Resident to represent Winter Garden in Miss Florida USA pageant
As Miss Winter Garden USA, Emily Bray is gearing up to represent the city at the upcoming Miss Florida USA pageant in Orlando.
| 11:44 p.m. May 12, 2021
West Orange Times & Observer
Emily Bray always has had a competitive spirit.
From sports to pageants, the Winter Garden resident loves the thrill of competing on the court or on stage. When it comes to pageants, though, it’s bigger than just the competitive aspect — it’s about a heart for service to others.
As the new Miss Winter Garden USA, Bray, 23, will represent the city at the Miss Florida USA competition this July in Orlando. There, she will have the opportunity to bring her love for the city she has called home for five years to the big stage.
PASSION MEETS PAGEANTRY
Growing up in Missouri, Bray first entered into natural beauty pageants at a young age. Those were mainly based on personality, and a heavy portion of the competition consisted of the contestant’s interview.
Over the years, Bray has done some modeling and also dabbled in pageants. When she was a student at the University of Central Florida, she took a few years off from pageantry. However, a common thread always pulls her back to it — her love for the Special Olympics, her platform.
“Pageants have definitely molded me into an all-around person,” she said. “A heavy portion of it for me was focusing on the volunteer work. With pageants, you get to choose a platform near and dear to your heart, and I chose the Special Olympics. Since I was a little girl, sports have been my life, so it was a way for me to keep working in sports and keep participating but making sure everyone was included.
“That’s what’s kept drawing me back to pageantry, was that it gave you a platform and something to where you feel it’s bigger than just yourself,” she said. “It was fun to dress up and go on stage, but a big portion of it was what kind of went on behind the scenes and the lives you’re able to touch.”
Bray’s passion is advocating, raising awareness for and promoting organizations that support sports activities for those diagnosed with disabilities. Special Olympics does just that, as a global movement that offers programming in sports, health, education and community building for those with disabilities.
Inclusion for all is important to her, too. Bray also volunteers with the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine special-needs prom, and she even once directed a pageant for girls with disabilities.
“Inclusion was always a big part of my life, and what I like about the Special Olympics is that it includes everyone — no matter their age, gender and background,” she said. “It really focuses on what they can do rather than what they can’t do. … It focuses on their strengths. It helps them — not even just on the stage or on the court — but it also helps them gain more confidence, and you can really see that after events and the friendships they’re able to make.”
Although Bray took a few years off from pageants in college, serving others was something she wasn’t willing to put aside. At UCF, she served for a couple of years as director of philanthropy for the Zeta Tau Alpha fraternity. While she held the position, ZTA raised more than $130,000 to fight breast cancer. Bray also planned the first annual “Stand Up, Stand Out,” a women’s empowerment event with more than 300 women in attendance.
MISS WINTER GARDEN
Not only does Bray get to bring her platform to the stage at the Miss Florida USA competition in a couple of months, but also she gets to represent the city she loves.
Because of COVID-19, the road to her local crown was different. There were no local pageants. The interview and application process was done virtually.
Bray couldn’t contain her excitement when she found out she was selected to represent Winter Garden.
“Winter Garden is home to me, and I’ve really loved the community,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly and outgoing, and they really make you feel special, in a way. … They’re very proud of their heritage, and I really think it’s important to not let go of your history, so I was excited to represent the city.”
For this year’s Miss Florida USA competition, the interview portion will be held virtually via Zoom. The rest of it will be in person. Contestants participate in photo shoots, events and dinners prior to the competition.
Competition categories include the interview, athletic wear/swimsuit and evening gown. Contestants are evaluated on physical fitness, stage presence, confidence, style, communication skills, personality and more.
“One really neat aspect they added to the completion this year was a costume contest, and your costume has to represent your city,” Bray said. “I’ve been working with different businesses in Winter Garden to see the best way to represent the town. I think we’re going with a citrus dress, because Winter Garden was known for (its) citrus fields back in the day.”
It won’t be Bray’s first time competing at Miss Florida USA, though. She competed in 2018 as Miss Mount Dora. This year, she is looking forward to getting back on stage and representing the city that has become her home.
For now, she is focusing on acquiring sponsorships to help her along her journey as Miss Winter Garden USA. She is grateful for local businesses such as The Bronzing Palace and Salon Dulay, which are sponsoring her spray tan and hair services for Miss Florida USA, respectively.
“I’m very excited for the pageant itself,” she said. “Because of COVID and everything, it’s definitely been an event I’ve been looking forward to. The first go-around with Miss Florida USA was amazing. That was a really fun year. … I’m really looking forward to … being able to be with the girls and meet everyone.”