ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Miss New York Kira Kazantsev was named the new Miss America Sunday night, marking the third year in a row that a contestant from her state has walked away with the crown in the nationally televised pageant.
Kazantsev received the crown at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall from outgoing Miss America — and Miss New York — Nina Davuluri.
For her talent performance, Kazantsev sang Pharrell Williams' "Happy" while sitting cross-legged on the stage and banging a red plastic cup on the floor.
She named combating sexual assault in the military as the issue about which she would want female U.S. Senators to press their male counterparts.
The first runner-up was Miss Virginia Courtney Paige Garrett.
Other top 5 finalists were Miss Arkansas Ashton Jo Campbell; Miss Florida Victoria Cowen; and Miss Massachusetts Lauren Kuhn.
Miss North Dakota, Jacky Arness was chosen by her peers as Miss Congeniality.
The pageant shone a positive light on the struggling seaside gambling resort, which has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons lately: a rash of casino closings, thousands of unemployed workers, and a domestic violence case involving a former NFL star.
For three hours Sunday night, America got a different look at Atlantic City. The Miss America pageant presented an upbeat view of the city where it began in 1921.
It featured iconic Atlantic City visuals including its beach, Boardwalk, the Steel Pier, Black Fish Pier near Brigantine, and the Atlantic City Beach Patrol station.
"Atlantic City is facing a challenging economic climate and our hearts go out to all of those who have lost their jobs," said Sam Haskell III, CEO of the Miss America organization. "We hope that our Miss America telecast ... will generate great interest for Atlantic City on a national scale as we showcase their beautiful beaches and Boardwalk."
There has been no shortage of compelling story lines leading up to the selection of the next Miss America, including the way personal tragedy has shaped the public service platforms of several contestants. The brother of Miss Wisconsin Raeanna Johnson killed himself after a secret addiction to methamphetamine. Her platform was the impact of substance abuse on the family.
The father of Miss Kansas Amanda Sasek killed himself when she was 17. Her platform was helping people find their strengths. And Miss Delaware Brittany Lewis is still waiting for an arrest to be made in the 2010 slaying of her sister. Her platform is combating domestic violence.
There was drama and even some low-brow comedy leading up to the finale. Miss Rhode Island, Ivy DePew, collapsed onstage during the first night of preliminary competition, but made it back the next night after two trips to the hospital for dehydration.
And supermodel and business mogul Kathy Ireland took the stage to burp on command on a dare from pageant host Dena Blizzard on the second night.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC