Updated at 10 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2013 to correct information on the separate pageants and to correct a misspelled name.
Salisha Thomas is living the life of a typical college junior, with one major difference.
On Feb. 2, she won the title of Miss Fullerton 2013.
With her new title comes a delicate balancing act.
In the midst of her hectic schedule as a full time student and a theatre arts major (she has a role in this spring’s musical, All Shook Up), she will also be making appearances at community events and services.
She will also compete in the 2013 Miss California Pageant in Fresno.
Whoever is crowned Miss California can compete in the Miss America pageant.
This is the first win for Thomas, who was born and raised in Fresno and has been competing in pageants since she was 17.
Thomas, now 20, said she is still in shock about the win as she has always competed without expectation of taking home a title.
“I do it for the scholarships,” she said. “This time, I actually wanted to win.”
It was that change of mindset that made all the difference, she said.
To many people, being a pageant girl means a lot of smiling, waving and looking good in a bathing suit.
Movies like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Miss Congeniality have done little to refute these ideas.
Thomas, along with the Miss Fullerton organization, wants people to know that these are misconceptions.
At its heart, the Miss Fullerton competition truly is a scholarship program.
Young women compete in the areas of talent, interview, evening wear, casual wear and, yes, swimsuit.
Thomas said the evening wear and swimsuit areas are worth less points than the talent and interview portions, but they promote physical fitness, poise and well-roundedness.
Kathi Hikawa, the executive director of the Miss Fullerton program, is quick to separate the Miss America program from other pageants, which she said “are really more of a swimsuit competition.”
Hikawa stresses the importance of the scholarship as well as the community service that goes into the job of being Miss Fullerton.
According to Hikawa, Miss Fullerton is a non-profit organization where all money raised goes to scholarships and charitable organizations.
The contestants are required to raise at least $100 for the Children’s Miracle Foundation.
Hikawa said they even stress the importance of contestants using what they already have for the competition.
“We don’t want [contestants] to go out and spend a lot of money. Wear what’s in your closet,” said Hikawa.
Thomas heeded that advice, wearing a dress she had worn in her first pageant, as well as one she’s had in her closet since the eighth grade.
Thomas said she is passionate about showing people that the negative connotations that surround pageant participants are simply untrue.
“I feel like people just think pageant girls are dumb and they’re catty and snobby,” she said. “That is not true … people look out for one another, and these girls are really smart.”
That passion came in handy when, during the onstage interview, Thomas was asked what she would do to dispel those misconceptions.
“I said I would invite them to the show and so they can see that these women are talented, eloquent and elegant,” Thomas said.
Jared Kaitz, a close friend of Thomas’ who attended the show, said it was at that moment he knew she had won.
“She nailed it,” said Kaitz. “(She) always hates this particular section … but this time she walked out with confidence, waited for the question and responded with a perfect answer.”
Hikawa said the evening gown portion of the show was the moment she believed Thomas had sealed the deal.
“It was just a ‘wow’ moment,” she said.
Hikawa said Thomas’ voice and her strong interview were poignant moments in the competition.
Thomas sang the Lena Horne ballad “Stormy Weather” for her talent display.
After winning the title, Thomas has become an ambassador for the community.
She will appear at local charity events and work with both the Children’s Miracle Foundation and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Thomas’ personal platform is focused on children with disabilities. Hikawa and Kaitz agree that despite her busy school schedule, Thomas will excel in her duties as Miss Fullerton and do well in the Miss California competition in June.