17-year-old Apalachicola girl named Miss Teen International
Jadyn Luberto talked herself into becoming Miss Teen International.
Not exactly, it took a lot of work and preparation, but the 17-year-old Franklin County High School senior did let her words help propel her to the crown, which was placed atop her flowing mane of blonde ringlets Saturday night at the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort & Convention Center, in Kingsport, Tennessee.
It was Wednesday morning, July 29 at about 8:30 a.m., 15 minutes early and about five hours after she had gotten out of bed in the hotel room she shared with her mom, Misty Luberto. It was the day of the interview portion of the pageant, a key segment that would account for 40 percent of the scoring.
Dressed in a hot pink ruffled top and a tweed skirt, reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon’s character in the film “Legally Blonde,” Luberto had awoke at 3:45 a.m. to help prepare her outfit, hair and makeup with Caroline, a staffer with the Clay Spann company in Dothan, Alabama, where Luberto had acquired many of the custom-designed outfits she during the pageant.
“I wanted to look professional,” she said. “I tried to keep it teen as well, including a pink bow. Very girly.”
It was just before the round robin interview format, where each contestant would stand six feet apart from each one of the five judges she would face, and be interviewed for five minutes in the bustling room.
“You had to pay full attention to who we were speaking to,” Luberto said. “You needed to be able to fully answer the questions, mainly about your platform and about yourself.”
So right before the interviewing began, Luberto stepped alone, in front of a mirror, and had a conversation with herself, quietly but out loud.
“I sit in front of the mirror rand talk to myself; it’s my way to get the nerves out,” she said.
She recalled the gist of the words she spoke.
“You are as prepared as you can be so say whatever comes to your mind,” Luberto said. “Come in with a smile on your face and leave with a smile on your face and do the best you can.”
And so, bestowed with a sweeping, radiant smile, and a National Honor Society brain that has led to being the president of the Seahawk Class of 2021, Luberto wowed the judges and after a busy week of preparing for Saturday’s pageantry, it was her name, the last of the top five to be announced, to be among the six finalists who stood on the convention center stage.
“By that point my heart was racing out of my chest,” she said. “I knew there were so many great girls. “ It was never in my head that ‘it’s for sure me.’”
But not long after, after the finalists each had had a chance to outline their platforms, and model their fitness-wear, fun fashion and evening gown outfits, and answer an on-stage question (Luberto’s was on how well her generation was doing in wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic), it was time for the big announcement before the live and nationally televised audience online.
Natalie Horner, from Arkansas, was named second runner-up, and Bridget Peterson, from Alabama, first runner-up, and so with four young ladies remaining, the next name to be read was Luberto’s.
“At first I was kind of shocked, ‘Are you sure it’s me? Hold on, did that really just happen?’” she said. “It was definitely a shock for me, those other girls has done just good as me. I was filled with so many emotions.
“After that it was kind of a blur,” she said. “You get a huge hug from everyone. Everyone was just genuinely happy for everyone.”
Luberto handed her flowers to her mom, and then took photos. Lots of photos.
Pageant marked by masks and social distancing
She and her mom had driven together and arrived Sunday night, July 26, while the rest of the family and friends came in stages by the end of the week.
Dad Willie Luberto and his son Will Luberto, and dad’s girlfriend Jessica McKenzie, came in, as did grandmother Mary Jo Housholder, aunt Melanie Housholder and son Easton Raker, family friends Bert Davis and son Carson Davis, and Mark Willis and Kristen Bell, all from Apalachicola, and Blair Butler Putz, husband David and sons Ryan and Ethan, all from Jacksonville.
All told, 18 young ladies arrived to compete at the pageant, half the original field of 36, who couldn’t come because of COVID 19.
“We had to be temperature checked every morning, and there was social distancing at every event. Everybody’s mask matched their outfit,” said Luberto. “All the mics were sanitized and disinfected for the next girl, and everywhere we were with masks, wrapped around the back of the stage.”
At Monday’s orientation, the girls got their first chance to meet one another. “We all had an idea of each other, but at this meeting was our first encounter with each other,” Luberto said. “At first we were strangers but we turned into truly sisters. We all bonded with each other.”
The girls met the pageant directors and were briefed on the expectations and logistics of the upcoming week. They also met the reigning queen. Madeline Wright, who is from Alabama.
“Every morning we were up bright and early,” said Luberto. “It was definitely a long week but a fun week.”
Luberto had gotten her size 4 outfits, often further tailored to fit her petite frame, from Joey and Clay at Competitive Image, the dress shop in Dothan, Alabama. “They helped me pick out everything,” she said, including ones custom designed by Sherri Hill, a fashion designer in New York.
The pageant does not feature swimwear, but has fitness wear, so it was a perfect fit for Luberto, a varsity cheerleader. For that she opted for a two-piece royal blue sports bra and shorts, and a pair of On Cloud white tennis shoes. “I felt comfortable and confident in it,” she said.
For her outfit for the onstage question, she opted for a custom jump suit designed by Fernando Wong, a one-shoulder baby pink and blue, with a ruffle down the leg. “It reminded me of cotton candy,” said Luberto.
