Iraq war veteran wins Mr. California USA pageant
The new Mr. California USA’s girlfriend had a suitably fond comment after the gold crown was placed on his head.
“It’s really neat,” Yahira Rojo, 20, said when Jeremy Buraglia became the first recipient of the title. “It’s something new, but he’s been there before; we were the prom king and queen” in 2005.
That was back at Anaheim’s Magnolia High School before Buraglia, 21, became a sergeant in the Army, did a 15-month stint in Iraq and returned to study law enforcement at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Earlier this year he entered what was then the Mr. Seal Beach pageant at the urging of his grandmother. “People label everything, and you don’t have to match the label,” Buraglia said of the all-male pageant. “Everybody expects things to be cookie-cut, and that’s not how the world is.”
Somewhere along the line, the second annual Mr. Seal Beach contest morphed into the first-ever Mr. California USA pageant, and, voila!, last weekend the future crime fighter was crowned a king.
“We call it a scholarship pageant, not a beauty pageant,” insisted founder Sarah Ahmadinia, who says she changed the event’s name to broaden its range.
The idea came to her, she said, while watching her 21-year-old daughter Maryam become the 2007 Miss Seal Beach. “I saw it was a good opportunity for the girls,” said Ahmadinia, 46, who also has a son. “My daughter enjoyed it; I saw how much it did for her and thought, why can’t boys do this?”
Online research, she said, turned up only one other “Mr.” pageant not based on bodybuilding or ethnicity; that one is in nearby Downey. So Ahmadinia put up $30,000 to get the proverbial red carpet rolling, and aligned the Seal Beach pageant with the Mr. USA franchise.
Last year’s pageant drew 35 participants, but they eventually dwindled to 14 under the misguided sneers of their peers. This year’s field began with 22 entrants, gradually whittled down to a dozen, ages 7 to 22.
The contestants are divided into four categories: Little Mr., ages 5 to 8; Junior Mr., from 9 to 12; Teen Mr. from 13 to 17; and Mr., ages 18 to 25.
Like their female counterparts, they are judged in personal interviews, casual wear, formal wear and, finally, on their answers to questions asked onstage. One key difference is that males are not judged in bathing suits. “I didn’t think it was appropriate,” Ahmadinia said.
Looks also aren’t paramount. “It’s not a beauty pageant,” she repeated. “It’s about how they present themselves. I tell the judges to look for someone who is genuine and willing to support the community; we want a good role model.”
During their yearlong reign, the pageant kings and their runner-up princes are expected to participate in charitable events. They also represent the community at social functions. Winners in each division receive scholarships ranging from $400 to $1,000.
The money was a big motivator for Buraglia. When friends expressed surprise at his decision to compete, he’d tell them, ‘Well, do you want to give me money for school?’ ”
Other contestants cited different reasons for entering.
“On TV, all you see is girls doing pageants,” said Kennith Salazar, 13. “I wanted to show people that pageants aren’t just for girls.”
Cyrus Mohseni, 14, said he hoped the event would further his goal of becoming a professional soccer player. “I’ll learn to be more responsible, be more of a role model and meet new people,” he said.
And what of the inevitable teasing from friends?
“I tell them there’s nothing wrong with trying to get further in life,” Cyrus said. Besides, said the 6-foot-3 contestant, “they don’t tease me as much as they would other kids because I’m bigger than them.”
No teasing was evident at the final event, attended by more than 200 people in the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater at Cal State Long Beach. There was, however, lots of bragging.
As the contestants, escorted by beauty queens wearing jeweled crowns and gowns, paraded gamely around the stage dressed first as baseball players, golfers or surfers, and later in white tuxedos and dark suits with ties, their fans cheered them on.
“If you were given a million dollars,” Cyrus was asked during the onstage questioning, “what would you do with it and why?”
“Buy all the judges whatever they wanted,” he responded immediately in his bid for the Teen Mr. California USA crown.
He lost that title to Kennith, but the would-be soccer star did manage to tie for the division’s best-dressed sash by wearing a white suit and vest. Other sashes awarded in each division recognized the prettiest eyes, best hair, nicest smile and most congenial.
The undisputed overall winner, though, was Buraglia, who walked away surrounded by an entourage of beauty queens and soldiers.
“It’s exciting,” the new Mr. California USA said of his unprecedented status. “I’m ready. I think I won because I’m outside the box.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.