will be broadcast nationwide on Sept. 15.

Although the pageant had recently been moved to Las Vegas, it will return to its traditional home in New Jersey this fall by popular demand, with the Miss American Parade making its way down the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

No comparable event leading up to the competition was held during the years the pageant was in Las Vegas, aside from an event in 2010 celebrating the pageant's 90th anniversary, according to Sharon Pearce, the pageant's vice president.

"This is an incredible opportunity for all of us to enjoy the rich history of the pageant and its return to Atlantic City," Pearce said.

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