Nashua's Samantha Russo proud to compete for Miss America title
Ask Samantha Russo how she went from the Gate City to Atlantic City, where she has been competing for the title of Miss America, and the 23-year-old Nashua native will tell you even she isn't sure.
"It's been a bit of a whirlwind," said Russo, who was crowned Miss New Hampshire last April and has been prepping for the national pageant ever since.
A new Miss America will be crowned tonight during a two-hour live program beginning at 9 on local ABC affiliate WMUR, Channel 9.
"We all have very busy schedules this week, and really the only time we have to slow down is at lunch," said Russo late last week. "We just look at each other and say, 'Can you believe we are here?' I am having such a great time."
Russo is one of 53 women, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, who are competing at Boardwalk Hall Arena in Atlantic City for the 2014 crown. Preliminary competition for the pageant began Tuesday in Atlantic City, where it had been held for decades before moving to Las Vegas six years ago.
Regardless of whether she becomes the first contestant from the Granite State to win the national title, Russo has already tasted success on the big stage.
On Tuesday, she won a $2,000 scholarship in the talent competition, singing "Don't Rain On My Parade" from the Broadway musical "Funny Girl," which starred Barbra Streisand. Russo said she picked the song because of the positive feedback she received after performing it during the Miss New Hampshire competition - despite being cautioned by friends the song was too difficult to pull off on such a grand stage.
"I felt very confident about going with it," said Russo.
As the preliminaries began last week, each contestant introduced herself and her home state in a humorous way.
"I said I was from the Granite State and hope to rock this stage tonight," said Russo. "Another day, I said I was from the state that's home to the first in the nation presidential primary, and I hope to be first on your ballots tonight."
On Saturday, contestants wore state-themed footwear in a parade.
"I went a different way with my shoes," said Russo. "Growing up in Nashua, and interning with the Nashua Silver Knights, I spent a lot of time at Holman Stadium, so I went with a baseball theme. The shoes are white and bedazzled with red to look like baseball stitches, and the heels are baseball bats."
Russo also worked as a marketing assistant with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
After being crowned Miss New Hampshire, Russo was awarded a $13,500 scholarship, which went toward paying off her student loans. She earned her bachelor of science degree in broadcast journalism from Emerson College and is pursuing a career in sports journalism.
She said she feels competitions such as the Miss America pageant are still important.
"I think what keeps it so relevant is the scholarship money that this organization gives out," said Russo. "College isn't getting any cheaper. Plus, there are a lot of people in this world we look up to as heroes, like athletes and celebrities, who we've seen aren't such good people sometimes. I think the women in the Miss America organization are people you can look up to. They're getting educations and working hard in their communities."
Russo, a 2008 graduate of Nashua High School North, said she is a big supporter of the Miss America organization's mission statement.
"The Miss America organization provides more scholarship money to young women than any other organization in the entire world," said Russo. "It really values the everyday woman, the girl next door and intelligence."
Russo said between 20 and 30 relatives and friends were with her in Atlantic City last week, with another dozen or so expected to arrive before tonight's ceremony.
She has her share of supporters back home, as well. A former employer tweeted last week: "Congrats to our ex-Chunky's employee Samantha Russo ... for winning the first night of preliminary competition in the Miss America pageant yesterday! We guess she won't be picking up shifts any time soon! GO SAMANTHA!!!"
Russo said she hopes she can become the first Granite State woman to earn the Miss America title.
"To be able to capture that crown, it would mean the world to me, but I think it would mean so much more for the state of New Hampshire," said Russo. "Just to show the quality of people we have here, would be amazing."