For her fun fashion piece, intended to radiate her personal style, she chose a Hill-designed, periwinkle purple, Swarovski crystal outfit, “really sparkly,” with an attachable sheer skirt that swirled around it, and adorned with feathers.
“Anything with a feather makes it 10 times better,” she said.
Her evening gown, also designed by Hill, was a hot pink ball gown, with a tulle skirt with a beaded bodice.
A chance to bond with one another
On Tuesday, the contestants had their first outing day and they went to explore Kingsport, including a visit to Girls Inc., the headquarters of an organization across the United States that brings mentors together with young women.
“We all brought a back pack full of school supplies,” Luberto said. “It was really fun and nice to learn about this organization and many touching stories. I had not learned about it before going there.”
From there it was lunch at High Voltage restaurant, and a chance to sit together and play some games. “That’s when we all started to talk to each other,” Luberto said. “I connected with almost every single one of them.
“It was a lot different than what I thought,” she said. “I made friendships that I think will last forever.”
In the afternoon it was a chance to visit the Bellafina Chocolate factory in Kingsport, where they could further bond while making their own chocolates, emblazoned with their pictures.
In the evening, they dressed for a taco night at the hotel, out by the golf course, with a chance to play indoor golfing. For that Luberto wore a ruffled rainbow dress with tasseled earrings she got at Deep Southern Boutique in Apalachicola.
After the interviews Wednesday morning, the rehearsals began that afternoon. “The room with the stage was way bigger than I expected,” said Luberto. “It was like your eyes just got huge, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
“Rehearsals were very important to them,” she said. “We didn’t stop practice until it looked perfect. There was never any goofing around. We got what we got done in a very precise manner.”
On Wednesday night, after a long after noon of rehearsals, the girls went to bed, only to learn in the morning the hotel’s transformer had caught on fire and there had been no power between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
“Pageant girls with wet hair, it was quite an adventure,” said Luberto. “It literally came on with the most perfect timing.”
Thursday was a long day, filled with rehearsals, with the girls all anticipating the Thursday evening preliminaries. “Everybody was on their A game, we were being judged that night,” said Luberto. “Judges were in the hotel all week, you could have been in the elevator with one and not knew it. You had to be the best all the time.”
The look comes naturally to Luberto, who said she always tries “to look the best I possibly can when I’m out and about what I want to present.”
But beyond that, Luberto is comfortable in her own skin, very much at ease with who she is. “They're looking for someone who is their genuine self, even when they’re not being watched,” she said. “They want a girl who’s truly acting your age, and to be a good role model.”
That evening, the teen girls did their fitness, fun fashion and evening gown presentations, and by the end of the night, the judges had made up their minds who the finalists would be, saving that information for Saturday night.
Friday was a free day and most of the girls hung out around the hotel. “By Friday we were exhausted,” Luberto said.
A platform shaped by beloved grandmother
That night the girls watched the Miss International pageant, and on Saturday morning began rehearsals for the last time, joining with their counterparts in the adult competition.
“Honestly I really wasn’t nervous at all during the day,” Luberto said. “Most pageants are a one-day event, but by Saturday it was like just another day. It didn’t hit me it was pageant day.”
After the finalists were named, the competition began anew. Luberto was asked about masks for her on-stage question. “I just started talking and hoped for the best,” she said. “I pretty much let it go with whatever I was thinking.”
As for her platform, a key part of the International Pageants system, which emphasizes each contestant's community service work, Luberto’s has been part of her life ever since she was a tiny girl.
Her beloved grandmother in Eastpoint, Paula Luberto, died while still in middle age from breast cancer, and Luberto will dedicate her year to her grandmother, with her organization, Paula's Purpose, raising awareness of the disease and the importance of screenings and early detection.
Also key to Luberto's mission is raising funds to help women without medical insurance or other resources to receive regular mammograms.
"As Miss Teen International, my goal is to help girls my age across the nation and the world talk to their moms, aunts, grandmas and other adult mentors about the importance of breast cancer screenings," said Luberto. "I also want to educate young women that if they have a family history of breast cancer, it's important they start screenings early. The best prevention is to be checked early!"
On Sunday, Luberto and her mom met with pageant officials and went over the responsibilities and commitment she will have to make all year long.
“I will be expected to present myself at many events,” she said, with freedom for her to choose appearances as well as help from the pageant in choosing.
She has earned a four year scholarship to Holland University, a private college in Virginia, which may come in handy, even though Luberto right now has her heart set on Florida State, and a business.
Luberto had intended to take part in the Miss Florida Seafood pageant, but with her title, she’s decided not to compete and to cheer on those girls who do.
On Tuesday, Luberto was treated to an impromptu parade through downtown Apalachicola, and a party in her honor hosted by Danny Itzkovitz at Tapas.
The Miss Teen International pageant is an 18-year tradition, owned and operated by Roanoke, Va.-based International Pageants, Inc., which also operates the Miss Pre-Teen, Miss International and Mrs. International competitions. Miss Teen International showcases the achievements of young women ages 13 to 18-years-old. For more information, visit www.missteeninternational.us.