Role models for Malibu

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Sixteen-year-old Brie Gabrielle was crowned 2007 Miss Teen Malibu, and went on to compete in the Miss Teen California, winning the honor of "Miss Photogenic." She now works as an actress and would like to study entertainment law. Teresa Koehler Photography

Contestants ready for the third annual Miss Malibu Pageant.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Little Miss Sunshines they are not. Role models representing Malibu they hopefully will be. They are the contestants in the third annual Miss Malibu Pageant, which will take place July 21 at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre. At the pageant, two young women will be chosen to represent Malibu in the Miss California USA and Miss Teen California USA pageants this fall.

Beauty alone will not determine the winners, Pageant Director Kristen Bradford said.

“These girls are local ambassadors to the rest of the country,” Bradford said. “They have to be role models.”

Bradford is a Pepperdine alumna who, herself, participated in the pageant circuit, twice achieving runner-up at the Miss Oregon USA Pageant. “Pageants are simply a stepping stone,” she said. “It’s a way of reaching goals because it makes people sit up and take notice of you.”

But aren’t beauty pageants just relics of the 20th century, a quaint institution designed to objectify and devalue women?

“Listen, these young women are incredibly articulate and well rounded, as well as being beautiful,” Bradford said. “You must be driven to compete and be right on the ball or you get nowhere.”

Whereas the competition features the standard pageant appearances in swimsuits and evening gowns, Bradford said the judges pay close attention to the interview answers and the perceived character of the contestants.

“Our contestants all are deeply involved in community service,” she said, including work with the Malibu Kiwanis Club and in youth leadership with area churches. “My focus is to empower young women-not create Little Miss Sunshines,” a reference to the film released last year that took a jaundiced look at child beauty pageants and their propensity to promote overly provocative, vapid, little performing robots.

Bradford works with all the contestants to ready them for onstage interviews with judges and the graceful ways of presenting themselves on stage.

“It’s definitely about presence, personal style and self confidence,” Bradford explained. “The judges are all well known in the community. We have entertainment industry professionals and modeling agents. You have to be genuine to impress them.”

The Miss Teen Malibu contestants are girls ranging in age 14 to 18 years old and Miss Malibu contestants are 19 to 26 years old.

Last year’s Miss Malibu winner, Michelena Erickson, 22, is a Pepperdine telecommunications graduate and works for E! Network while preparing for a career in television broadcast.

“Kristen has worked hard to re-shape the pageant thing into a promotion of beautiful, independent, powerful women,” Erickson said. “It’s so far beyond looking good in a bathing suit.”

Erickson went on to compete in the Miss California USA Pageant, but said that she realized pageant life beyond the local level was “not for me.”

“I really wanted to see what it could do for my charity work and, as Miss Malibu, I’ve been able to raise the profile on the Crohns and Colitis Foundation,” Erickson said.

Erickson underwent surgery for colitis in 2006 and acts as a spokeswoman for the foundation.

The 2007 Miss Teen Malibu is 16-year-old Brie Gabrielle, who went on to compete in the Miss Teen California and won the title “Miss Photogenic.”

“I did the first Miss Teen Malibu competition a couple of years ago and since there were only 10 girls competing, I thought it would be easy,” Gabrielle said. “But they were all so sharp! When the judges asked me my first question, it was ‘Who do you think is a great world leader?’ Well, I just froze for a minute and then it came to me. My mom! They said, ‘But she’s not really a world leader,’ and I just said, ‘Well, she should be!'”

Gabrielle is an actress who has already worked in films and on Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” and Nickelodeon’s “Drake and Josh.” She thinks her pageant work has only helped her career. “There have been a lot of pilots this season casting for girls in beauty pageants,” she said. “My agent was real happy.”

Gabrielle said she wants to transfer to Pepperdine and study entertainment law.

The teen fiercely defends the nature of the girls in pageant competition.

“These are not some air-headed bimbos,” Gabrielle said. “They have to be healthy and smart, and inspire people. Yes, they’re gorgeous, but that doesn’t lessen them. They’re tough! You have to be, to compete in pageants.”

In the competition, after the swimsuit and evening gown categories, judges narrow the contestants to five likely winners.

“The onstage interview is really the determining factor,” Bradford said. “And sometimes, there are real surprises.”

Bradford is developing a reality TV series about pageants and will be shooting footage leading up to the pageant for content.

“We’re doing a hair and makeup workshop at the Malibu Gym this Sunday,” she said. “And I’ll be coaching the girls with mock interviews. When you come down to it, they have to look great, but it’s about how articulate and well-rounded they are.”