The 16-year-old captured the judges' attention with her poise, confidence and eloquent answers.
And, of course, she was beautiful.
And with that, Jaanu Patel, a junior at Huntington Beach High School, was crowned Miss California Teen USA for 2017 at the Dec. 4 pageant at the Long Beach Terrace Theater.
It was her first time competing in a statewide beauty pageant. And she didn't expect to win, though she had already won the Miss Huntington Beach Teen crown in February.
FOR THE RECORD
The original version of this article stated incorrectly that Jaanu Patel performed Bollywood dancing at the state competition. The Miss California Teen USA pageant doesn't have a talent portion. Additionally, she was quoted as saying she signed up for the pageant a week before. She signed up for the Miss Huntington Beach Teen competition a week before, and after winning it was automatically signed up for the state pageant.
Jaanu, an award-winning competitive Bollywood dancer, said beauty isn't just looks. It's also about having the willpower to fulfill one's aspirations.
"I feel like beauty is having a sense of pride in completing your goals," she said. "Beauty on the outside is important. It's a form of respect in how you represent yourself to the world. But you're not going to be somebody unless you complete the goals you set for yourself."
Alex Kuty, executive director of Miss California USA Pageants, said she's delighted that Jaanu will be representing the state next year in the national Miss Teen USA pageant. The date and location have not been announced.
"She's a really smart girl, and obviously very beautiful," Kuty said. "She definitely caught my eye as a contestant during the competition. ... She was just extremely captivating — very well-spoken for a 16-year-old."
Jaanu's confidence led her to the title, her parents said.
"I think she was even more confident than I was," said Jaanu's father, Bhavin. "Nobody in the family has ever done something like this. She surprised us, and we're all very happy."
Being Indian American is a "huge part" of who Jaanu is, she said.
She has been a Bollywood dancer since she was 4. She performs and competes with NDM Bollywood Dance Productions and Studios in Artesia while staying busy with school and extracurricular activities. Her goal after high school is to attend a university and later medical school. She wants to be a pediatrician.
In Jaanu's moment of victory, her mother, Bharti, realized her daughter had the best of both worlds of being an Indian American.
"After she won and she had her crown, she hugged her grandma and grandpa and touched their feet," Bharti said, explaining that touching an elder's feet is a way to receive his or her blessing. Seeing that brought tears to her eyes, Bharti said.
Alteir is a contributor to Times Community News.