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Big Apple's Beauties Vying for Miss New York USA Crown

By Serena Solomon | January 18, 2013 7:56am | Updated on January 18, 2013 9:38am
About 200 contestants will compete for titles at this weekend's Miss New York USA Pageant.
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DNAinfo/Billy Figueroa

NEW YORK CITY — When Jerin Lisha sashays down the catwalk for the swimsuit portion of the Miss New York USA pageant this weekend, it won't be in an itsy-bitsy bikini.

The 22-year-old Bengali was raised a Sunni Muslim and plans on wearing swimwear designed for modest Islamic female bathers.

"It is kind of like a bodysuit and it is completely covered," said Lisha, of the swimwear that comes with an optional skirt and head covering.

She is one of many Big Apple beauties set to dazzle the crowd at the Miss New York USA pageant this Saturday and Sunday at Purchase College in Westchester.

From a former professional BMX rider to a doctor of pharmacology, the diverse entrants from New York City are hoping to not only wow the judges with their looks — but also buck the traditional pageant stereotype.

"I had to prove something to myself, for where I am going," said Lisha, of her decision to enter. The agriculture student said she sees the pageant platform as away into a sisterhood of like-minded women.

Despite no longer practicing as a Muslim, Lisha said she still believes in many Islamic values that will set her apart from other contestants.

"I had trouble with making my family and friends realize why I wanted to do it," said Lisha, who chose her pageant name, "Miss Sunnyside," because Queens is her hometown. "My parents are completely against it."

Lisha will join 200 competitors in both the Miss New York USA (under 27) and Miss New York Teen USA (between 14 and 19) competitions, with the winners announced on Sunday.

The winner of this weekend's competition will go on to compete for the Miss USA title in June.

"At this point, they just need to know that their hard work will pay off," said the pageant's co-executive director, Keylee Sanders, of the lead-up to the event. "They don't need to do 10 more sit-ups. It’s more about letting go and having fun."

Sanders could not confirm if Donald Trump, the owner of the Miss USA pageant series, would be at the event, adding that he show up come at the last minute.

However, judges such as Julissa Bermudez of the Style Network reality series "Empire Girls" and model/actress Susie Castillo will be on hand to lend some star power.

But Lisha isn't the only contestant who doesn't exactly typify the pageant cliche.

"I felt like it was a good way to step outside my comfort zone, challenge myself and get some new experiences out of it," said Devan Mickell Council, who has been sponsored by several BMX and fixed-gear bike companies.

Choosing the pageant title of "Miss Brooklyn Heights" to represent her neighborhood, Council is a full-time Brooklyn Law student and music photographer. She also played Division 1 college soccer at Vanderbilt University while receiving her bachelor's degree in philosophy. 

"I'm dynamic. I fit no mold or stereotype," Council said, adding that she had to brush up on her high-heel skills for the contest.

For Inem Akpan, rather than cramming in bizarre beauty rituals or extreme fitness routines leading up to the pageant, she maintained her normal, already healthy lifestyle.

"I am just going to go as who I am. I haven’t really done anything extra," said the 25-year-old pharmaceutical doctor from Queens.

The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Akpan keeps herself busy designing medication regimens for patients suffering from illnesses ranging from cancer to high blood pressure.

"That's what really inspires me to give back in different ways," she said.