Miss New York's Md. upbringing raises eyebrows

Pageant: A few folks say she's `carpetbagging,' but Pasadena native Brandi Burkhardt followed every rule, representing the state in which she has residency.

September 30, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Brandi Burkhardt's a Maryland girl, through and through.

Born and raised in Pasadena, she's a 1997 honors graduate of Anne Arundel County's Chesapeake High School.

She won the 1994 Miss Maryland T.E.E.N. and 1997 Maryland Teen U.S.A. pageants -- and she can only go a few months without steamed crabs.

Now that's Maryland.

But two weeks ago, when she made it to the Miss America Pageant, Brandi Burkhardt had a sash of a different stripe draped prominently across her slim figure. It said: "Miss New York."

Burkhardt's deep Maryland roots raised the eyebrows of one Miss America judge -- and apparently those of a New York Times columnist who suggested that Burkhardt was following the lead of celebrated carpetbagger Hillary Clinton in her all-but-declared candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat from New York.

Carpetbagger? Not so, says an amused Burkhardt, resting up from the pageant this week at her mother's house in the Lake Shore section of Pasadena.

The Maryland native competed as a New Yorker because she's been studying acting at New York University for the past year -- which makes her a resident there, according to pageant rules.

"I knew it was coming," Burkhardt said of the comparison to the first lady's much-publicized excursions to New York.

Burkhardt said she wasn't "state-hopping" -- a practice in which Miss America hopefuls move from state to state competing in pageants until they win somewhere.

Aside from the teen-age pageants, including a national tiara in 1995, the New York University junior said, "I had never competed for Miss Maryland."

She added: "I didn't go to New York to win a pageant."

Burkhardt's mother, Sharon Burkhardt, said her daughter has been New York-bound since she began landing the leading roles in her high school musicals. And she has loads of relatives there, too.

"She's been talking about moving to Manhattan since she was 15," the mother said.

Burkhardt made it to the Big Apple last year. After her freshman year at the University of Maryland at College Park, she was one of 60 acting students accepted to New York University's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.

"It was kind of on a whim," Burkhardt said of her decision to enter the Miss Manhattan pageant in March. "I had done pageants before but wasn't really ready to distract myself with one. But my mom was twisting my arm a little bit."

New York University is expensive, and Sharon Burkhardt pointed out that a beauty pageant win might mean scholarship money.

Burkhardt's Maryland past didn't even come up when she won the Miss Manhattan and statewide Miss New York pageants. It was exposed when one of the Miss America judges asked Burkhardt a question during a contest interview.

He wanted to know if Burkhardt felt she had missed out on rural life, since she was a city girl.

"Since I was Miss Manhattan, they assumed that I had lived in the city all my life," said Burkhardt, who then gave the judges a brief description of Pasadena.

"I told them that it's a little peninsula that sticks out in the water," she said. "But since I was Miss New York, most of the questions were related to New York."

"One of the judges actually called me a carpetbagger," Burkhardt said. "He said somebody else is a carpetbagger in your state [New York]," in a not-so-veiled reference to the first lady. "I think he meant to test me a little bit, to get my reaction. Ultimately, I don't think he was maliciously calling me a carpetbagger."

Miss America Pageant officials said that each year, there are usually a few contestants who represent states other than those where they were raised.

A few years ago, to discourage state-hopping, the pageant tightened residency rules for students. Contestants must have completed one full semester and be enrolled in a second semester with no more than six months between the two. Previously, pageant hopefuls who wanted to compete in a different state could meet eligibility requirements by registering for classes in the preferred location.

"We live in a nation of movers, and these girls go to school in different states," said Joan Jones, executive director of the Miss New York State Organization. She said most state pageants abide by the Miss America rules. "They're very careful in Atlantic City going over the documents to make sure that these girls are indeed eligible."

Burkhardt didn't make it to the Miss America finals. But she won $1,000 in scholarship money as a nonfinalist winner in the talent competition. Her song, oddly enough: "Take Me As I Am," from the musical "Jekyll and Hyde."

All the fuss over Burkhardt's geographic origins has made her give some thought to where home really is.

In Maryland there's her immediate family, high school friends, and her boyfriend -- her high school sweetheart.

And only someone with a strong attachment to Pasadena could get excited about the new reversible-lane traffic controls on Mountain Road.

But Burkhardt is showing strong signs of becoming a true New Yorker. She rides the subway at 1 a.m. and is pulling her hair out trying to find an apartment.

"It's kind of like I'm homeless," she said. "I'm in search of "

As the old saying goes: It's not where you're from, it's where you're going.

And as Burkhardt points out, the reigning Miss Maryland hails from Wachula, Fla.

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