Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Sometimes even Miss America gets outshined.
That was the case one recent morning at the New York Stock Exchange, when the newly crowned Katie Harman joined 10 rescue workers for the ringing of the bell. It was the presence of the firefighters, policemen and paramedics that transformed the mood on the trading floor from somber to rowdy, she insisted.
Twenty-four hours after winning the Austrian crystal-encrusted crown in Atlantic City, Harman, who hails from Portland, Ore., landed her first jaunt to New York City and found herself faced with a somewhat harsh welcome. Uncharacteristically underdressed in a warmup suit and little makeup, she trekked to Ground Zero on Sept. 24 to visit with rescue workers. A stranger spied her signature crown pin — sashes are passe and the coveted crown is usually stashed in her satchel — and pleaded, “We need you Miss America.” What struck the beauty queen was, “I had no idea I’d be embraced in such a way.”
Harman recapped some of her whirlwind week while taking a break from shopping for Liz Claiborne and Donnybrook coats at The Levy Group’s showroom to grab a slice of pizza. She also broke out the crown and let a few employees — male and female — try it on.
Getting down to Wall Street was a challenge. What Harman thought would be a straight shot from midtown to lower Manhattan turned into a “hold-on-for-dear-life” cab ride with a police escort, she said.
“We didn’t know that all those streets are blocked off. We were moving on the wrong side of the street and weaving in between cars,” she recounted.
The return trip in a police cruiser was better, especially since it gave her extra time for some showroom shopping. Her bounty of complimentary clothes includes a few coats from The Levy Group, plus items from ABS, Chetta B, Kasper and Laundry. Her reign requires ample attire, since she’ll log 20,000 miles each month, winding up in a different city every day.
Harman had no qualms about shopping for outerwear when others are donating coats for more dire purposes.
“Because Miss America is so out-in-the-forefront, it is important for her to remain [well-presented]. This is not about money, it’s about being the symbol she needs to be,” Harman said. “So much of what Miss America is tradition.”
Volunteering is also a big part of that tradition, said Harman, adding that a charitable telethon was part of this year’s pageant and more than $500,000 was raised during the program. As Miss Oregon, she partnered with Nike’s Goddess Scholarship program to promote healthy living among girls. She no longer endorses Nike, since she’s no longer Miss Oregon.
Her own fitness regimen includes using a Stairmaster, running, weight lifting and kickboxing. She said this commitment helped make the eveningwear and swimwear competitions more enjoyable.
During the pageant, BCBG suited her in a black halter dress and a leather pantsuit, and Turtle Beach designed her metallic red bikini. Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sells donated wedding dresses to fulfill terminally ill women’s dying wishes, provided her dress for the opening act.
“As far as the clothing aspects of the show, I think it’s every girl’s dream to get up on stage in an evening gown. After weeks of working so hard to change my lifestyle, getting up on stage in a swimsuit was an act of pride,” she said. “As years go by, Miss America becomes more athletic.”
And the contestants become more intellectual, said Harman, a Portland State University undergrad who plans to go for a master’s degree in bioethics.
“It’s not a beauty contest. It’s a scholarship program. I’ve earned $75,000 [in scholarships] in the last two years since I’ve been involved,” she said.
Today’s contestants are certainly sharp enough to know that cries for world peace are strictly the domain of comedians and satirical flicks like “Miss Congeniality.”
“That’s not what we really say or do. No one ever says that. It’s a total spoof,” she said. “They’re just stereotypes.”
The blonde, blue-eyed Harman — the first winner to match that description in 14 years — sees her role in “a different light.”
“Miss America is an American icon,” she said. “That’s key at this time when unifying America is very important.”