Cleveland County teacher competes for Miss America title for Gastonia
Reigning Miss Gastonia had to wait longer than most for her shot to improve her crown.
Julia DeSerio brought this victory home about 16 months ago. This earned her a chance to become Miss North Carolina and, possibly, Miss America.
COVID-19 has crushed any chance of qualifying for the state title in 2020, but a delayed dream is anything but dead. DeSerio has said she is ready to take the stage again in June.
“There has never been a Miss Gastonia who has won before, so for me the stakes are high,” DeSerio said. “But you come in with the same incredible opportunity as everyone else.
“Everyone comes with their A game. I’m just preparing the best I can because I want this job.”
Choir and choir director at Shelby’s Crest Middle School, DeSerio projects quiet confidence in his prospects. She is also honest that her turn as a serious contender in the contest was somewhat unexpected.
The second oldest of five siblings, DeSerio had competed as a teenager growing up in Pacolet, South Carolina, just outside of Spartanburg. Between sports, school and her responsibilities as Broome High School Drum Major, she said she missed several competition events.
“When I look back I feel like I’m doing it for all the wrong reasons,” DeSerio said. “I was looking for validation, to fill other voids in my life and I felt like the title would make me someone. It wasn’t the right mindset.”
She left Hub City for Gardner-Webb University and majored in Music Education, graduating in 2018. She landed acting teaching positions at Chapel Grove and Lingerfeldt Elementary Schools in Gaston County. This led to a full time position in Cleveland County.
The woman who had grown up sleeping in the same room with four other siblings had done well, DeSerio thought, and she had nothing to prove to anyone.
It was at this point that she said that one of her former pageant mentors asked her to encourage her to compete for the Miss Gastonia crown in 2019. She was in a different space than what ‘she was in her teens. Plus, she believed the win might help her pay off some of the student loans she took out to pay for her education.
“I really prayed for it,” DeSerio said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to put myself there again.”
She did it. And she won.
This opened up a flood of possibilities for the young music teacher. She thought her platform could allow her to launch a music program for at-risk teens, as she had previously been. She planned to partner with the YMCAs, area Boys and Girls clubs, and the Salvation Army and recruit volunteers from local colleges to work with the children after school.
“We actually started in February 2020 and made it work for four to five weeks, then COVID hit and I just looked around and said what I’m going to do,” DeSerio said. “The whole plan was just thrown in the air.”
So she adapted, putting her program online and even launching a video-based talent competition that drew in international competitors. Circumstances forced her to change her plans on the fly, but it worked.
Her latest project was fundraising and organizing a $ 1,000 scholarship – applications are accepted until May 1 – open to all high school students planning to major in music education in college.
Now she’s looking towards June, when she takes the stage and takes on more than 30 other women who have waited over a year, just like her, for the chance to become Miss North Carolina.
She takes it in stride, conducting mock interviews like the nine-and-a-half-minute shoot she’ll meet in two months and rehearsing for her performance.
“I’m just going to put myself in there,” DeSerio said. “I don’t think it’s important that you prepare yourself if you’re the right person for the job. I think it shows.
She said Gastonia had given her a lot of love over the past 16 months and had boosted her confidence.
“Everyone gave me a lot to take on stage,” DeSerio said. “Whatever happens, let me know I’m grateful. I only won and grew as a person, as a community worker, a woman and a teacher. Even though I don’t quit Miss North Carolina, I have become a better version of myself. “
For DeSerio, this is more than enough.
Contact Adam Orr at 704-869-1828 or [email protected]