Kelly Pantaleoni moved to California with dreams of Hollywood;
now she wants Miss California to make her a star.
Kelly Pantaleoni moved to California with dreams of Hollywood; now she wants Miss California to make her a star.
Pantaleoni will compete Nov. 20 at Palm Springs with another 256 hopefuls for the title of Miss California USA.
Her journey to reach this stage of competition has been a long one.
She was born in Walnut Creek, but moved to Australia when she was only a few years old. She had been 18 for a month when she left her farm in Deniliquin, Australia, where she lived with her mother. She wanted to be an entertainer and a model, and her father’s home in Gilroy was only 300 miles away from Hollywood.
To raise her profile, the 19-year-old joined a field of some 2,000 Bay Area hopefuls and was selected by the official contest produced by Donald Trump and NBC Universal.
Walking around with the skill of a runway model around her patio with bare feet, her hair barely moved. She didn’t get any coaching for the pageant and does not have an agent or a mentor.
She said her drive and independence will distinguish her from the other 256 contestants sporting swimsuits, gowns and words of wisdom with the hopes to make the 20-semifinalist field. After that, the winner moves on to the Miss America Pageant.
“It’s daunting to be on the stage with so many girls,” she said after the Oct. 8 orientation in Palm Springs.
Drawing confidence from modeling in Los Angeles and San Jose, Pantaleoni applied as a late entrant to the pageant after a friend’s suggestion two months ago.
She has been working at the Guess store at the Gilroy Premium Outlets and part time at Gold’s Gym.
“It’s all about having confidence, a good attitude and a positive vibe,” she said. “Because I’m doing it all myself, I have the drive and the passion. I’m independent.”
But she is also very busy.
Contestants must make a video of themselves and a Facebook page with as many fans as possible. Pantaleoni has 561 fans, while she said the most popular contestant on Facebook has 3,000.
As part of the prerequisites, Pantaleoni had to find sponsors to pay for her $1,695 registration fee and gown and about $4,000 in extra expenses. The Miss California Pageant requires all the money to come from sponsorships.
Guess has signed on to make her gown and will pay for travel.
“I happened to be working at the store when the district manager came in,” she said.
But with less than a month to go, Pantaleoni is still looking to fund an airplane ticket to Palm Springs for her mother and 13-year-old sister, as well as other beauty expenses.
The pageant also expects contestants to have a philanthropic side, Pantaleoni said.
Pantaleoni will team up Sunday with Shag Salon – the salon on 64 Fifth Street in Downtown Gilroy will style her hair for the contest – to raise money for Rebekah Children’s services, which provides foster care for orphaned children.
“People with high profiles should bring attention to causes,” she said.
The desire to enter the pageant surprised her mother, who only knew of her modeling aspirations.
Her mother, Kathy, had also fallen for California in her own way. After a vacation here, she decided to leave her hometown in New South Wales, Australia. She met Pantaleoni’s father, Victor, and lived in California for seven years. The couple then moved back to Australia before they separated.
Pantaleoni lived in Australia for most of her life and came to Gilroy when she graduated high school. She is now taking online classes at Gavilan College while modeling and juggling two part-time jobs.
“I’m meeting new friends and making a few contacts,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunities for exposure.”
Still, she’s getting the most attention from back home. She was interviewed at a Hollywood studio for Australia’s Today show.
“I don’t get to go home often,” she said. “I miss the laid-back lifestyle. California is more fast-paced. It’s keeping me busy.
Every Christmas she visits her mother and friends, who keep asking her why she hasn’t returned to Australia.
For Pantaleoni, it’s simple. She wants to be a star.
“I’m over here for a reason,” she said.