FRESNO – Valerie Salcedo, a member of El Encino Baptist Church in Fresno and Miss Fresno County 2011, laughingly insists that the backstage of a pageant is nothing like “Miss Congeniality.”
“Really, it isn’t accurate,” said the 24-year-old California State University, Fresno graduate. “You do really get to know all the girls. It’s nothing like a rivalry, and all of us have sort of a common goal. I still hang out with a lot of the girls I competed with. I think a lot of us just bonded.”
Salcedo, who teaches private music lessons, sings with the Fresno Grand Opera and is on the worship team at her church, will crown the 2012 Miss Fresno County this month, and turn in the tiara she’s worn in every public place for nearly a year now.
“It’s been funny how people start singing ‘Miss America’ whenever I walk into the room, whether at work or even at the grocery store,” she said. “I’m not sure I’ll miss that part of this experience.”
Otherwise, Salcedo said the last year has been “amazing.”
“It’s opened up so many doors, so many opportunities, it’s just been unbelievable,” she said. “I’m already booked up in to July. From what I understand it’s rare for a girl to go that far into the future, because people are looking for the current Miss Fresno County, not the last one. I think it’s because I sing – people are always looking for people to sing the national anthem and things like that – and I majored in music, and I have experience running an organization. I think things are going to only go uphill from here. The only thing that will change is I won’t wear the crown everywhere.”
Sing she does: her rendition of a selection from the classic opera “La Boheme” won her the talent portion of the Miss California competition.
But it was, in no small part, her boldness about her faith that tilted things in her favor at the Miss Fresno County competition.
As she explains, “After the Fresno competition, I talked to one of the judges afterwards, and when I asked him why they selected me, he said, ‘Do you remember your private interview?’ He had asked me, ‘What does Ephesians 5:19 mean to you?’ I was really surprised by the question, because I didn’t know he had looked at my facebook page previously and found that reference there.
“But I told them in the interview, ‘I’m a believer, I have a strong faith in who God is and who I am in Christ, and that verse talks about singing for the Lord, and that’s something I’m really passionate about.’ He said my answer to that question is what caught his attention, and he thought about it all through the pageant. And when it came down to the top two contestants, he was trying to decide, and he said he had to choose me because of my answer to that question, that I was so strong and believed.”
For the most part, Salcedo said, she has used her platform to share her faith more by example: “It’s been more about the way I acted and carried myself and how I presented myself with the crown on and off, on facebook, etc. It’s been more in the things I did than in sharing my faith in general. I always told people, ‘When you have a crown on people look, pay attention, and consider everything you say.’ The crown is kind of my microphone. I’ve never limited myself from sharing my faith, but didn’t push it.”
Salcedo is the founder of a non-profit organization in Fresno, Music for Love, which provides free music lessons for students ages 7-17. At a Feb. 11 event, held at El Encino, more than 60 people attended to receive lessons from volunteer teachers on instruments ranging from piano to trumpet.
Music and faith thread concurrently in Salcedo’s life. A music major at Fresno State, Salcedo, after running into several closed doors with a musical career in 2010, took stock, and decided to apply a laser-like focus into seeing where God was at work in her life.
“The turning point was when I said, ‘I’m not going to try anything myself, I’m just going to trust the Lord,'” she related. “After that I started seeing huge changes. Lots of events in my life really showed me who He was. It opened every door even more than I ever dreamed possible or thought. The thing that changed the most was I started looking for God in everything, not just when I really need Him.
“Last year, during Valentine’s Day, I didn’t have a date, and I said, ‘I’m gonna dress up for God this year,’ and I bought an expensive dress and a ticket to the opera. I saw all these people from school on dates and they asked, ‘What are you dressed up for?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m here with God.’
“After the intermission I walked up to the front row, where there were some empty seats, for the rest of the concert. The guy who was performing, at the end came out off the stage and handed me a rose. I totally felt like it wasn’t even from him, but from God for coming with Him. It was really amazing.”
The last year of her life, Salcedo said, has greatly influenced the message she wants to share to those who see her crown and want to listen, especially young girls.
“I want to say to the younger girls, ‘You are made for so much greatness. There’s a really great plan for you and you need to trust God to lead it, maybe not try so hard to find it.’
“I’m really excited for what God has in store for me next,” Salcedo added. “I have no clue really what it is, and I might even be too excited for not knowing, after all this. I’ve just learned to trust Him a lot more.”