by MIKE CHAIKEN
Samantha Sarelli earned her dream job in November 2019 when she was crowned Miss Connecticut Teen USA.
After trying three times to win, when she received her crown and sash, she had a good idea about what the job was going to entail. She had big plans for how she was going to use her title for the greater good.
However, current events changed everything for the title Sarelli coveted.
COVID-19 hit. The world shut down as nations tried to halt rising death toll from the virus. And a “new normal” took over everyone’s lives.
Suddenly, the job description for Sarelli’s dream had changed considerably. She’s now blazing a different trail than she anticipated.
Looking back on the day she won the title, the Westport teen said it was a “wonderful” feeling.
Standing in front of family, friends and other attendees inside the Stamford Marriott Hotel and Spa, Sarelli said, “I felt like I was floating on air… I can’t find the words to describe it.”
“It was a night I will never forget,” said the Hartford teen.
This was Sarelli’s last opportunity where she could compete for the teen title. Sarelli, 18, would have aged out of the teen title next year. If she competed again, it would be for the Miss Connecticut USA title.
After losing out on the teen title twice before, Sarelli was hopeful the third time would be her charm.
“This was my dream job,” said Sarelli, explaining why she wanted to compete and why she kept trying for the title.
Looking back at her entry into the universe where she now found herself, Sarelli had not always been a “pageant girl.”
“I thought pageant girls were mean… stuck up,” said Sarelli. She thought the pageants were just about beauty and nothing else.
But then, Sarelli said, she saw an ad on Instagram for the Miss New York USA pageant. Although she could not compete in New York, Sarelli said she liked the pageant’s pitch about the opportunities associated with winning and the chance to change her life.
However, Sarelli said she was unsure if she was worthy enough to win a pageant. She asked her mother for her opinion. “It doesn’t hurt to try,” Sarelli’s mother said.
Both of Sarelli’s parents said whatever she decided to do, they would support her all the way.
So, Sarelli signed up to compete for Miss Connecticut Teen USA 2018. Her biggest preconceptions turned out to be all wrong.
Sarelli said she took that first competition seriously. To prepare, she worked with a former Miss New York to learn what it took to win from the point of view of a veteran of the pageant universe.
She did not win that year. She did not win the following year.
But the hard work paid off when Sarelli won in November.
However, a few months in, the pandemic took over everyone’s life.
“I’m going to be honest,” said Sarelli, “holding the title during COVID-19 has not been easy.”
When she initially won the title, Sarelli began planning out her year. She arranged for appearances and opportunities to promote her platform about combatting bullying and spreading kindness.
But when COVID-19 cases exploded across Connecticut and the nation, Sarelli said everything was canceled. And she is uncertain whether any of those opportunities will come back before she must give up her title this coming November.
However, said Sarelli, “I believe everything happens for a reason.”
“You have to find the light in the darkness,” said Sarelli. Given the dire straits the world is facing due to COVID-19, Sarelli said, “I’m thankful for my family and my health.”
Instead of personal appearances, Sarelli had to pivot to meet the reality of life during a pandemic. Now, she is taking her message to social media and making virtual appearances. She also is creating videos about her other passions –getting people to vote and fighting human trafficking.
Even though she has had to go the virtual route for her reign as Miss Connecticut Teen USA, Sarelli said, “I feel I can make a difference.”
Right now, the Miss Teen USA organization has not announced when the national competition will be held. But Sarelli said she is preparing all the same, so she is fully ready when a date has been announced.
When the national competition is over, win or lose, she said she wants to have no regrets. She wants to ensure herself that she did everything in her power to win.
PHOTOS of SAMANTHA SARELLI photographed virtually over an iPhone via the CLOS app by MIKE CHAIKEN