For the first time in the pageant’s long history, the winners of Miss Sonoma County and Miss Sonoma County Outstanding Teen are Rohnert Park residents and the new 2018 winners, Tyler-Avery Lewis and Pinkeo Phongsa were crowned Saturday night at the annual Miss Sonoma County at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.
This year’s program, which celebrated its 29th year at Spreckels, had six Miss Sonoma County contestants and nine Miss Sonoma County Outstanding Teen contestants, making for a close competition.
Anthony Geraldi, who accompanies each year’s Miss Sonoma County to public appearances and events and is also the operations manager for Airport Express, says he was pleased with this year’s winners and the diversity in women they represent.
“I’m really proud to see more diversity in the program this year,” he said.
The new Miss Sonoma County, 22-year-old Lewis, says she was all the more pleased and surprised when she heard her name being called for the coveted title, an accomplishment that she sometimes doubted she good achieve. While she says towards the end of the evening’s events, she started to feel more confident, she says her families’ confidence in her never wavered.
“I can’t believe I actually won, a bit sad to say because you know you’re always supposed to think the best of yourself, but I wasn’t as mentally prepared to win, I was doubting myself. But I would say at the last 30 minutes of the competition I thought, ‘I really want this and I want to be the change in my community that I want to see.’ And I won, and I’m honestly surprised,” Lewis said. “And I’m just grateful for the judges to see that I have the potential to be that person.”
And the change in the community and county that Lewis wants to see relates to her program platform of the inclusion of African American studies literature and curriculum in Sonoma County schools.
“My platform entails that there is a certain curriculum that I’m aiming for to be taught in Sonoma County schools that don’t view slavery or people of color as less than or degrade them, because I’ve noticed in a lot of textbooks, African Americans and people of color are seen as less than human and treated in dehumanizing ways,” Lewis explained. “And it also relates to the polar opposite, for example in textbooks they compared slaves, which we know were slaves, as people who were willing workers who decided to come to America, and that’s not the truth. So I am really aiming for the truth to be taught in the schools and in cultural studies.”
Miss Sonoma County competitions are typically comprised of five different components, talent, interview, audience question and answers, evening wear and lifestyle and fitness. For her talent portion, Lewis blew away the crowd singing her rendition of “At Last,” by Eta James.
Lewis, who has been singing since she was two-years-old says she originally wanted to perform a gospel song, but was then inspired by her late father, who had an avid love of music, to sing a song that everyone could relate to.
Geraldi says he’s never seen such a large rousing a round of applause and positive reaction from the audience during a talent.
“My father was big on music, especially jazz and blues and one of his favorite singers was Eta James and at first I was determined to sing a gospel song, but you want to sing a song that everybody knows, so it came up that I should sing ‘At Last.’ So I listened to the song a hundred times and it finally clicked to me that this perfect,” Lewis said.
Lewis is also a passionate dancer and hopes to transfer to Tulane University in Louisiana and double major in dance and business and wants to eventually own her own dance school in her father’s name.
Overall, the humble and charming 22-year-old seems determined to make the best out of her role as Miss Sonoma County and to give women and youth a seat at a table and a voice and to make the voices of those sometimes unheard, heard.
Outstanding teen, 16-year-old Phongsa of Technology High School, also has a passion for dance and hopes to be a role model for younger girls and generations.
“I can’t wait to make my community proud,” Phongsa said.
And when asked what she hopes to get out of this experience, she said she hopes to not only better herself, but her community.
“I hope I can not only better myself, but to serve as a good role model for younger girls and everyone in the community,” she said.
Phongsa’s talent portion of the competition also wowed the crowd with a salsa/Latin ballroom dance routine. She says she has done numerous ballet routines in the past, but wanted to switch it up a bit for this year’s competition and perform a routine that was easier on her ankle, which was sprained last year.
In regards to her future, Phongsa wants to pursue a career in engineering. Recently the busy teen has been working to get her own invention patented.
“It’s basically a fire alarm in the form of a wrist band and its targeted for the elderly community and people who are hearing impaired and it connects to Wi-Fi or a Nest system and it will vibrate in accordance with their heart rate to notify someone of a fire,” Phongsa explained.
Phongsa says she wasn’t always interested in engineering, but once she saw the beauty in science and math, decided that it was something she wants to pursue.
Despite her hard work and determination, she mentioned how instrumental her family’s support has been in her success.
“I couldn’t ask for a better support. My family has been so supportive, last year when I competed and this year when I was crowned. I’m so thankful that they are there for me when I need it,” she said.
Now that the two ambitious winners have been crowned, they will start to make public appearances throughout the year, according to Geraldi, who says they will make visits to groundbreakings, community events and the county fair.