A new ambassador

The Miss USF Scholarship Pageant served the traditional pageant fare but with an infusion of attitude and personality from the contestants. Miss USF 2002, Erin Gardner, blew away the competition Tuesday with her rendition of the Broadway musical song, “And This Is My Beloved.”

Gardner, a sophomore majoring in marketing, said she was surprised to win the pageant.

“I’m excited. That’s all I can say,” Gardner said after winning. “All the girls were so talented.”

Swimsuit, talent and evening wear competition dominated the Special Events Center stage, but the real show took place before the competition. The deciding factor proved to be the interview sessions, as is typical in pageant competitions, said Lynne Dalton, judges’ chairwoman.

“It all comes down to the interview,” Dalton said. “It’s personality, how quick they think on their feet. Personality. Genuineness. We tell the judges we definitely want a young woman that can represent the university and be a good ambassador for the university.”

Dalton said the judges were also looking for someone who could work well with the community.

In fact, the interview counts for 30 percent of the contestant’s total score, said Susan Holsonback, the presenter. Talent is 40 percent, while both the swimsuit and evening wear competition is 15 percent of the total.

Unlike many pageants, Miss USF had several first-time contestants out of the eight competitors. This was Gardner’s second pageant. Last Thursday, she placed second in Miss Largo. In April, Gardner will participate in a Miss Florida workshop where she will meet the other 43 contestants and will practice production numbers. In June, Gardner will compete for the Miss Florida title in Orlando.

“Normally, it takes a girl several pageants before she gets a title,” Dalton said. “That’s rare.”

Although the women stood alone on the stage, each girl had loud cheering sections complete with family and friends to support them. During many points in the evening presenter, Susan Holsonback, couldn’t be heard over the shouts of the girls’ names and affirmations like “You go, girl.”

Gardner’s mother said her daughter would serve USF well.”I couldn’t be happier,” Katerina Gardner said. “I think she’ll make a great Miss USF and represent the university very honorably. I think she’ll make a good impression on them.”

As Miss USF, Gardner will receive a $500 tuition scholarship and a $150 book scholarship.

The odds of placing in the pageant were better than average. With only eight contestants and four spots, the women had a 50/50 chance of placing. The first runner-up was Elizabeth Everett, an elementary education major, who will also receive scholarship money, with $250 toward her tuition and $100 for books. Lavieria Nottage, an American and African studies major, won second place and took home a $100 tuition scholarship as well as a $50 book scholarship.

Tiffany Corinti, a finance major, placed third and received a plaque.

However, the pageantry is more than just evening gowns and sparkling tiaras.

“It’s an honor to represent the school,” said Suzanne Dani’L Metzler, former Miss USF 2001. “I’ve been given so many opportunities, (including) extending my platform. I’ve found an extended family and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

  • Contact Erika Pratesiat oracleerika@yahoo.com