Miss California crowns its champ, and the winner is …

Jillian Smith is one of seven granddaughters who have competed in Miss America events. None made it past the state level. Until Saturday.

Smith, a 22-year-old native from Grass Valley, was crowned Miss California during Saturday night’s competition at Saroyan Theatre. The Nevada Union High graduate is a senior at Cal Poly, nearing her last semester as a broadcast journalism major with a minor in music. She would like to go into entertainment media, she said.

But first there is the Miss America competition on Sept. 10 in Atlantic City. Smith, as Miss Yosemite Valley, accepted the state crown from 2016 Miss California winner Jessa Carmack. Along with the title, Smith was awarded a $25,000 scholarship, which includes $5,000 from the city of Fresno.

“I actually got involved (in the Miss America Organization) because when I was 5 years old, I was here at the Saroyan Theatre watching my cousin participate in Miss California,” she said. “I think they’re all just going to be super, super excited.”

Smith herself has competed for the past six years, making the top 10 when she was 16 as an Outstanding Teen finalist.

“I spent every day at the gym, I got caught up in my current events, and I just really tried to focus on bettering myself,” Smith said.

As she stood on the stage with the other finalists, anticipation turned to shock when her name was called.

“I was also in disbelief when they announced me as top interview,” she said, “because I actually walked out of my interview feeling not too thrilled.”

Katie Wayland, Miss City of Orange, was the first runner-up.

Among others honored, Miss Kings County Laura Sparks received one of four awards for scoring the highest points in the talent portion as a nonfinalist. On Friday night, Violet Joy Hansen of El Dorado Hills was crowned Miss California Outstanding Teen.

Fresno has hosted the competition since 1994, and Mayor Lee Brand took the stage Friday to introduce reigning Miss America Savvy Shields.

“I’m proud to have Fresno as the home of Miss California,” Brand said.

During the weeklong competition, 46 women were interviewed by the judges and took part in swimsuit, evening wear and talent competitions. Smith performed a piano piece for the talent portion, “White Water Chopsticks.”

She also plays the harp and guitar.

Throughout her year of representing California, Smith will focus on bringing the Dude. Be Nice Project to schools. She also has created “Arts in the Afternoon,” which exposes children to the arts.

Smith won’t get much time to relax before stepping up preparations for Miss America, but was looking forward to one thing after Saturday’s win.

“I’d like to eat some chocolate,” she laughed.

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPan

Miss California runners-up

  • First: Katie Wayland, Miss City of Orange
  • Second: Mackenzie Freed, Miss Orange Show
  • Third: Elyse Vincenzi, Miss San Francisco
  • Fourth: Joye Forrest, Miss San Fernando Valley