Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | 12:29 p.m.
2013 Miss Nevada USA Pageant
Our new Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez has begun her final preparations for June’s 2014 Miss USA Pageant, and she’s determined to be the first Nevada contestant to win the Miss USA title since it began in 1952.
Vegas DeLuxe has Nia’s first official glamour photographs shot by Miss USA photographer Fadil Berisha, her current photo shoot by Oscar Picazo and more photos from Georgina Vaughan. If Nia wins, she would then represent the USA in the Miss Universe Pageant.
Nia won the Nevada title at the January contest held at UNLV, where I was one of the judges. She was interviewed by 2011 Miss USA Alyssa Campanella, who co-hosted the pageant with radio DJ Chet Buchanan.
Miss Nevada USA winners Jade Kelsall and Chelsea Caswell were both national finalists, with Jade finishing in the Top Five. Nevada pageant director Shanna Moakler explained the behind-the-scenes journey when Chelsea won the 2013 state pageant.
As Nia began her physical fitness and diet programs for the national competition, I caught up with her on Monday: “I’m so excited. Getting ready now really makes it become very real. I’ve been very busy since winning the title — a lot of charity work and appearances, a lot of photo shoots.
“I’ve worked with our director Shanna and Alexa (Taylor), Miss Nevada Teen USA. We did the Make-a-Wish Foundation event together and the charity run at Town Square. We flew out to Los Angeles for our official Miss USA photo shoot with Fadil, and then I shot back here with Oscar.
“Today I met with the Shade Tree group here. I’m working with them on the Walk of Hope, which is in April. I’m partnering with them to see what I can do and really get involved. (Nia represented Shade Tree at the Miss Nevada Pageant, as she had spent time when she was 6 years old in a women’s shelter for two months with her mother during her parent’s divorce.)
“I’ve worked with other women’s shelters, especially with the children there. I got out of an unhealthy relationship when I was 21 just before it got abusive. It was aggressive, so I can relate with women on that level. I’ve always worked with children. I’ve taught them Sunday School and martial arts.
“Since winning in January, it’s been a whirlwind of busy, busy, busy. But I’m enjoying it — loving every single moment of it. There are still times when I start to tear up because I’m so grateful for everything that’s happening. It makes me emotional, but I’m so thankful for all of it. In this short time since winning, I feel like I’ve grown up and blossomed.
“My life has been really good with all the blessings that I’ve had. I’ve learned and grown a lot since graduating high school and now even more since winning the title. It’s only a month and a half, but all the new experiences and people I have met have been incredible and will last a lifetime.”
I asked Nia how she will prepare for the pageant. She told me: “I’ll work with Shanna a lot. That’s my main focus; to learn all of her expertise. She’ll also have me meet a gown designer in the next week or two. We’re doing lots and lots of mock-interview sessions to prepare every possible interview question the judges could ask. Whether it’s political or my views on twerking! They could ask anything, and I’m going to be ready for it.
“Shanna is the best director because she has been Miss USA. She knows what it takes, and she has a really good eye for what looks good. I didn’t know if I liked one of Oscar’s photos. I asked if they wouldn’t release it. Shanna was right; she went ahead, and it was the one everybody went crazy about. She knows what she’s talking about, and I trust her judgment.
“Miss USA has our swimsuit and opening presentation dress, but I’m working on my dress with Shanna. We have two designers and another that I worked with in Las Vegas last week from Miami who offered to design a gown for me, as well. So we have some options. We’ll narrow that down in the next two weeks.
“The main focus is my gown being ready with my walk. I have to practice my walk with Shanna a lot. Even just posing for photos, she’s told me what angles are best, so I’m prepared for all the photos they take at Miss USA. Shanna breaks it down.
“This year I’m planning for Nevada to win for the first time ever. You have to go in 100 percent prepared, and I know with Shanna that I’m going to be 100 percent prepared. She’s going to help me do whatever it takes to make me feel perfectly confident. I would love to be the first Nevada Miss USA; that would be amazing. I’m very excited; it’s going to be a fun competition. I’ve met a few of the girls already, so it will be good to go in there knowing a few of them.
“I don’t go into competition thinking it’s going to be tough. I just focus on me and make sure I’m 100 percent prepared because sometimes it’s not the most beautiful girl, sometimes it’s a girl who has the beauty and the personality and the self-confidence. I just try to make sure that I’m fully aware of who I am and confident in who I am, and that’s all I can do.
“I talk to Chelsea all the time. She’s given me so much advice. The day after the pageant, we sat down and talked for at least an hour about getting prepared for Miss USA, what you need to have, what you need to bring with you, the mentality to go into USA. Chelsea’s been amazing.”
Nia’s pre-pageant preparation includes a special meal and workout plan, which began Monday. She’ll do an hour to 90 minutes five days a week in the gym with weights and cardio training. Her nutrition is balanced with five meals and one snack throughout the day. “It’s the beginning of a journey to being perfectly fit for the pageant,” she laughed. “It’s tough and demanding, but when I signed on for Miss Nevada, I knew that I wanted to do everything that it took, so I’m ready for it.”
Nia has a romance in her life, but she’s holding off on marriage plans until at least after her year of service as Miss Nevada — and then maybe longer with a year as Miss USA.
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve put romance on hold,” she said. “I have a boyfriend, and he is amazing and supportive. It’s just good to have someone who’s supportive and not someone who makes me do anything besides what it takes to get ready. He’s completely supportive. If I need to be in the gym for an hour and a half every day, he’s not going to get in the way of that.”
Nia, 23, has been dating actor Daniel Booko, whose credits include “The Hunger Games,” “X-Men: First Class” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
“We’ve made it work because he’s acting in Los Angeles, and I’m here in Las Vegas. He visits most of the time, and then I visit him when I can. We make it work. It’s a good thing. When I’m home here, it lets me focus on the pageant every single day so that I’m not distracted.
“We’re not thinking about getting married for a while, not anytime within the next year, for sure. Eventually, I would love to, but we have to wait until after the pageants. Poor guy! He keeps getting pushed back when he thinks it’s going to happen.
“At first he thought it was going to happen this year, and then I won Miss Nevada. So he said, ‘OK, I’ll have to wait a year,’ and I said, ‘Well, what if I win Miss USA?’ He’s like, “Alright, I guess we’ll have to wait even longer.’ ”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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