BELLOWS FALLS -- Fifty young women will be in the Bahamas next week to compete in the 2014 Miss Teen USA contest. But it is unlikely many will have their own cheering section.
Madison Cota is part of the lucky bunch who will have the support of friends and family members while she is on stage for the competition. The Bellows Falls native said she expects 13 to 15 loved ones to travel with her to the picturesque island nation and provide her with a little piece of home. Cota told the Reformer she leaves for the Bahamas on Monday, just in time for competition check-ins on Tuesday. The finals are scheduled for Saturday night.
Cota, who went to the Miss Teen USA competition as a spectator last year, said she is most looking forward to staying at the beautiful Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and getting to know her fellow contestants throughout the week.
"When else do you get to hang out with a girl from every state in the U.S.?" she said Monday. "You get a taste of everything."
Cota said it was while watching the 2013 competition that she became determined to get into this year's contest.
She qualified for Miss Teen USA on Nov. 24, 2013, when she was named Miss Vermont Teen at the end of a competition at the Hilton Burlington, while Rutland native Melanie Hubbard was the runner-up. The competition consists of a swimsuit round, an evening gown round and a personal interview.
The win, Cota said, was the result of much dedication (she won two years after entering the competition for the first time) and set off an eight-month whirlwind of preparation and public appearances to get ready for nationals. The 18-year-old has worked with Special Olympics Vermont, a Chinese New Year's banquet in Pittsburgh and a USO event in New York City in which fashion designer Sherri Hill donated $400,000 worth of dresses for the daughters of military personnel. Cota had a fair amount of local engagements as well, including riding in the Bellows Falls alumni parade in June and participating in the Girls on the Run 5K.
She also visited Baton Rouge, La., about a month ago for the Miss USA competition, which Miss Vermont Gina Bernasconi, of Underhill, participated in.
"It was amazing. The southern hospitality is unreal. We got to go around and catch crawfish for the first time, which was fun," she recalled. "We did a lot of things. We got see Baton Rouge. It's up and coming, I think."
Cota's mother, Jennifer, is one of the family members who will accompany her to the Bahamas. It seems like yesterday she was "shaking like a leaf" at the Hilton Burlington when her daughter made it into the top two and then screaming with excitement she heard Madison's name called.
"I can't believe it's a week away. Time has flown by," she said Monday. "I think it has definitely sunk in. She has had an exciting year of public engagements and travel. She has been presented with some pretty amazing opportunities. It's been fun and exhausting. I'm glad we're almost at Nationals."
Jennifer Cota said her husband, Casey Cota, and sons Logan and Jahyde, will be among those cheering on Madison in the Bahamas. Other loved ones will include Madison's paternal grandparents, some cousins and her best friend and her mother.
"It's going to be so much fun. We've kind of turned it into a family affair. It's kind of like a celebration for us," Jennifer Cota said. "I'm most excited about (Madison) having everybody there to support her. She's going to represent Vermont well."
Madison's friends and neighbors have already given her a send-off, with a going-away party at The Marina restaurant in Brattleboro on Friday. She told the Reformer she had a great time hanging out and got to practice her speaking skills during a radio interview. After the Miss Teen USA competition is said and done, Madison Cota plans to attend Lasell College in Massachusetts, where she wants to study fashion design. She recently graduated from Vermont Academy in Saxtons River.
The pageant will be broadcast at missteenusa.com at 7 p.m. on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2, Cota said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.