The first time Valerie Alcaráz walked into the Saroyan Theatre for the Miss California Competition last year, she cried.
“When you reach the goal you’ve been working for half your life, it’s indescribable. Going to Miss California, being in Fresno and standing on the Saroyan stage was everything I hoped it was ever going to be,” recalled Alcaráz, who returns to the competition this week.
Since she was 13, she has competed in more than 60 local pageants associated with Miss America.
“For the past 12 years, I had seen pictures of girls to to the Fresno opening ceremonies at city hall, go to the Lester barbecue and compete on that stage,” said Alcaráz during a phone interview last Thursday. “I idealized all those moments all those years.”
When she arrived in Fresno last year, “it was beyond a dream come true,” she said. “I actually cried when I stepped onto the Saroyan Theatre stage for the first time because I thought, ‘I’m here. I made it!’”
So, returning for the pageant that will crown a successor to Miss California 2018 Mackenzie Freed should have been a breeze for the 24-year-old Fullerton State double major. Right?
Alcaráz, who earned the Miss Congeniality title last year, had to compete in four local pageants before winning Miss Anaheim Hills and earning her return ticket.
“When you win a local title and you get a chance to go to the Miss California pageant and your year of service is up, you know deep down you are never guaranteed a trip back to Fresno,” said Alcaráz. “I went into this season knowing that.
“I knew if the judges were looking for me to be a titleholder, they would find me in that crowd. And if they weren’t looking for me, then it wouldn’t be in the cards for me to finish my last year going back to Miss California.”
It takes more than perseverance to make it back.
“I did place a lot of pressure on myself,” said Alcaráz. “I had expectations to uphold because I had been a titleholder.”
Alcaráz said it’s important to wipe your mind clean of previous local pageant losses.
“I just needed to look at it in the lens that I had never won before,” she said. “You come off as, ‘I want this. On this particular night I’m not thinking of anything prior.
“You have to remember that you are good enough each night; it’s just you are not the judges’ pick that night.”
Alcaráz has never changed her routine for the pageant. The Girl Scouts has been her platform each time, for example.
“I never changed a lot about myself. I have a lot of value in my self worth and I knew one night the panel would look at me and find me.”
If her goal was only about “a crown and sash, I would have stopped at loss 1, 2, 40 or 50.”
“That mindset keeps me going now,” said Alcaráz.
That mindset came in handy when Alcaráz decided to change her pageant talent about four years ago from monologues and dancing to singing, which was a big plunge for someone who got cut from her high school choir.
“One day I realized why I wasn’t feeling confidence in my performance at the competition. I was not invested enough,” said Alcaráz. “I got up and decided to sing ‘Don’t Know Why’ by Norah Jones for Miss Orange County.”
She didn’t tell anyone.
“I just went up there and sang it. The worst thing would be that I’d be told ‘Don’t go sing that again.’”
The response was positive. “Wow! Where did this voice come from?”
Alcaráz, who will sing the operatic song ‘Con te Partirò’ (Time to Say Goodbye) for her talent, went on to experiment with different styles of singing to develop her own vocal style. She tried opera one day and fell in love.
“It was taking that leap of faith and trusting in what was my best talent,” she said.
Her platform is the Girl Scouts of America, an organization she has been involved with from the Daisy program all the away to ambassador and even troop co-leader.
“The Girl Scouts seeks to empower girls to get involved in all community events; and, to have courage, confidence and character. That mirrors teh goal of Miss America,” said Alcaráz.
Her mother, Desiree Alcaráz, was a troop leader and encouraged her to join the organization. However, she gave her the opportunity to pursuit other interests. “I fell in love with Girl Scouts,” said Alcaráz, who has two younger sisters who are more interested in sports.
In Fresno, Alcaráz looks forward to being a mentor for first-time participants.
“It’s a stressful, busy week. It’s easy to get overwhelmed,” she said. “I have that opportunity to offer that shoulder, that ear for that girl to take it all in.”
This year’s pageant will be the first without the swimsuit competition due to changes made by the national organization last year. It will be replaced by an on-stage interview.
Alcaráz loved the swimsuit portion of the competition.
“I thought it was a very traditional part of Miss California,” she said. The judges, she added, will still be looking at the mental, emotional and physical qualities of a contestant.
This marks the 25th year in a row that Fresno has hosted the pageant.
The Miss California finals will air on KJEO Channel 47 CBS from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday (June 29).
www.vidaenelvalle.com: More profiles, updates
Miss California Competition
When: June 26-29, 2019 (Miss Outstanding Teen finals on Friday, 7 p.m.-9 p.m.; Miss California finals on Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)
Where: Saroyan Theatre
What: Miss California preliminaries Wednesday and Thursday, 7 p.m.-9:15 p.m.; teen competition Friday, 7 p.m.-9 p.m.
Latina contestants: Miss Anaheim Hills Valerie Alcaráz, Miss San Joaquín County Ambrosia Lobo, Miss Silicon Valley Alyssa Vásquez, Miss Merced County Gaby Muro, Miss Capitol City Sacramento Marissa Honey-Plata, Miss Desert Southland Cristina Bequer, Miss Anaheim Jazmín Avalos
Latina contestants (Miss Teen): Canyon Hills Savannah Jiménez, High Desert Sophie Nessary, San Joaquín County Anahí Rodríguez
Television: Miss California finals, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday (June 29)