For Malia Cruz, 18, of Warwick, her dream came true on Aug. 30 when she was crowned Miss RI Teen USA 2016 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Cruz follows Mary Mallory, who held the title for 2015.
In total, there were 45 Miss RI Teen contestants for the title, yet it was with her natural beauty, intelligence, poise and charisma that Cruz was crowned as the winner. The results from the preliminary phases of competition were added up, and the contestants with the highest composite scores moved on to the semifinals.
On Sunday, the competition kicked off with an opening production number, followed by a parade of evening gowns. The semi-finalists were announced and competed again in swimsuit and evening gown portions before the judges narrowed the field to five finalists. Cruz was ecstatic to be in the top 10, and then the top 5.
Cruz is Italian and Hawaiian. She studies sociology at the Community College of Rhode Island, and works at Melino Photography and as a waitress at Agaves Mexican Grill in Warwick. In fact, she began college the day after the pageant and never missed a step.
Between press opportunities and photo shoots, Cruz was just set on enjoying herself and representing Rhode Island the best way possible. With all that on her plate, why enter a pageant?
“I wanted to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have watched pageants all of my life and it seemed so exciting, especially the Miss Rhode Island Teen USA pageant, which is the official preliminary to the Miss Teen USA pageant,” she said. “There are so many prizes, scholarships and opportunities that can come from participating. I am so excited! I also gain a pageant sister! I am excited to work with Theresa Agonia, our new Miss Rhode Island USA, who was also crowned with me! I know we will be spending a lot of time together. Theresa is from Central Falls and serves as the deputy chief of staff for Mayor [Jorge] Elorza in Providence.”
For Cruz, this was her first pageant, and she stole the runway. Right now, her plan is to concentrate on the upcoming national Miss Teen USA Pageant.
“There is a lot to do before that competition, and I want to make Rhode Island proud,” she said.
The Miss Rhode Island Teen USA competition does not require a talent or platform, and is based on three categories of competition – interview, swimsuit and evening gown. Now that the state competition is over, Cruz is excited to be working with some amazing pageant directors, sponsors, coaches and photographers to get ready for nationals to be held next summer.
Although this is her first pageant, the environment is familiar to Cruz. Her mother, Pat Paolino Cruz, was involved in pageant prep, including makeup and hair styling.
“I’ve watched others and learned that it is more about enjoying the experience, doing your best and most importantly, being yourself. People will love you for who you are, not what you try to be onstage,” Cruz said. “As a graduate from The Met School and their programs helped me feel confident speaking in front of people. I also participated in fashion shows since I was young which made me feel comfortable on the stage this weekend. I think all life experiences lead you to where you are.”
Her advice to future girls who want to be in patients is simply “be yourself and know what you stand for. No matter what happens, who wins, who loses, be kind to everyone around you, and know who you are, because you are beautiful. It will show on stage.”
Most of her outfits worn during the pageant came from both online and offline shopping and her winning evening gown, from Sonya’s in Cranston, was also her prom dress. Cruz will return to The Met School in Providence this year and will be visiting students to talk about her amazing experience this week.
Also already planned for Cruz is “continuing to spread awareness of major social issues, connect with teens about the importance of education and work with several charities and fundraisers. Currently, we are organizing a clothing drive at Agaves Restaurant for the month of September … In the future months, I will be making many appearances throughout Rhode Island and I will also be preparing to be the best representative ever from Rhode Island for the Miss Teen USA national competition next summer.”
In addition to her new role, college and working two jobs, Cruz stated that “more than anything I love to run long distance; I try to run every day. I also love photography and weightlifting. I do lots of great things with my awesome boyfriend and my family and, I don’t know if I would consider this a hobby, but for fun, I sing as loud as I can in my car on the way to and from work.”
Even though there were no platforms or social issues to run on, one current issues weighs heavy on her mind.
“I would completely obliterate human trafficking of women and children. I believe it’s horrific and that more attention and help needs to be brought to eliminating it completely. It is something that affects more people than the general population realizes … it’s a matter of morally doing the right thing and bringing people to justice who engage in it,” she said.
When asked what was it like to be crowned Miss RI Teen, Cruz said: “I was so grateful for being chosen; it was such an exciting moment and I was feeling very blessed. I could hear my family and friends cheering for me. I wanted to congratulate all the new friends I had made over the weekend and celebrate with them. I really did have an exciting time and I hope to stay in touch with the girls I made friends with. It was surreal being crowned on that beautiful stage at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.”