Friendly nature of competition sets Miss California pageant apart

Miss California contestants start their 14-hour day early at the Saroyan Theatre in downtown Fresno with morning rehearsals and end late with conflicting desires for girl talk all night or much-needed sleep.

There’s a table loaded with carbohydrates, but fitness competitors and singers avoid it like the plague.

There are enough costume changes to make your head spin, and if it could be bedazzled with sparkly bits, it was.

But it’s all for one moment, which Miss Central Valley Savannah Albright put best: “When you’re standing on the end of the stage in your final pose, there’s just a feeling of all the hard work.   You soak in the moment and it all settles in: ‘This is why I do this.’ 

For Albright, getting to that moment in her evening gown involved trying on at least 30 dresses over four days at Mia Bella Couture in northeast Fresno.

Wednesday night’s competition was fierce. Miss Fresno County Kelsey Schulteis took the stage with the sass of Carmen, singing “Habanera” from French composer Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” The audience erupted into cheers and applause for the woman with the red scarf and rose-patterned dress.

Miss Kings County Frances Wilson took her tough onstage question about the upcoming election in stride, saying her top three concerns are a smooth transition of administration, voter turnout and lack of education among young voters.

“I think you just have to answer it with confidence and take whatever you get and answer it, because that’s what they want to know about the next Miss California,” Wilson said. “They’re going to be in interviews with the media, and they need to know how to answer those questions.”

Some women had inspirational answers. Miss Merced County Mary Loera said her legacy as Miss California would be using her crown to help all organizations, not just her own platform.

Miss Sierra Nevada Rita Garabet said she’d tell her former self from five years ago to “Fight on!” – adding a fist pump for emphasis – to reach her dreams of being in the Miss California pageant and going to dentistry school.

During the fitness and evening gown competitions, Miss Clovis Elise Barco, Miss San Joaquin County Kathryn Faull and Miss Yosemite Valley Heidi Cheung displayed confidence and poise. The two events are worth 35 percent of their total scores.

“I feel like I put my best foot forward,” Barco said. “I felt really confident onstage and elegant in evening walk.”

During the evening gown event on Wednesday, members of Design Science High School’s color guard escorted contestants down the steps, where they handed white roses to girls in the Miss California Princess Program. Then, they crossed the stage to “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys.

“A lot of people think pageant girls are cutthroat or super competitive, but the amazing thing about the Miss America organization is that all of the girls are so genuine and so sweet,” Barco said. “It’s like a sisterhood, so getting to compete with your friends is one of the best things about competing for the Miss America organization.”

The pageant is also a reunion for former titleholders. Donna Cherry, a comedian who was Miss California in 1984, emceed the event. She provided comic relief between performances, especially when she read tweets that used the hashtag #pageantconfessions, like this one:

This tweet didn’t make it onstage, but it embodies what many Miss California and Outstanding Teen contestants love about the program.

Albright and Miss Tulare County Kayla Seffing are good friends who have competed together for three years and won last year. Pageant competitions have made them closer friends and also taught them more about themselves.

Seffing’s most important lesson was learning to be herself.

“There’s a lot of pressure for me to watch my weight, and make sure everything fits really well, but that doesn’t make me any less intelligent or any less talented or beautiful as the other girls who aren’t my size. That doesn’t mean that I’m any less fit or healthy,” Seffing said.

Albright agrees.

“The first couple years that I ran for my local, I wanted to be that fit, molded pageant girl I thought the judges were looking for,” Albright said. “It’s not like that. I think it’s important to stay who you are because the judges are going to find that person, and you don’t want to regret not being yourself and wondering what would’ve happened if you were you.”

JoAnna Kroeker: 559-441-6247, @jobethkroeker

If you go

Where: Saroyan Theatre, 730 M St., Fresno

When: Final competition: Miss California Outstanding Teen, 5:30 p.m. Friday; Celebration, 7 p.m.; Miss California, 5:30 p.m. Saturday; Miss California Gala, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: Live streaming tickets, $10/night Friday, $15 Saturday; venue tickets, $40 to $50 Friday and Saturday, available from Ticketmaster or at the door.

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