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At first blush, it’s a familiar story: A small-town girl beats the odds to win fame and fortune at a beauty pageant. But the twist is that the small town of Anysha Panesar, newly crowned America’s Perfect Teen, is not in America at all — and that has some folks up in arms.
Anysha, 16, hails from Llangan, Wales — some 3,500 miles from U.S. shores. While on a family vacation in Kissimmee, Fla., last month, she entered the America’s Perfect Teen pageant on a whim. But lo and behold, when the winner was announced, she was the last young woman standing among 30 contestants.
“I didn’t think I would actually win because I’m British, so I thought there was no chance I was going to win an American pageant,” Panesar told the London Daily Mail newspaper.
But some pageant teens’ parents not only didn’t believe Panesar would win; they believe she shouldn’t have. They were shocked to learn that the pageant has no U.S. residency requirement, and have taken it up with pageant officials.
The pageant’s sponsors also had a few choice words for its founder, Michael Galanes, who steadfastly maintains the right girl won America’s Perfect Teen — even if she doesn’t happen to be American. “There really is no reason for any sort of uproar,” Galanes told NBC’s Michelle Kosinski. “You know how you say, that girl had ‘it’? Well, she truly did.”
To be sure, Anysha’s tale is far from a rags-to-riches story — in fact, the $2,000 in cash and $18,000 in scholarship money may seem like small change to her family. Her well-heeled parents send her to the same elite private school in Cardiff, Wales, that chart-topping singer Charlotte Church attended. And they splashed out nearly six figures to throw Anysha’s Moulin Rouge-themed birthday party last year — a bash so lavish it was featured on MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” reality series.
But Anysha’s mother, Caroline, told Britain’s Daily Post newspaper that any complaints about a Welsh girl’s winning an American beauty pageant didn’t come until after the family had already left their vacation home in Florida and headed back to Europe.
“I did not hear anyone say anything nasty about being British when we were there, but I have heard it since and it’s sour grapes,” she said. “For every person who says, ‘Well done,’ there will be someone who complains behind her back.”
Even before entering the America’s Perfect Teen competition, the attractive teen was no stranger to beauty pageants. Her proud mother says Anysha has already been crowned Miss Teen Wales and won a modeling competition back home, and had even entered American pageants before, placing runner-up once.
But Anysha said her track record was nothing compared to other girls in the America’s Perfect Teen pageant; some had been competing in beauty contests since they were 4 years old.
“I wasn’t as experienced as the other girls and didn’t know as much as they did — so I still can’t believe I actually won,” she told the Daily Mail.
Anysha said she’s going to put her scholarship money to good use; after completing high school in Wales, she plans to relocate to the U.S. to study broadcasting. In fact, she is already in talks to launch her own reality TV show about her year as America’s Perfect Teen’s reigning queen.
Galanes admitted to the Daily Mail that Anysha’s pageant win did “cause a bit of a stir because she is, of course, British,” but maintained there was no violation of pageant rules.
The pageant judges were wowed by her, he added. “One of the judges told me they liked Anysha because she was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “She has natural beauty, but she isn’t afraid to be a bit wild. Anysha, what a beautiful girl!”
Still, NBC’s Kosinski asked Galanes a question likely on many people’s minds.
“If an American teen can’t win America’s Perfect Teen — what’s to become of this nation, Michael?” she asked.
“You know, that’s a very good question,” Galanes replied.
‘Best week of my life’Speaking live on TODAY from London Wednesday, Panesar told Meredith Vieira she didn’t receive any flak from the American gals as she competed in and eventually won “their” pageant over the course of four days.
“They didn’t say anything nasty to me whatsoever; I was having the best week of my life, to be honest,” she said.
And while Panesar said she is aware of some complaints that a British girl claimed the America’s Perfect Teen crown, she sees it more of a case of the agony of defeat than bias. “If you don’t win, you’re always going to feel a little disheartened, and that can sometimes lead to such comments,” she told Vieira. “But I think that after thinking about it and realizing that what’s happened on that day happened, then there’s always something else for you around the corner. I think that at the beginning, yes, there were a few comments, but I think now everyone’s welcoming me greatly.”
Besides, Panesar believes the more apt title should be World’s Perfect Teen.
“I think that the pageant now needs to expand internationally, in my opinion, because I believe that it’s such a great opportunity for so many girls around the world,” she said.
So why does Panesar believe she was able to claim an American pageant crown as a foreigner? Having a distinct accent certainly didn’t hurt; and neither did the sassy bob that sets her apart from the big hair of most pageant contestants.
“I think my accent did help, and maybe it was my haircut, I’m not sure,” she told Vieira. “I think I was what the judges were looking for that day, and I just tried to bring my full personality and fierceness to the stage.”