As a kid growing up in Brentwood, Long Island, Miss New York USA Briana Siaca could never have envisioned a future as a beauty queen.
“Brentwood is comprised of hustlers and people just trying to survive. You’re surrounded by violence,” Siaca told The Post of life as a “painfully shy” youngster amidst the MS-13 riddled area. “I knew all about drugs and gangs by 10. We couldn’t play outside, there were constant slashings and shootings. There’s no room to dream.”
Now, the 27-year-old, who works as an operations manager for a global investment firm, is set to compete in the Miss USA pageant, airing live on FYI at 8 p.m. Monday. Siaca has spent the past six years striving to win the state-wide contest and make it to this point.
“It was really difficult to face defeat each year,” said the Long Island City resident, noting that losing was never an option. “I knew victory was within reach.”
Raised by a single dad, an Army vet who worked in construction, Siaca was a tomboy who learned to change a flat tire years before she knew how to apply mascara. “I didn’t have that positive female role model growing up,” Siaca told The Post just before flying out to Tulsa, Okla., for the big pageant. “My sister became a teenage mother at 15.”
She chose to pursue a different path. “I decided in high school I want a better life for myself,” she said. Siaca applied to Pace University to study chemistry and was accepted. Her dad had to refinance his house to help pay her tuition.
In 2015, her interest in pageants was piqued when she was flipping through a school newsletter featuring a Miss New York USA. “I was lonely and insecure. I wanted to challenge myself with something to help me grow,” she said. “Something that would make me feel good and do something that would absolutely terrify me.”
Prepping for her debut at the Miss New York USA pageant in 2016 was a transformation — both physical and emotional. “Growing up, I was not a beautiful girl,” said Siaca, who noted that she was always self-conscious about her oversized glasses and frizzy hair.
“I didn’t really know a lot about makeup or hair and I never went to the gym before pageants — it was kind of a crash course before my first pageant,” she said.
But she placed first runner-up. “I had no idea what I was doing, but I think they loved that I brought a fresh energy and innocence.”
The platform changed how she saw herself intellectually: “I never felt like I had a voice. I felt like I suffered in silence,” she said. “I went from the girl who didn’t speak until spoken to, to the girl who can’t shut up.”
She became hooked on the thrill of the competition — and would go on to enter every year for six consecutive years, always placing in the top five.
Ahead of her final pageant this past August — the max age for competitors is 27 — she came to realize that her dream of winning might not come true. “I was OK with any outcome and that also changed my energy,” she said. “I thought about my community and what I could do with the title. This time around, there was a calm about me.”
Then, at the Resorts World Catskills hotel in a sea of 160 contestants, she won. “I couldn’t believe it. I just started weeping,” she said. The newly crowned queen tearfully dedicated her win to “the little girls in Brentwood who don’t think they’re worthy of their dreams.”
Now, she goes back to her middle and high schools to speak to the kids about building self-confidence. She also volunteers with the non-profit Girls Inc., which advocates for underprivileged girls. She recently hosted a “Confidence Project” during which she shared insights with the kids about cultivating self-worth. Miss New York judge Antonio Estrada was dazzled by Siaca. “She was poised, elegant and real. Her story, where she comes from a single dad, is so moving,” said the fashion designer. “She’s someone a lot of people can look up to — she’s so inspirational.”
But behind the glamorous facade of the competition is rigorous work, Siaca said. She sleeps eight hours a night, with lights out at 11 and a wakeup-call at 7. She hits the gym both before and after work, with lots of weightlifting, bench pressing and squats. There’s water training, mostly just reducing water intake two days before a pageant, a process that’s designed to reduce water retention and help emphasize abdominal definition onstage. “It’s pretty intense. When I’m training for a pageant, there’s no stopping me.”
And it doesn’t come cheap, either: most contestants have a team, including coaches and personal trainers, and have to buy their own gowns and jewels. “They call it the ‘rich girls’ sport,” she said. “And I’m definitely not a rich girl. Every dollar I made I put it into this. I would fund myself.” Siaca has shelled out thousands for dresses and coaches. While she now has sponsors that contribute to her training, including her workplace, GEM (Global Emerging Markets), Siaca admitted that prepping is a full-time job on top of her full-time job. At 5-foot-6, she’s been busy practicing to walk in her eight-inch heels, praying she won’t fall. “This year I found out I’m one of the shorter contestants,” she said.
Despite her success, pageant life isn’t summer camp. “I’m not making friends at these pageants — girls don’t want to talk to me,” Siaca said during a February 2021 podcast, “Podcast and Chill,” about the cutthroat process. But she respects all the contestants. “It’s some of the most powerful, well-rounded, dynamic women in the world.”
Big Apple beauty queens are known to be especially fierce, making Siaca’s success over the years all the more notable. “New York is arguably one of the most competitive states to win,” said the self-described “late bloomer.”
The “very single” beauty queen admitted that since her win, more and more guys are coming out of the woodwork, sliding into her DMs with brazen — but mostly respectful — requests for a date.
“[There are] more than I’d like to admit,” she said. “[But], I respect them — it takes a lot of courage.”
To keep her focus, she’s holding off on dating until the pageant’s over. That’s not the only thing she’s looking forward to once her tiara days are behind her. What else is on the post-pageant agenda? “An extra side of fries would be cool,” she said with a laugh.
Makeup: Briana Siaca
Hair: Antonio Estrada
Styling: Estrada Twins