Starla Sampaco was crowned Miss Washington Teen USA in October. • Photo by Jerry and Lois Photography
Starla Sampaco was crowned Miss Washington Teen USA in October. • Photo by Jerry and Lois Photography

 First year: she didn’t make the semifinals. Second year: she became first-runner up.

This year, Starla Sampaco is Miss Washington Teen USA 2014.

“When my name was finally called, I was shocked,” Sampaco said. “I had to keep touching my crown to make sure it was really happening.”

On Saturday, October 19, in front of a nearly sold-out crowd, the Bellevue teen got the job she’d been anxiously competing for—representing Washington state at Miss Teen USA, which is part of the Miss Universe Organization.

Before Sampaco would learn that she got the job, she stood there with another Filipino American, Christine Brodie of Kirkland. It came down to those final two.
“There was never a moment when I thought, ‘I’m totally going to win this,’” Sampaco recalled. “I could see my mom crying in the audience.”

The communications major with aspirations to be a TV host had to go through two days of competition at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien. The first day consisted of an interview with a team of five judges, including the Miss World Canada chairman Ike Lalji and former Miss Idaho USA 1983 Kerry Damiano. The interview portion counted for one-third of the overall score. Later that day, Sampaco was judged another third for swimwear and the remaining third for evening gown.

Her scores from the first day of competition helped her advance to the semifinals the following day. This time, Sampaco would be evaluated by a different set of judges, something that didn’t bother her.

“The judges are looking for someone who has a strong ‘sense of self.’ Each year, I worked on letting my own personality shine through on stage,” she said.

Sampaco did something fiscally responsible at this year’s pageant. She wore the same evening gown from last year. According to her, “It worked last year. … I like that evening gown.”

The eighteen-year-old freshman at the University of Washington not only got the job, she won “Miss Photogenic,” a title she earned back to back.

David Van Maren, the state director for Washington for at least a dozen years, said he doesn’t recall an Asian American ever being crowned during his leadership until now.

“I would love to help young girls embrace diversity,” Sampaco said. “My experience as a first-generation American is very relevant, especially in the Seattle area, so that’s a story I will share frequently during my reign.

“When I was much younger,” Sampaco continued, “I felt ashamed because I never fit the Barbie-doll ideal. I don’t like living in a world where little girls think being different is the same as being defective. I want to change that, and I can’t think of a better place to start than Washington state.”

As the new teen title winner, Sampaco’s prize package includes a college scholarship, an evening gown, and a $900 cash prize. She’s invited to attend numerous appearances, such as, the Pink Gene Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about breast cancer and Toys for Kids, founded by Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizz and former Mariners center fielder Dave Henderson.

As a college student and now a title winner, Sampaco doesn’t mind her busy schedule.

“I only get to do this for one year and I’m loving every second of it,” she said.

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