When Caelin Nieto heard that her AP English teacher at Merced High School mentioned her as a possible pageant contestant, there was no hesitation at entering the Miss Merced County pageant.
Next week, Nieto will be among the youngest participants the 2012 Miss California pageant at Fresno's Saroyan Theatre.
"There really wasn't any hesitation on entering," said the 17-year-old Merced High graduate. "I was so used to seeing 'Toddlers and Tiaras' on TV."
Nieto endured weekly rehearsals at Buchan Colony High School in Atwater every Sunday.
"I'm so glad I did it," said Nieto, 17. "I met a lot of fun girls. I figured out my talent, and tried out a million dresses. It was crazy but it was worth it."
If Nieto is concerned about being in a pageant with older and more polished contestants, she's not showing it.
"I'm friends with previous Miss Merced Counties. They treat me like a little sister," said Nieto, who will attend California State University, Chico in the fall and major in criminal justice.
She met the current Miss California, Noelle Freeman, gave her positive reinforcement.
"She asked me if I was ready, if I was excited," said Nieto. "She said, 'You'll be just fine.'"
One thing she will remember is to bring her "A game" to Fresno.
"If I don't bring my A game, someone will," she said.
Nieto's platform is breast cancer advocacy, due to the fact that her mother, Celia, a third-grade teacher in Atwater, recovered from breast cancer.
"It was an emotional time for me. It came out well," said Nieto. "I wouldn't go back and change anything."
Her father, Gary, is retired. An older brother, Cameron, is taking a break from college.
Nieto, who will sing as part of her talent, admits needing some preparation.
"It definitely took some pushing," she said. "I'm one for singing in the shower, but a shower is secluded."
When she sang at the Miss Merced County pageant, Nieto said her knees were "knocking."
Now, she performs the national anthem whenever she is asked.
"This has given me so much confidence," said Nieto, who has since taken lessons with three voice coaches.
So, what does Miss Merced County do two weeks before the pageant?
Answer: Parade a 200-pound pig before potential buyers at the Merced County Fair.
She got $4.50 a pound, and pocketed $927 for college expenses. She was hoping for $5 a pound. The other pigs she raised the previous three years weighed more than 245 pounds.
This year's pig hurt her leg, and Nieto had to hand feed it for a while.
"This one has been the hardest, but the most rewarding," said Nieto, who graduated with a 4.1 GPA.
She wants to work for the FBI in the future.
"I wanted to be in the Army as a little girl, but my mother was very much against it," she said. "I love knowing that I can protect someone. I'm interested in the investigation process."
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