Confidence and integrity brings Rochester native to Miss USA competition

Photo Courtesy of Hannah Lopa

By Diana Russo, Lifestyles Editor

A shortened version of this article can be found in the March issue of the Cardinal Courier.

Tell me about yourself

My name is Hannah Lopa and I am 25 years old. I am a Rochester, NY native. I graduated from Spencerport High School. I currently work as a sports reporter in the motorsports industry covering North American road racing in the MotoAmerica series. I work for beIN Sports specifically. That’s the network that airs all the races. I travel a ton between my duties as Miss New York USA and my duties for work. The company’s based out of Miami so they have me flying around to the races and to Miami quite frequently.

Explain what pageantry is to an outsider.

I think that pageantry, it’s so cliche. But it’s a very good opportunity for women of all ages, not just young girls. For somebody that has never seen a pageant, it’s not like Toddlers & Tiaras. That show, obviously they manipulate that for television purposes. It’s not what it seems like from the outside. Especially at Miss New York USA, with such a high volume of contestants. I think when everything was said and done there was 169 women from all walks of life. From all different areas across New York state, different races, ethnicities, different religious ideals and different sexual orientations. It’s a really cool thing because it brings so many different people together for a common goal. And of course we all want to win but at the end of the day, only one of us can. People are always like, what is your talent. I’m sure that’s the most common question that you get when someone knows you’re competing in a pageant. “What’s your talent?” And really only the Miss America Organization still uses a talent area of competition. You know many people don’t know there is Miss USA under the Miss Universe Organization umbrella and then there is the Miss America Organization. So that’s a very stereotypically question I am asked. Miss USA interview this year is 60 percent of the final score. I am really excited for that. I think that is a huge step in the right direction. I mean 40 percent of your score is obviously based on beauty. It is a beauty pageant. And it is only a three minute interview. And I know Miss America’s is 10 minutes. Yeah, 60 percent of my score is based on three minutes of my life.

How do you communicate everything you want to say to the judges in a three minute interview?

It’s really hard to come off sincere when you’re nervous and not rehearsed. Because you do want to put yourself out there and there is specific information you want to relay to them. But over the years, I’ve learned that the most important thing that I want the judges to know is that I’m a real person and I’m not just rehearsed. I just didn’t plan out all these things. You do have to be strategic, you do have to guide the conversation as much as you possibly can in order to let them know the things that are important to you. At the end of the day I don’t want to go in there and rattle off a bunch of facts about myself. I kind of go with the flow, I go with the direction of the conversation. If I need to guide it back to something I really want to speak about, I will. It’s just more letting them know Hannah, who I really am. You only have three minutes and the only other time they get to see your personality is on stage and you’re not speaking. It’s hard to cram it all in three minutes. I’ve been practicing a lot but I think it’s about being as natural as possible because we do, we get in that rhythm. We practice so often that you end up sounding robotic and the judges obviously don’t want a pageant patty.

Photo Courtesy of Hannah Lopa

How did you get interested in pageantry?

That’s really difficult because it was just something that kind of came up randomly. Sounds so stereotypical. I faced a lot of bullying in high school and I really wanted to do something to help myself out. You know maybe if I got into pageantry or something along the lines of modeling people would be nicer to me or have more respect for me or take me more seriously. So I did New York Teen USA in 2008. This year I had no idea the order of top five. It happened really quickly and it was me. I don’t remember anything after that, for a good solid 30 minutes. It was crazy, a very wild sensation. Just all of those years of hard work coming to fruition because it initially just started as something in high school where I just wanted to maybe build some self confidence and meet some new friends and get out of my comfort zone.

What kept you motivated after so many years?

I just kept getting closer and closer over the years, except the year I didn’t place. I felt that a comeback was in order. It became more than just competing in the beauty pageant. It became gaining the notoriety and being able to use that momentum to make an impact. It turned into, okay sure I can make friends and I can gain self confidence, but I can also make a difference in other people’s lives. Even if it’s small, even if it’s one person.

What do you believe set you apart from the other contestants?

I think really knowing myself this year especially because I am at the older end of the age spectrum. The first question they asked me was “why do want to be Miss New York USA?” I’ve been working so hard towards this for so many years that it’s very clear why. I had a very clear-cut answer and it’s just something that came effortlessly to me. I think that being sure of yourself and the judges seeing that you are sure of yourself helps you stand out. It’s better to go in there natural and not fit into the box you think they want you to fit into.

What is your day-to-day life like now with the crown?  

There are a lot of opportunities. A lot of organizations, especially in the Rochester community, that have reached out to me and asked me to get involved and do public service announcements. Best Buddies is a partner of the Miss Universe Organization and they happen to have a local Rochester branch and they reached out to me. So I’m hoping to work with them in the near future. It’s really cool because this notoriety, having the title comes with the platform I guess to speak out against so many causes.

What do you struggle with?

