Senior Gabriella (Gaby) Sheffler and junior Tessa Tricarico stood on the grand stage of the Poway Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 25, in a moment of regal bliss. A spectrum of prismatic balloons cascaded down to the hems of their glittering evening gowns and peeking, painted toes as the packed plush seats cheered for the newly crowned Miss Poway and Miss Teen Poway, respectively. But this ain’t no beauty pageant.
Unlike beauty pageant competitors training their bodies towards flat abs and pearly, flirtatious smiles, contestants in
the Miss Poway Scholarship Pageant spent months refining the presentation of their characters and public-speaking skills to appear more polished and grounded before the panel of judges.
“In actuality, the Poway Pageant judges you on your poise, your speaking ability, your interview skills, and how confidently you carry yourself,” Sheffler said. “It’s not about looks; it’s about showing your personality on stage and just who you are as a person. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. They hear the word pageant and they think ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’.”
The Poway Pageant also differs from the conventional, publicized pageant in the questions that the girls face onstage and in private interviews. The individual interviews compose the largest component of the contestants’ score sheets. Questions are asked on moral and personal— not political— topics. To prepare for the pressure of the private interview, Tricarico simply remembered to stay true to her already assertive disposition. In her one-minute introduction speech to the judges, Tricarico directly stated that “I’m just going to be myself because that’s what Miss Teen Poway would do.”
Evidently, her boldness triumphed.
“Everybody says be the fruit loop in the bowl of cheerios. What if I’m the cheerio in the bowl of fruit loops?” Tricarico said. “I just want to be myself; I have nothing to show other than that, so I just tried really hard to make sure that they really knew who I was, not who I was trying to be so that they would like me.”
Sheffler’s game-winning strategy was similar and allowed much room for her dazzlingly broad, yet still homey, personality. One question the judges asked her was on the one place in Poway she would take them. Her response was terrifically and effortlessly her:
“I’d take them down the street to Taco Taco because they have some of the best 99 cent tacos they can have.”
This sort of unapologetically witty and truthful answer was surefire for a reason. Sheffler had competed in the pageant before and recently relinquished her title as Miss Rancho Penasquitos CYE (Council for Youth Empowerment). In her experience, there is no reason to hide from the judges.
“The judges are rooting for you from the start. If you go into the interview with a positive mindset, they’re going to support
you,” Sheffler said. “I wanted to show them I’m a real person. I’m in here to help others, and I’m not in here for my own personal gain.”
If there is one thing the judges are certainly looking for in a winner, it’s selflessness. Throughout its year, the Miss Poway court volunteers up to 200 hours around Poway and San Diego County, sometimes even traversing farther California cities.
“I understand that it’s more than just a title. It’s a big responsibility,” Sheffler said. “I’m willing to give it my all and take the time and effort to give back as much as possible.”
Sheffler most looks forward to any events with Poway’s younger residents, whom she aspires to inspire with her budding leadership position.
“Little kids kind of see you differently when you have a tiara on your head. They look up to you more,” Sheffler said. “I think Miss Poway should be a role model to younger children. When you grow up, you should always strive to help others and put others before yourself. This pageant is a great way to do that. It opens a lot of doors to give back in the community. It’s really good to show little children that giving back to the community is the biggest thing that you should look for in life.”
Tricarico, who was Miss Teen Poway 2nd Princess (second runner-up) last year, anticipates the events she missed out on, such as Red Shoe Day, which involves rising before the sun does and standing on Poway’s street corners to collect money for the Ronald McDonald House. Tricarico expresses extra enthusiasm for the Vista Strawberry Festival because, she laughingly admits, “I heard that there’s a pie eating contest and I really hope to participate in that.”
However, it was an event from her previous reign that drew Tricarico back to the Poway Pageant.
“Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine is similar to the Best Buddies Ball (Friendship Club’s prom for critical skills students) for adults
who are disabled,” Tricarico said. “It really meant a lot to me to be able to make sure that the people there really felt like they were king and queen of the ball. My sister is disabled so I was able to see how Poway ensures that everybody in the city is thought of and is respected and has a place to be
Seeing the Poway community from a standpoint of servitude envelopes the heart of the pageant’s intent, along with developing a constant consciousness of how basic acts of charity and professionalism impact an environment.
“Even without wearing the crown and sash, no matter where I go, I’m still representing Poway,” Tricarico said. “I’m like Poway’s little mascot. I wouldn’t say it’s pressure, but it’s a different kind of respect and responsibility than I’m used to.”
Sheffler found that the pageant readied her for life beyond high school with job and life expertise.
“My interview skills have improved a lot because I’ve learned how to take my time and truly understand what I’m saying instead of just rushing to answer the question,” Sheffler said.
Sheffler and Tricarico have an entire year of service ahead of them, in which they will walk further down the paths of volunteership and charity engrained in the Poway Community. Their tiaras and sashes will draw attention to their good works, a fact that Tricarico and Sheffler still can’t wrap their crown-adorned heads around.
“It’s super surreal. I can’t really comprehend it yet,” Sheffler said.
High school girl one day, queen of your hometown the next— it is all quite fantastical.
“These judges I barely knew I don’t even know their names— they thought that I was good enough to be the representing teen of Miss Poway. To have made that much of an impact on them meant a lot to my character,” Tricarico said. “I wasn’t expecting the news to spread so quickly. I had a Spanish test a couple days ago. I was so nervous for it, and then this guy behind me who I barely talk to was like, ‘Come on Miss Teen Poway, where’s your confidence?’ and I was like, ‘Where is my confidence? I can do this!’”
After learning to glide in heels in front of hundreds of people without stumbling and answer personal questions from perfect strangers in perfect time, Tricarico and Sheffler really can do anything (It’s worth noting that Tricarico scored 100% on that test.)