MANHATTAN — While some potential beauty queens take hours preparing for competition, Merlix Ventura took years.
A self-confessed brat, Ventura's mom banned her from beauty pageants as a 5-year-old for being too demanding.
But now, 16 years later, the more composed 21-year-old's dream is close to coming true.
Ventura will be competing in the Miss New York USA pageant next week, a stepping-stone to Donald Trump’s Miss USA and Miss Universe contests. The pageant, which runs from Jan. 13 to 15 in Westchester, draws more than 300 contestants, judging them on internal beauty as well as external appearance.
“They [the judges] want to see you are polished, open minded and kind hearted.” said Ventura. “That is the type of woman they are looking for — fit, healthy, able to speak in public, express ourselves without offending anybody.”
In the weeks leading up to the contest, Ventura has been working out daily, walks almost everywhere for that added exercise boost and has regular sessions with her interview coach.
While this line of pageants does not include a talent segment, contestants can be asked tough questions by judges, and have their opinions on current events or controversies such as legalization of marijuana or abortion grilled.
“You need to be on point,” said Ventura, who is studying political science with a minor in Jewish Studies at the City College of New York. “You need to stand up there and be certain about your answer.”
One question Ventura is anticipating is describing herself in three words. Her prepared response is weird, passionate and relatable.
Ventura was a promising pageant star as a child, winning the prestigious beauty crown at the Dominican Day Parade in the mid '90s. However, a fragile character mixed with glamorous attention proved a treacherous mix.
“I bossed my father around. I bossed my mother,” she said.
The breaking point came when Ventura referred to her mother as her slave and Ventura as a queen while demanding a glass of water. Her mother put a ban on the pageants.
“I thought she was kidding, but she wasn’t kidding at all,” said Ventura.
Between now and then, Ventura became a co-founder of a non-profit that just won a $55,000 grant from the Union Square Awards. The organization, called Da Urban Butterflies, supports young women of color in the Washington Heights area.
She's also a modeling teacher at KB Modeling Agency which, along with Ventura’s mother, helped pay the $2,000 entrance fee for Miss New York USA.
Now after her 16 year absence from the beauty pageant scene, Ventura is ready to dazzle with internal beauty and developed character traits.
“It is all about the girl letting herself do what she is suppose to do in a beauty pageant, which is capturing the judges with her smile, with her intelligence,” she said.