Young women step into limelight as they compete for pageant crown
By Robert Gold

THE NEWS-TIMES

Autumn Pinette
Jeannine Phillips, 22, of Lisbon reacts as she learns she‘s won the Miss Connecticut USA crown Sunday, as second runner-up Ashley Bickford smiles at the audience at the Danbury Sheraton.
DANBURY Sue and Tom Trujillo waited eagerly for their daughter Victoria to appear on stage.

This was the weekend Victoria has talked about for five years.

Every year, she asked her mom if she could compete in a beauty pageant. Every year, Sue told her to wait until she was 18.

The New Milford woman wanted to make sure her daughter's decision was well thought out.

"I didn't think she would stick with it, but she did," said Sue with a smile Sunday as she sat in the Candlewood Ballroom at the Danbury Sheraton Hotel. Next to her lay a dozen red roses, which she picked up earlier from the Big Y in New Milford for her daughter. Tom gripped his camera, ready to photograph Victoria.

On Sunday, Victoria and 32 other Connecticut women competed in the final day of the Miss Connecticut USA pageant. It was the fourth straight year it was held at the Danbury Sheraton.

Earlier in the day, Miss Connecticut Teen USA was held with Kristen Heide of Madison taking the top prize.

Competitors had already spent two days at the hotel rehearsing on stage in swimsuits and evening gowns. They also faced three-minute interviews from five different judges.

The Trujillos they could tell Victoria was loving it.

"She was all smiles," Sue said. "Hamming it up," Tom added. "She gets embarrassed by very little."

Within minutes, the contestants appeared on stage, all wearing denim skirts and jackets. Sue quickly waved at her daughter, trying to get her attention. The denim outfits, like the rest, were bought by the contestants.

The young women also had to raise $750 through a sponsorship. Victoria's grandmother Maria, who lives in Hartford, paid the fee.

"She (Victoria) always wanted to do something like this, but her parents wouldn't let her," she said.

On Sunday, the judges narrowed the field to 15 contestants.

Victoria missed the cut.

After the swimsuit and evening gown competition, the field was cut to five contestants, who answered a brief career question from co-host Jennifer Ferrin, an actress on the soap opera "As the World Turns."

Pageant newbie, 22-year-old Jeannine Phillips, won the crown.

"I kind of in a daze," Phillips said, who lives in Lisbon and is a senior studying business at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic. "I don't think it's set in yet."

Phillips won a trip to Jamaica and a weekend in San Francisco. She'll also compete in Miss USA which hasn't yet announced where it will be held.

While Phillips earned the top spot, several girls smiled and laughed afterwards.

For Victoria Trujillo, it was worth it. The 18-year-old New Milford High School senior spent most of the weekend practicing dance steps with other contestants. She didn't even have time for a dip in the hotel pool.

"It was pretty much dancing and trying to fit in some sleep," she said.

But she did earn a top interview prize for non-finalists.

She sees the event as a way to be a good role model.

Trujillo, who wants to study zoology and run a nature preserve in Africa one day, wanted to show younger students how to work hard.

For Bethel's Pasqualina Conte, the pageant was a chance to try something new. The 26-year-old woman knows she's running out of elibility to enter the pageant. Contestants must be between the ages of 18 and 27.

"I was nervous and scared. I was never that kind of person to walk out in front of a whole crowd of people," said Conte, who works at an assisted-living facility. But Conte said she was proud of herself. "It wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be ... it really boosted my confidence in myself."

Still, Conte said she probably won't compete in similar events in the future.

You need to put a lot of time into and if you don't win you're going to make yourself sick," she said.

Contact Robert Gold

at rgold@newstimes.com

or at (203) 731-3350.