It has been said that the third time is a charm, but for Hilary Cruz, Miss Teen Colorado USA 2007, it was the first time that was magical for her. Before Cruz participated in the pageant that was held in Loveland, Colorado on September 23-24, 2006, she had never participated in a single beauty pageant. Apparently, a winning smile and the ability to look great in photos proved much more valuable than pageant experience.

Cruz, who is from Louisville, Colorado and a senior at Centaurus High School, decided to compete in the pageant for reasons that may not be all that "normal" to the veteran pageant contestant. She did not do it for the fame or fortune, but for a more simplistic reason.

"Being in the pageant was the culmination of all my passions," Cruz said. "I have always loved dressing up and playing with hair and make up. When other little girls played house, I remember playing Vogue model and talk show host."

All the years of practicing paid off. Not only did Cruz win, she was also named Miss Photogenic. And though she was in shock after finding out she won, she quickly embraced her role, accepting her duties immediately and with great fervor.

Thus far, Cruz has enjoyed the opportunities that winning has provided. Her favorite event to date was flying with the National Guard and the Drug Enforcement Agency in helicopters, landing on elementary school football fields that were filled with screaming, excited students. Being able to speak to the young children about peer pressure and its negative effects proved to be an amazing thing for Cruz.

Though pageant contestants are not required to have a platform, Cruz said she is passionate about speaking on making good choices, such as the benefits of having a good diet, choosing the right friends, completing chores and homework, and saying no to negative peer pressure and yes to positive peer pressure.

"Some (peer pressure) is positive, like motivating a friend to finish their homework, or encouraging a friend to stay out of trouble," Cruz said. "Some is negative, like bullying, including friends in bad behavior, or encouraging someone to do something that is harmful to them or someone else."

As she is with the topic of peer pressure, Cruz is also zealous about her family. Since she has no siblings, her parents have been not only her mentors, but also her friends.

"My family is everything to me," she said. "I have a great relationship with both of my parents. They both have become my press agents!"

Hilary's mother Virginia and her father Rick are also huge fans of their daughter. They echo all that Hilary says about the pageant's positive effect on the family.

"I think (her) winning the pageant has been a great event for our whole family," Virginia Cruz said. "I had no idea what wonderful doors it would open for her. It is the gold ticket to community service opportunities to support programs that support youth."

The elder Cruz went on to say that she encourages every girl to enter pageants because it is so much more than a beauty thing. For example, she believes it provides unique opportunities for leadership and chances to share with others. She is happy that others are interested in not only how her daughter looks, but, more importantly, what she thinks.

The Miss Teen Colorado USA pageant has been in existence since 1983. Fifty-eight girls vied for the title that Cruz ultimately won. In order to compete in the pageant potential candidates can apply with their information and photograph online. A ten-minute phone interview in then conducted with each applicant. After that, the state contestants are selected. Contestants are judged in three different categories: interview, evening gown, and swimwear/fitness, with each category counting for 1/3 of the contestant's score.

Future Productions, which was founded in 1995 and produced the 2007 pageant that Cruz won, has produced both state and national pageants in over 38 states. Now a member of the Miss Universe family of pageant organizers, Future Productions will continue this tradition, producing state preliminary pageants for the Miss USA & Miss Teen USA Pageant systems. Future Productions is owned and operated by Denise Wallace and Craig Heitkamp.

This year's Miss Teen USA Pageant, which will be held in mid-August 2007 at a location not yet determined, will be the 25th year the event has been held. It will be broadcast live at prime-time on NBC. The pageant, which is produced by the Miss Universe Organization, is for girls ages 15-19. Katie Blair of Montana is the reigning champion.

In the past, the most successful states have been Texas, which has placed fifteen times, has one winner, and seven runners-up and Georgia, which has placed thirteen times and had six runners-up. The least successful states have been Utah, which has placed only once and Arkansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming which have all placed twice, but never won the crown.

Colorado has never won the competition. The person who came closest was Katee Doland who finished in the top ten in 1998. Cruz, while hoping for the best, has realistic expectations and a healthy attitude regarding the pageant.

"My goal for the Miss Teen USA Pageant is to have a ball," she said. "I want to try and stay totally in the moment because this will only happen once. As far as winning goes, as long as I do my best and give it my all, that will be enough success for me. But, I may have some fingers crossed!"

As far as future plans, Cruz would like to attend the University of Northern Colorado in the fall, unless, of course, she wins the Miss Teen USA Pageant. If she wins, she would travel to New York for appearances and media opportunities. Either way, Cruz looks forward to having a family and a career one day.

"I hope to have a family and a career in psychology," she said. "I look forward to raising children!"

Given everything else known about Cruz, somehow it is easy to fathom that she will get all the things her heart desires. And then some.



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