Broward County

Crowning glory: Beauty queens prepare for Miss Florida USA pageant

It would be hard to miss them as they lounged in the lobby or posed by the pool, far too cheerful for an average Thursday morning and far less clothed than the other guests of the Westin Diplomat hotel.

The sashes proclaimed their turf and their titles. From Miss Jacksonville to Miss Homestead, the whole of Florida was represented by the 71 beauty queens gathered in Hollywood to prepare for their next challenge: winning the coveted crown of Miss Florida USA 2014 at this Saturday’s statewide pageant at Broward College.

“We were checking in and my husband noticed all of the women in swimsuits,” said Val Pelinko, a tourist from New York staying at the Westin.

One of those women in swimsuits was the current Miss Florida USA, Michelle Aguirre of Hialeah.

With his wife’s blessing, Pelinko gingerly put his arm around Aguirre’s waist, as if afraid to break her delicate figure, as his better half took a snapshot.

“They really are pretty. Heavenly,” the wife said after tucking away her iPhone. The husband could only nod his agreement.

But the contestants are more than just pretty faces — although they are that, as well.

Some of them used to be models, such as Miss Emerald Coast Madison Brooke Read, who has been modeling swimsuits since she was 12 years old.

Ashley Conley, Miss Jacksonville Beach, has been modeling since she was 16 but says pageantry fulfilled a “desire to be a part of my community and be a role model.”

The opportunity to be a role model was a motivator for a number of the women there. Some, such as Miss Miami Brittany Lugo, see the title of Miss Florida USA as “a microphone” for championing her cause, helping women and children affected by domestic violence.

“Being able to say you’re a pageant winner is also awesome for a resume,” added Lugo, who said employers appreciate the hard work it takes to get to that point.

It probably didn’t hurt Guess Jeans’ reputation to have Miss Miami in the store, either, she admitted.

But the assembled Misses were also honest about the other reasons that brought them to pageantry.

“I’m a girly-girl,” said Lledon Stokes, Miss Clearwater, with a proud smile. “I’ve always been a ‘glam-zilla.’”

Stokes also wanted to make friends with girls whose interests in fashion, glamour and beauty overlapped with hers.

To that end, it seemed that most of the contestants were friendly and even helpful to one another, giving pointers on makeup or dances.

As excited as all were to compete at Miss Florida USA Saturday night, there would undoubtedly be a sigh of relief when it was over.

“It’s been a lot of hours in high heels,” said Brenda Santana, who, as Miss Hollywood Beach, was right at home.

“But most of all, I want to eat carbs again,” Santana said.

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