Katerina Villegas has lived in Hillsboro for about a year, but she's on her way to represent the state at the Miss USA pageant.
On Jan. 12, Villegas won the Miss Oregon USA title at Mt. Hood Community College, where she competed in three areas of the competition: interview, evening gown and fitness.
"When they said my name, it was very hard to keep myself composed because I was still very shocked," Villegas said.
She remembered her family asking her why she cut her final walk short at the end of the competition, and Villegas replied, "that's because I thought I was going to pass out."
But winning wasn't always the case for Villegas. Originally from Southern California, the Hillsboro resident didn't start competing in pageants until she was 17 years old.
She quit performing shortly afterward.
"I call myself a tomboy at heart because I was one of those girls who just did not care to take a brush to her hair," she said. "I was very mismatched, and my mom tried to keep me as far away from the entertainment world as much as possible, but I guess there was no avoiding it."
Villegas went on to complete her bachelor's degree in communications from Azusa Pacific University while her pageant career was on hold.
Once Villegas finished school, she recorded an album and had two Billboard chart hits and performed her song, "Hey Mami," on national and international television, according to her Miss Oregon USA bio.
"And then I thought, 'What if I use pageants again to help promote my music? What if I use it to promote messages that are important to me?'" Villegas said.
Now at 26, Villegas is a doctorate student and hopes to be a future clinical Air Force psychologist. She plans on spending her time as Miss Oregon USA by helping youth in the area.
"I want to really use the title to promote education in the city of Hillsboro because that's where my cousins are — that's where they go to school," Villegas said. "That's my neighborhood."
She also wants to reach out to military bases throughout the state while continuing her education.
"I want to make an impact when it comes to mental health care, predeployment and postdeployment, and make sure that our American heroes are mentally stable and capable of handling civilian life once that time comes," Villegas added.
Though her new crown may be shiny, she wants others to know that there's more to pageants than the glitz and glamour.
"What people don't understand is that the girls who are succeeding in pageantry are the ones who are utilizing what they can get out of pageants versus just competing for a crown," she said. "Crowns are pretty, they're lovely. I love them. But that's not the point."
Villegas also has advice for those who may want to follow in her footsteps.
"Make sure to experience it, because there is so much that you will learn and you'll challenge yourself both in a very personal and professional way," she said. "You're going to have so many people who come along that try to tell you what you need to say. … Find the best version of yourself while still being true to yourself."
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