Miss Florida USA
There she is. Miss Florida, Brittany Oldehoff. But before this Fort Lauderdale beauty competes in for the Miss USA crown, there’s something she wants to tell you: She’s more than just a beautiful face.
By Nila Do
Photography by Jason Nuttle | Styled by Melanie Pace
She gets it a lot. Someone’s always telling Brittany Oldehoff that she looks familiar, that they’ve seen her somewhere before, but they just can’t quite put their finger on it. Perhaps they remember seeing her on national television, as a model on season 7 of “Project Runway” or its conjoined show, “Models of the Runway.” Or maybe it’s the Conair hair ads or the GQ South Africa cover. Whatever it is, once a person finally meets Brittany Oldehoff, it’s likely you’ll never forget the meeting.
Sitting in the living room of Oldehoff’s childhood home in Fort Lauderdale, where she still lives today, Oldehoff is her most comfortable. With a laugh that could infect an entire neighborhood and answers to questions that’ll impress even the most seasoned journalist, it’s no wonder the 24-year-old won this year’s Miss Florida USA pageant. And those piercing blue-green eyes. It’s hard not to get sucked into her eyes, following them as they move slightly upward when she’s thinking of an answer, missing them as her eyelids close during one of her laughing bouts.
The youngest in her family of four, Oldehoff grew up in a quiet neighborhood in northern Fort Lauderdale. Her road to beauty started when her mother, Lori, enrolled Oldehoff in John Casablancas’ modeling program when she was 10 years old. And when the young Oldehoff sprouted to 5 feet 11 inches, she entered in the competitive fashion modeling business. Since starting her career at age 17, the Cardinal Gibbons grad has worked Miami’s Swim Week, walked the runway for designers like Michael Kors, Zac Posen and Oscar de la Renta, and earned a coveted spot on “Project Runway.”
Here in her living room, Oldehoff is surrounded by memories. Framed photos after framed photos of school and family portraits cover bookshelves, tables and the entertainment center. And some of those best memories include her father, Gregory, who passed away in 2012 from complications of Crohn’s disease, a condition he lived with for 27 years. Today Oldehoff speaks out on behalf of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, notably using the 15,000-member two-day audience at the June Miss Florida USA competition to discuss her platform for advocating for awareness.
To better appreciate Oldehoff’s Miss Florida victory, one has to understand her road to victory. Unlike her competitors and other pageant contestants around the globe, Oldehoff only recently began her pageant career. After nearly seven years in the fashion modeling business, Oldehoff just recently began her pageant bid. Her first-ever pageant was this year, at the Miss Fort Lauderdale pageant in February. And not surprisingly, Oldehoff won. Looking to go 2-0, Oldehoff won her second pageant in July, becoming the 64th Miss Florida USA.
As she looks to go 3-0 in her pageant career, with the Miss USA pageant in June 2014 looming, we catch up this fashion model and pageant winner. Find out what makes this gorgeous gal unique from other pageant winners, how she envisions life post-modeling, and how she manages to balance her busy life.
How does a fashion model like you get into pageants?
I’ve wanted to do pageants since forever. I’ve watched Miss USA as a kid right here in my living room with my mom. Most people use pageants to springboard to modeling, and I’m kind of going backward. But I really don’t consider it completely backward; just a different route.
How did you make the transition from fashion modeling to pageants?
Everything is different. The first time I walked for a pageant, I did a model catwalk. So I had to learn how to walk in a completely different way.
What was your reaction to winning the crown?
Well, first we have to talk about the moments before the announcement. For me, this was my first pageant, after the Miss Fort Lauderdale one. I was standing up there with Brie [first runner-up Briegitte Baldrica], who was previously a first runner-up in the Miss California pageant. And there I was: a girl with no experience. I was so shocked when I heard that I had won. Because of all the pressure and emotions leading up to the moment, I was already crying even before they said my name.
Why do you think you won?
I think it had to do with the interviews. It started in prelims. I was the last one to go, and by that time the judges were pretty relaxed. I was asked what I wanted to do for a living, and I said I wanted to work for the Secret Service. Then one judge said, “Victoria’s Secret Service, right?!” And everyone started laughing. From there, I knew I had them.
If you weren’t in the spotlight for your modeling or possible television career, what would you want to do?
Well, I have my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, so I’d love to be in the Secret Service, maybe working in the fraud or money laundering division. I grew up watching all those cop T.V. shows. And, I’m for the law and for justice. I never argue if I get pulled over for speeding because, well, I need to face the consequences of my actions.
What does pageantry teach you that modeling can’t?
How to talk in front of crowds. In modeling, you mostly read off prompts. But after getting experience in pageants, I feel pretty comfortable talking in front of crowds and people.
How does it feel to represent your state in the Miss USA contest in June?
While I’ve traveled around the state in my life, I still feel like I haven’t seen too much. Being Miss Florida, I am able to travel this year and visit different cities. To be able to get to go and see all the places and meet all these people, I’m excited and that’s really special.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from modeling?
That you have to never give up. You will get turned down more than you will get jobs. For my first five years, I got turned down a lot more than I got jobs. But, as you go along, you get stronger.
Even though your father isn’t able to see you as a beauty queen, how do you look to honor him?
I want to raise awareness for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. In April, I was the foundation’s grand marshal for its Take Steps Walk in Hollywood. And, I found out that after the Miss Florida pageant, there was a surge in awareness because I spoke about the organization on stage during the pageant.
What do you remember most about your father?
As kids, he never let my brother or me see that he was in pain. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s when he was 35 years old, and he died when he was 62. So he suffered with the disease for so long. But he did his best to not let his kids know how painful things were for him.
As a model, what’s been your most memorable jobs?
When I was on the cover of GQ South Africa. I couldn’t believe it. Channing Tatum was on the back cover, and I got the front cover. And then a following issue had Candice Swanepoel on the cover – and she’s everywhere! To be in that same caliber as those people was incredible to me.
How do you look to balance modeling and pageants?
I want to have a 50/50 balance. If I spend one day doing modeling, then I have to spend one day. I want to be able to split my time evenly between the two.
How do you feel your odds are at winning Miss USA?
The way I see it, why would you do something if you didn’t think you could win it? Having the Miss USA title would be life-changing. But, if it isn’t meant to be, then I’m OK with it. I love being Miss Florida – it’s a great title to have, and a great state to represent. But it would be special to win Miss USA.
Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Gold Coast magazine.