Miss Vermont USA: Madison accepts crown

Madison Cota, the reigning Miss Vermont USA, on the left in white (No. 16), accepted her crown last year at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. This year, Cota will pass the crown to the next Miss Vermont USA, who will be crowned Nov. 12 at Spruce Peak.

She’s beauty and she’s grace; she’s Miss United States.

Or at least, she’s Miss Vermont USA.

In evening gowns, swimsuits and high heels, young women from all over the state will take their first confident steps toward representing the state in the Miss USA competition.

Miss Vermont USA and Miss Vermont Teen USA will be chosen next month in Stowe, said Miss Vermont USA and Miss Vermont Teen USA director Glenn Brown.

Contestants will represent Vermont in the Miss USA pageant, not to be confused with the Miss America pageant series. Miss USA is chosen from the state title-holders, and she goes on to participate in the Miss Universe pageant, which selects the winner from countries around the world.

Competing for the state title is the first glittery, high-heeled step on the road to feeling the weight of the Miss Universe crown, said Brown.

Preliminary competition begins Nov. 11. The next day Miss Vermont USA and Miss Vermont Teen USA will accept their crowns and sashes from current title-holders.

The Miss Vermont Teen USA pageant is open to girls aged 14 through 18, and Miss Vermont USA accepts hopefuls aged 18 through 27.

Registration closes Oct. 20.

All young women trying out must be either U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and must have lived in Vermont for at least six months. Contestants also must never have been married, and cannot be pregnant or have given birth or parented children.

Preliminary judging begins with an almost-three-minute personal interview between each contestant and a panel of five judges, followed by the physical fitness segment, where teens don athletic gear and hopefuls wear swimsuits.

After the fitness portion, contestants put on evening gowns and sashay into the last part of the competition.

At the end of Saturday’s competition, judges winnow down the list of hopefuls, who then repeat the process Sunday before two young women are chosen to represent Vermont in the Miss USA pageant.

Beyond skin-deep

Many people write off the competition as a beauty pageant and nothing more, but Brown stressed the Miss Vermont USA pageant is about looking for beauty that goes beyond the skin.

The pageant program, with its tagline “Confidently beautiful,” is about seeking young women with self-confidence, healthy lifestyles and a drive to make the world a better place, Brown said.

He said the swimsuit portion of the competition is central to that search, because it helps judges determine which young women devote themselves to healthy living.

“I know that a lot of people think it’s outdated, that it’s very sexist,” Brown said, but “we’re looking for the most well-rounded young woman who can be a role model in all walks of life.”

“When they’re judged, they’re judged on how healthy they look. It’s not how skinny they are, it’s not what a perfect body they have or anything along those lines. What they’re judged on is, do they take care of themselves? Are they physically active?”

Since young women look up to Miss Vermont USA and Miss Vermont Teen USA, Brown said it’s crucial that title-holders be healthy.

As a man, Brown said it’s hard for him to understand exactly what contestants go through

but that “it’s a great female empowering weekend. That’s what we’re about. They join a sisterhood that is very, very positive and helps promote them and lift other individuals up. … They really come out of that 48-hour time period a changed individual. Everybody does it for a different reason, and each individual knows why they’re there and can get something out of it,” said Brown, who’s been involved with the Miss Vermont USA organization for seven years. “You watch somebody come in very shy, very timid. They leave so confident and self-assured.”

Confidence is Madison Cota’s takeaway from her year as Miss Vermont USA. Cota, 21, won the title at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center last year. She’s a senior at Lasell College in Newton, Mass., and will graduate with a degree in fashion merchandising.

“When I first started competing, I could not speak in front of a room of people,” Cota said. “I have grown so much. It’s not just about the glitz and glamor. You really get to make an impact.”

Cota’s pet cause is organ donation, in honor of an uncle who died while on the organ transplant list. Cota attends “hundreds of events” wearing her sash, promoting organ donation and helping with other causes, such as dress drives for girls who need help buying a prom or homecoming dress.

She began competing her sophomore year in high school as something fun to do with her mother, and never expected to win.

In May, she competed in the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas, which draws around four million viewers annually.

“It’s honestly exhilarating,” she said. Cota says when she got up on stage, she was “feeling confident and comfortable in who I was, and feeling at peace with what I had done.”

Cota has also come away with lifelong friendships. “It’s just a special bond. You get to meet them throughout the year doing events together. It’s a really nice sisterhood of women who are just as passionate about things as you are.”

Self-confidence will be key for Miss Vermont USA and Miss Teen Vermont USA hopefuls that November weekend, Cota said.

“It’s easy enough to go to the gym, get in really good shape, (and) pick out a pretty dress, but it’s about coming to a place with yourself where you know you’re happy about who you are as a person and what you bring to the table,” Cota said. “That is honestly half the battle. Once you believe it, other people can see it.”

Bridget Martin of Stowe won the Miss Vermont Teen USA title at just 14 years old in 2010, making her the youngest girl in history to hold that title. In 2015, Martin was named to the New England Patriots cheerleading squad, and now, she attends Vermont Law School.

“The moment I won I was in shock,” Martin said. “The advice I would give to young women trying out in this year’s pageant would be to forget about the competition aspect of the weekend and simply have fun.

“When I won Miss Vermont Teen USA my confidence shined on stage because I only focused on the positive aspects of myself and truly was in the moment, diminishing all of my nerves. Enjoy your time on stage, those moments are all about you!”

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