Someone should tell Kira Kazantsev that her nails don’t match.
You would expect the reigning Miss America to be put together at all times. The sparkly crown atop her head centered, every blonde hair perfectly in place.
But while four of her fingers are bare of color, her ring finger nails are painted purple.
She didn’t become lazy after finishing one nail on each hand. The single purple nail represents her pledge to end domestic violence, something of which she was a victim.
As her year as Miss America comes to an end, Kazantsev will give up the title, but hold onto her mission as she moves on to the next chapter.
“I’m going to be an advocate my whole life,” she said. “I’ve dedicated so much to it, and that won’t go away just because I’m not Miss America anymore.”
Seeing the world
Kazantsev has been a nomad since winning the Miss America Competition in Atlantic City last year. The California native traveled all over the U.S. to talk about her work with Safe Horizons, a nonprofit victim services agency, and its social media campaign #PutTheNailInIt.
The 24-year-old wasn’t limited to the borders of the U.S. For the first time since 1971, Miss America joined other celebrities, athletes and entertainers for a 2015 United Service Organizations World Tour. The group visited military troops in seven nations within six days.
The trip covered more than 24,000 miles, but that wasn’t the difficult part for Kazantsev, who had been living out of a suitcase for months.
“Moments from the tour are burned into my mind,” she said. “I would have never had that opportunity had I not been Miss America. Standing on a stage in Afghanistan saying thank you to our troops was incredible.”
It’s been a long year of airport lines, security checkpoints, economy seating and time zone changes. While she smiles and looks the picture of flawlessness, being Miss America is not everything it’s cracked up to be.
“It’s not all gumdrops and rainbows. It’s hard work and it pushes you more than you ever imagined being pushed,” Kazantsev said. “It takes you outside of your comfort zone and it’s exhausting. You have to be able to speak on the fly and deal with a large variety of types of people.”
Although the going might get tough, attending music award shows, meeting celebrities such as Stevie Nicks and Payton Manning and flying in a Blackhawk helicopter were part of the “exhilarating ride of a lifetime.”
“I wouldn’t change one single second of it,” she said.
Friends for life
Kazantsev met and heard personal stories from people all over, but one little boy captured her heart along the way.
While working as an ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, she met Nathan Ferrell, of Gainesville, Florida, a 7-year-old with mitochondrial disease.
“The family has become close friends of mine. We’ll have a relationship for rest of our lives,” she said. “It’s amazing to witness a little person make such a difference. He has serious challenges, but he’s the most charismatic kid. Those types of kids really put life into perspective.”
Kazantsev said Ferrell and his family plan to join her on the red carpet this month at Boardwalk Hall for the 2016 Miss America Competition.
Back to school
Life after the crown is a soon-to-be reality, and like most other 20-somethings, Miss America is still figuring it out. Before winning the national title, she had plans to attend law school after graduating with degrees in three majors from Hofstra University in New York. Plans change and now Kazantsev is setting her sights on a master’s program in international business.
“I want to continue my education, become a female business leader and encourage nontraditional gender roles. I find it very comforting to connect with different cultures and people. Basically, I want to take over world,” she said, laughing.
First, she needs to add a permanent mailing address to her name as she heads to sunny Los Angeles.
But before she leaves the East Coast, she had a few words to say about the home city of the Miss America Competition.
“Being Miss America in Atlantic City, visiting schools, attending CRDA events, it’s been amazing,” she said. “I’ve been there a dozen times so far and I’m always treated like a queen. Having the pageant there can show the positive aspects of the city, bring families to vacation — there’s something for everyone.”
The contract between the Miss America Organization and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to have the competition in Atlantic City expires this year, although there are current negotiations for another. Kazantsev said she hopes the pageant stays in the city as long as possible to “continue its legacy there.”
On Sept. 13, she will stand on stage and crown her successor at the 95th Miss America Competition. This time, she’ll stand on the other side of things as 52 women compete for the title.
“I’ll welcome the new Miss America with open arms,” she said. “You have one chance to compete and don’t leave with any regrets. Leave and be able to say, ‘I’m proud of myself.’”