Western New York won't be claiming the next Miss America.
Gabrielle Walter, the 24-year-old Clarence resident and University at Buffalo law student who is Miss New York, did not make the semifinalist cut Sunday night during the Miss America competition in Atlantic City, broadcast live on ABC.
Walter won the Miss New York crown in May in Staten Island. Since then, she has been preparing for the Miss America pageant.
Still, the experience has been a rich one for Walter — and her time as Miss New York is not nearly over.
Walter has been in Atlantic City since Aug. 30, when she arrived with 50 other women, who represented each state plus the District of Columbia. The contestants' first five days were jammed with rehearsals and public appearances, including a welcome ceremony, clambake, golf outing, and a visit to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. Walter, who is a singer, was among the women selected to provide musical entertainment at the shelter, which serves the homeless.
The next several days were comparatively quiet, but busy behind the scenes. On Sept. 5, Walter had her scored interview, which is the one part of the competition that happens behind closed doors. As a law student, Walter anticipated the interview would be a good opportunity to share her views on legislative and criminal-justice issues. She also hoped the judges would afford her the opportunity to talk about her Miss America platform, a youth goal-setting program called DreamUp America.
While DreamUp didn't come up in detail, Walter was asked about a documentary she shot about street children in the Philippines during her time as an undergraduate at Canisius College. She was also asked to talk about her definition of success, her thoughts on the proposed Mexican border wall, and the appropriateness of the stilettos First Lady Melania Trump wore aboard Air Force One en route to the storm-damaged areas in Texas.
The judges were also curious to know what question Walter would most like to pose to President Trump.
“I said, 'What would he do about the Dreamers if Congress didn’t end up getting anything passed to take care of them,'" Walter said, "because they’re important to me.”
The preliminary rounds of the stage competitions, including talent, swimsuit and fitness, took place on the evenings of Sept. 6-8. Walter, who sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" from "Carousel" as her talent, didn't finish in the top spot of any of the preliminaries.
That didn't detract from the pride of her mentor and coach, Buffalo communications consultant Kathleen Neville.
"Gabrielle honors the stage and knows exactly what to do," said Neville, an author and businesswoman and onetime executive at Shea's Performing Arts Center. "She's like a seasoned professional - she reminds me of some of the best performers I was fortunate to meet while at Shea's. Like them, she worked hard at preparing for this; she was diligent. She's the best of the best."
On Saturday evening, the night before the finals, Walter was riding through Atlantic City in a open convertible, extending her right foot into the air to show off shoes designed for her by Lockport artist Eileen Bos. This was the Show Us Your Shoes parade in which each contestant showcases her home region with custom-crafted footwear. Walter worked with Bos to conceive the idea of Niagara Falls-themed shoes, which have splashing waves, riders waiting in line for the Maid of the Mist, and a model of the famous boat itself.
Several friends and family were in town for the finals, including Walter's mother Michele, father Paul, sister Melanie and brother William.
"I could do something like this every night," Walter said in an interview Saturday afternoon. "It’s so much fun.”
Of course, Miss America is a one-time experience, but Walter's reign as Miss New York continues until she hands over the crown to the winner of the next state pageant, which will be held next June at Shea's in Buffalo.
By then, Walter, who is spending the fall working and studying in Manhattan, will be graduated from U.B.'s law school - and thus trading her crown for the courtroom.