There’s a lot of pageant forums for people to talk about the contestants. Leading up to Miss New York, that’s something I had to teach myself to keep off of. People who don’t know me, who are passing judgments about me and then pick favorites to win Miss New York and I wasn’t always everyone’s favorite. It’s just learning not to listen to other people and other people’s opinions of you because you know, at the end of the day, you know who you are and maybe they’ve never even met you and they’re just going based off your headshot that’s posted on the website. That’s a struggle, learning to take criticism with a grain of salt, and not taking it personally.

You’re going to Miss USA, how are you preparing and how do you stay confident?

I’M GOING TO MISS USA!  It’s been two months since I won Miss New York USA and it’s just something that’s finally actually registered. It’s funny because I should be ready for this pageant at any time because they haven’t officially released the date yet. But I’m very calm and I think that it just goes back to being sure of who you are as a person and confident in your own abilities. You know I’ve competed seven times total for the title, so I think my experience plays a role in that as well. I’m just very excited more than anything. I’m sure when it gets closer the nerves will set in. But it’s really just a matter of filling out paperwork, making sure that I’m still eating well, taking care of my skin, my hair, my body and my mental health. You only get one chance. I don’t get seven tries like I did before. I’m all in, it’s all or nothing baby. I have an amazing team of professionals that are helping me prepare.

Photo Courtesy of Hannah Lopa

What do you expect to experience at Miss USA?

That’s a tough one because this pageant is two weeks long. Obviously I knew what to expect going into Miss New York. I’m trying not to have expectations because I don’t want to be disappointed if I set the bar too high for myself. It is two weeks long of competition and it will be exhausting at times but I think it’ll be a lot of fun though. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a once in a lifetime experience. I think all of us want to get the most out of this experience that we possibly can and bond with each other. Because at the end of the day, only one girl gets to win and I don’t know that I would want to spend two weeks of my life making enemies with girls because I want to win. It’s just, make the most of it.

What does being Miss New York USA mean to you?

I think it’s turned into being an advocate for women who are victims of domestic violence relationships. For me, if I can even help one girl know the red flags then that’s important to me. Just being a role model, showing these women that they don’t have to be a victim of their circumstances and they can escape these circumstances. No matter if they’re in the beginning stages or if they’ve been in the relationship for 20 years that they need to get out of and  showing them they can overcome that. They don’t necessarily have to win Miss New York USA but they can rebuild their lives and regain a sense of self-worth and find themselves again.

What advice would you give to young ladies that are interested in pageantry?

I say go for it. I’ve learned so many things from pageantry that are invaluable. Things that you don’t learn from other facets of life. Having the confidence to get up on stage in front of an audience is something that girls and women, just people in general have a fear of and I think that really helped me learn how to conduct my life and to be an active member of my community. I learned a lot of interview skills and a lot of speaking skills. Job interviews now are so easy for me. I don’t think you can learn those skills outside of pageantry unless you find someone to practice with like a life coach. There are so many amazing and incredible young women I’ve met through pageantry. It’s a cool experience and if nothing more, even if you don’t win, you kind of walk away with that sense of accomplishment. Like, I did this. I recommend it. I don’t think it’s as negative as its reputation seems to be at times.

What message or legacy do you hope to leave as Miss New York USA?

That’s a hard one. Going into pageant weekend, I’ve been doing this for nine years now, you always look at the outgoing titleholder and you put them on this pedestal. They’re so amazing, I want to be like them, I want to be a role model and I want to be a stylish as them, as nice as them, as community-oriented as them. I get to be that for the girls coming in next year. So when I go to crown my successor, I get to be there for them. I just want to be remembered as the girl who still managed to be herself, who still maintained that integrity of being Hannah even though I am Miss New York. People tell me I’m a local celebrity because I’m from the Rochester area. I just want to be remembered as being genuine and being sincere. I want to be able to be approachable. I don’t want people to think I’m this unattainable person. I’m real, I’m human, you can talk to me about anything. I want the girls competing next year to come into it and feel comfortable being able to talk to me. I don’t want girls to be afraid to talk to me just because I am Miss New York, I’m Hannah to.

What are your future plans?

I am Miss New York USA and I am going to Miss USA. If I were to win Miss USA, I would go to Miss Universe. But after this, I really want to buckle down. I am 25, I have been in a relationship for three years. Just pursuing my career in the motorsports industry and working as a reporter. I definitely have a good foot in the door and I think that this opportunity could evolve into a long time career for me. It’s cool to reach this point in my life where I finally reached the goal of becoming Miss New York and also have plans for after. I have a degree in communications and I’ve just been doing all this modeling and traveling. I only get to be Miss New York for this one year. I feel really good about the direction that I’m heading because I have this sense of what I’m going to be doing after this. I don’t know if it’s the end of the road for pageants forever. It might be because this is as far as I can go, unless I were to win Miss USA. But we’ll see, I’m not in a hurry to get married or have kids or anything. I want to focus on traveling and building my reputation.

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