28 Apr Defining The Modern Beauty Queen
Their exciting years as Miss USA found them working as spokespersons for women’s issues and traveling with the USO all over the US and abroad. Most notably, Susie Castillo and Shandi Finnessey were spokespersons for breast and ovarian cancer research and awareness. Together, they helped raise over $60 million for organizations like the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, Susan G. Komen, and Gilda’s Club. They fondly share Miss USA memories like being featured on the cover of Pageantry Magazine, being in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, living in the titleholder apartment in NYC, and of course, representing the US in the Miss Universe Pageant where Susie placed in the Top 15 in 2003 and Shandi finished as 1st runner up in 2004.
After their reigns, both went on to successful entertainment careers. Susie landed at MTV and became a spokesperson for Neutrogena. She has hosted specials and shows on networks like E!, CBS, NBC, and ABC Family. Susie’s been in several films, including a recurring role on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. She has also guest starred on ABC’s hit shows Castle and My Wife and Kids. Susie is currently Oxygen Network’s on-air personality.
Shandi became a co-host of Lingo and PlayMania on GSN. She also was a sideline reporter for the CBS tournament blackjack series Ultimate Blackjack Tour. Shandi appeared on The Apprentice in 2005 and on the fourth season of Dancing with the Stars. In 2010, she appeared on a special airing of NBC’s Minute to Win It, on an episode called “Last Beauty Standing.” She became one of the original reporters for ENTV News. In 2013, she was selected as one of 36 bachelorettes to compete on the reality television show Ready For Love. She was named as one of five correspondents for the entertainment magazine, OK!TV.
What’s it like to be Miss USA?
Shandi: I feel incredibly grateful, not only because you get to do all these awesome things, travel the world, but you get to raise money for breast cancer research which is supported by the Miss USA organization. I am also very grateful to have the title as it opened up doors and enabled us both to move to Los Angeles to pursue careers in hosting, acting and modeling.
After winning Miss USA, many people don’t realize that we live in an apartment in NYC for the whole year, along with the Teen Miss USA and Miss Universe. We live rent free, we get groceries delivered, a stylist and even free clothes – it’s a lot of fun!
In addition to your careers in front of the camera, you have created this incredible business called pageantology.com. How did that come about?
Susie: I crowned Shandi in 2004 and while she was living in NYC, I moved to LA. Then when Shandi completed her reign and moved to LA, I moved back to New York to work for MTV, and we literally crossed the United States at the same time. When I got back to LA, we became friends and that was the basis for forming Pageantology.
How did you get interested in doing pageants?
Shandi: When I was 17, I got a postcard in the mail to compete in “American Co-ed Pageant”, which was both a talent and a beauty competition. I ended up being the 3rd runner up among 100 women, and someone came up to me and suggested I do more of them. I only saw it as an expensive hobby at the time. It wasn’t until I was into my early 20’s that I realized that pageants can be a career move, help open doors, and be a pedestal to so many other opportunities. That was when I started giving it a totally different approach as it related to preparation.
Susie: I started modeling when I was 14 years old from an agency called Dynasty Models in Boston. I remember my best friend in high school showed me a teen magazine which was running a contest, and she encouraged me to send in my photos. I was among 12 girls who were chosen for the competition, and I ended up being first runner up.
When I got back to Boston from the competition in New York, my agent at Dynasty suggested that if I could get first runner up from the thousands of women that entered, that it might be something I should consider continuing. I always wanted to be an actress and host and he said – if you win a pageant, it could be a great stepping stone. The day after I won Miss USA , I went on to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant, but I also signed with WME at the same time because I knew they could help me on the career path I was passionate to seek out.
So now that you are well into your careers in front of the camera, you decided to start pageantology…what is Pageantology?
Shandi: I had been coaching a few girls here and there, to try and give back some of what I learned. One day Susie and I got together after she returned from judging the Miss Massachusetts state pageant and I asked her what she thought about the winner. Susie said she was great, but felt that some of the girls were just missing a few things that could really make them great. There are those little tweaks that can take you from being 8, 9 or 10 to 6, 7, or 8.
We realized that we had many similarities. I had competed in Miss America in 2002 and Susie had competed in Miss Teen USA, a few years before she won. And because we didn’t win, it drove us to be better prepared. In the future, if we weren’t called out as winners, we would know that we did everything we could. That is all we could ask for. Together, we started coaching women, and not just for pageants, but for life. We even have girls who attend our workshop with no intention of participating in pageants. They just wanted to learn how to be better people.
Pageantology is currently the sponsor of 9 state pageants, to make girls aware that we can help them become better contestants.
Susie: I really hate the term ‘beauty queen’ so our slogan, “defining the modern beauty queen”, is meant to define our business as not being just for beauty. We want to redefine what is to be a beauty queen.
What are the secret ingredients to being successful in pageants?
Shandi: It’s really two things. One is the interview – speaking confidently, what do you believe in and why? Can you support? Most importantly, what is your brand – why are you at the pageant? We help them create a brand – and that gives them confidence and allows them to drive the interview.
“This is the ‘it’ factor that puts them over the edge”. We coached the past two Miss Teen and Miss USAs, and helped them win their crown.
Susie: Another thing is that we talk about sisterhood and helping each other. This is really important to us and Pageantology would not have been born if not for the sisterhood between myself and Shandi.
Shandi: The youngest girl we have trained is 10. We do a lot of training online.
What are you best beauty tips for your pageant clients?
Shandi: I really think its skin related, because during interviews, you are so close to the judge. If they see you have a lot of makeup on, they wonder what you might be hiding.
Shandi: When I was younger, I loved fast food and the night I won Miss USA, I changed into sweatpants and I was photographed eating a cheeseburger. Every interview I went to afterward, they would give me fast food and I couldn’t not eat – that would have been awkward. So in the days afterward, I ate a lot of them!
Beauty products, what are your favorites?
Shandi: A huge jug of raw organic coconut oil – and the brand ‘It’s A 10’ hair product.
Susie: Armani foundation, Luminous tinted moisturizer. My favorite blush on the planet is ‘Orgasm’.
Shandi: Be mindful of everything you put in your body. Also, what you put into your head – what you watch on TV, news, etc., as that really impacts how you sleep.