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Miss New York contestants welcomed at local landmarks

This is the first time since 1979 that the official state preliminary to the Miss America Pageant was held in the Queen City.

BUFFALO, NY-- Twenty-four young women representing areas across the Empire State got a first look at a few local landmarks around Buffalo-Niagara before beginning rehearsals for the Miss New York Scholarship Pageant this week.

This is the first time since 1979 that the official state preliminary to the Miss America Pageant was held in the Queen City.

First stop for the contestants was Niagara Falls, where they were welcomed by the Mayor Paul Dyster before heading out for a trip on the world famous Maid of the Mist boat. That ride took the 24 hopefuls into the Niagara Gorge for an up-close look at both the American and Canadian Falls.

"I've never been to Niagara Falls before and it's really beautiful and it just makes you stop and take a moment," Miss Five Boroughs, Nia Franklin said.

Their next stop was the USS Little Rock at Buffalo and Erie County’s historic Naval and Military Park-- an appropriate backdrop for women competing in a program that is switching its emphasis from swimsuits... to service.

“And I think it’s a great thing that we are changing it because it puts emphasis on who we are as people and not what we look like,” Miss Western New York, C.J. McDermott said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by several contestants who spoke with Two On Your Side at a late afternoon rehearsal at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

“I think it’s really important to maintain relevancy. And we're not going to do that if we are walking around in bikinis in heels,” Bailee Russell, a Williamsville native whose title is Miss Central Square Apple Festival, said.

Earlier this month when the Miss America Organization’s CEO Gretchen Carlson said they planned to eliminate the swimsuit category and focus instead on each contestant's personal goals, performing arts talent, and community advocacy work, reaction across the country was mixed. But the Miss New York contestants we spoke with said they like the change in direction.

Baylee Simpson of Albany also had a prediction.

“We're focusing on academic achievement. We're focusing on community service. These women up here can do a lot more than what you see on stage. And I think you'll be surprised," Simpson said.

Miss Richmond County Madison L'Insalata added, "We're supporting empowering women. There's no other reason, right? You're supporting an incredible organization that is lifting women up and helping the community. You've got to support it!"

The contestants said they’re excited the competition is calling Buffalo home this year. Emily Mahana, Miss Upstate New York says she hopes Western New Yorkers come out to show some support.

“It really is just a lot of fun. We just did the opening number and I'm really excited the audience is going to love it. So we hope to see a lot of people here in Buffalo on Saturday," Mahana added.

There are two preliminary nights of competition: Thursday, June 28 and Friday, June 29. The final night and crowning of the new Miss New York will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 30. Tickets are available at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

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