A javelin thrower (Raena Ramírez); a woman who was almost sold for 1,000 camels in Morocco (Stephanie Behring); the owner of 73 pair of shoes (Cheyenne Kotick); and, a woman who spent four years constructing a dress of Starburst wrappers (Elizabeth Sartuche) are the unlikeliest pageant contestants.
Yet, those four will join 42 others when the 2017 edition of the Miss California Pageant opens its curtains with the first of six nights on June 25 at the Saroyan Theatre.
The successor to Miss California 2016 Jessa Carmack includes five Latinas: Miss Anaheim Hills Jazmín Ávalos; Miss Napa County Alyssa Vásquez; Miss North Valley Sarah Beth Arroyo; Miss San Joaquín County Amy Montes-Espinoza; and, Miss Ventura County Amanda Rodríguez.
The sixth is Ramírez, Miss Desert Southland, and the only Latina who returns from last year’s pageant.
Ramírez, who was named Miss Congeniality last year, said the “amazing experience” made her want to return.
“People always have that idea of catty girls and jealous people; girls who will cut your dresses,” said Ramírez in a video question-and-answer session. “It was nothing like that at all. I’m still friends with the girls that I competed with.”
Ramírez, a 21-year-old psychology and social behavior major at UC Irvine, didn’t enter any pageants until she was in college and figured she had the time to invest in such a venture. She was Miss Garden Grove last year.
“I want to go back and be with my friends and have that experience all over again,” said Ramírez, who threw the javelin a personal best 41.87 meters (137 feet, 4 7/16 inches) in March.
Ramírez will change her talent from last year’s acrobatic jazz number to tap dance.
Her platform is ‘Empowerment through Sports,’ a topic she is familiar with because of a sports background that includes competitive soccer.
A look at the other Latina contestants:
▪ Ávalos is a 20-year-old English major at Fullerton State who competed in the Miss California Outstanding Teen as Miss Garden Grove in 2011.
“Little did I know how much this program would change my life,” said Ávalos in a video on the pageant website. “I learned everything from self confidence to public speaking to being able to advocate for issues that were important to me.”
Ávalos, who has worked in the Disneyland entertainment department for two years, hopes to apply for medical school.
Her talent will be a vocal pop performance of ‘Defying Gravity’ from ‘Wicked.’
Her platform is ‘Choose Happiness: Substance Abuse Prevention.’
“I actually lost my father to alcoholism when I was very young,” said Ávalos, who adds that addiction affects more than 17 million Americans.
▪ Vásquez is a 20-year-old classical voice major at San Francisco State, where she is also an IT consultant.
The big ‘Star Wars’ fan also works as a certified nursing assistant and is a retail assistant for Napa Valley’s Paraduxx Winery.
Her platform is ‘Find Your Harmony.’
Her talent will be the classical vocal ‘Als Luise Die Briefe,’ a song written for piano and soprano by Mozart.
Vásquez, who raised enough money for her first year of college by selling livestock, taught herself how to play piano when she was 12.
▪ Arroyo, 24, graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She also completed five years of cake decorating classes.
Arroyo will perform the Broadway song ‘Finding Wonderland,’ from the play ‘Wonderland,’ for her talent. Her platform is ‘The Grateful Garment Project.’
She spent 10 months in Germany when she was 16 as a junior ambassador from the U.S.
▪ Montes-Espinosa, a student at Stanislaus State, had never competed in a pageant until she entered the Miss San Joaquín County event earlier this year.
“Growing up I have always been a happy girl but not a very confident one,” Montes-Espinosa, 24, posted on the pageant website. “My turning point occurred years ago, when I realized how ironic it was that I could encourage others in their pursuit towards their dreams but I wasn’t able to encourage myself.”
She has experienced bullying, which is one reason her platform is ‘Stop Bullying, Spread Kindness!’
Her talent will be a vocal performance of ‘Time to Say Goodbye,’a song popularized by Andrea Bocelli.
Montes-Espiosa was inspired to start singing when she saw the Disney movie ‘Cinderella.’ She has played the piano for more than 10 years.
▪ Rodríguez, who will be a junior sociology major at UC Santa Bárbara, finished runner-up at the Miss California Latina pageant earlier this year and got hooked.
“I have always had an interest,” said Rodríguez in an interview. “I watched Miss America and Miss Universe, and it always attracted my attention.”
The former Girl Scout said finishing high in the Latina pageant “felt like it was a sign from God. It was a lot of fun.”
She will perform the Mexican folkloric dance ‘Jarabe Tapatío’ for her talent.
Her platform is ‘Confidence Through Education,’ primarily because in her hometown of Oxnard “the majority of the population is Latino but there is not a lot of push for higher education.”
Miss California 2017
▪ The winner will be crowned on Saturday (July 1) at the Saroyan Theatre.
▪ The talent ranges from vocals to a magic act. The most common talent is vocal with 19, followed by dance with 13 and piano with 4.
▪ The Miss California Outstanding Teen, with 33 hopefuls, will be held at the same time. The successor to Jenna Tower will be crowned on Friday (June 30).
▪ The preliminaries will start at 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The finals for the teen and miss pageants will start at 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Saroyan box office or through Ticketmaster.