First Miss Florida preliminary winners announced in Lakeland
By Paul Catala Posted Jun 26, 2018 at 11:23 PM Updated Jun 27, 2018 at 1:06 PM
Miss Tallahassee Leila Sabet was chosen as the 2018 Lifestyle, Fitness and Swimsuit winner following the first of three preliminary rounds. Miss DeSoto Heritage Lauren Nielsen was the Talent winner.
LAKELAND — In what will be the last time contestants take a walk around the stage in swimwear — under the lights and in front of the eyes of a live audience — Miss Tallahassee was chosen as the 2018 Lifestyle, Fitness and Swimsuit winner. Leila Sabet, 22, of Ponte Vedra, won a $300 scholarship as this year’s swimsuit competition of the 83rd annual Miss Florida Pageant first of three preliminary rounds Tuesday night. On June 5, Miss America Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson announced the swimsuit portion of the nearly 100-year-old pageant would end, effective Sept. 9. But that portion of the program was intact Tuesday in the two-hour Miss Florida preliminary which leads up to Saturday’s final, when the top 11 of the 40 entrants vie for the title of Miss Florida.
The Miss Florida Pageant continues Wednesday night and runs until the 2018 Miss Florida takes the crown from the 2017 winner, Miss Heart of Florida Sara Zeng.
In the Youkey Theatre of The RP Funding Center, Sabet joined Miss DeSoto Heritage, Lauren Nielsen, 24, of Sarasota as the Talent winner and recipient of a $300 scholarship. Beginning at 7:30 p.m. and hosted by David Lang — a Lakeland native and owner of Regalia Magnificent Apparel in Orlando — a question-and-answer segment regarding the contestants and their causes was followed by the swimsuit competition before heading into the talent competition.
On stage, among the talents showcased in the first of the three groups was a piano performance by Ginelle Ruffa, Miss Fort Lauderdale; a ballroom dance by Stephanie Almeida, Miss Florida Everglades; a jazz vocal by Jani-ah McCray, Miss Broward County; and Nielsen’s winning operatic vocal performance of Verdi’s “O Don Fatale.” She received a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater from the University of Tampa in 2015.
Following a 15-minute intermission in front of an audience of about 500, the second group of contestants took their turns on the stage, wearing evening gowns sporting a rainbow of colors, patterns and designs. No preliminary winner is selected in the evening-gown portion of the program.
The Miss Florida & Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen Pageants are being webcast for the first time in 2018. The link to purchase the webcast is at missflorida.org.
The winner of the 2018 Miss Florida Pageant will go on to represent Florida at the 2019 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. Each candidate is competing for $55,000 in cash scholarships and Miss Florida 2018 gets a $15,000 scholarship. The winner also receives a prize package of more than $25,000 in services and products.
Paul Catala can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7533. He can be reached at Twitter @pcat0226.