Kristy Dennis’ long, dark, freshly curled hair cascaded over her shoulders and landed against the rhinestones that shimmered out the word “bebe.” Her big, kind, dark eyes invited conversation as she held tightly onto her Miss January photo from the Miss Hawaiian Tropic 2008 calendar.
“I didn’t even know,” Dennis said with excitement over the photo. “They didn’t tell me. Sometimes they wait until that month and surprise the girls.”
The 24-year-old petite, flawlessly tanned Sparks native is a perfect fit to be working for the sunscreen and tanning product company. When Dennis and the 30 other Miss Hawaiian Tropic hopefuls walk onto the stage Saturday night at the Grand Sierra Resort, all of them will be one step closer to making their dreams come true.
Dennis, who started competing in pageants at the age of 10, has had her share of wins and losses but hopes that by competing in the Miss Hawaiian Tropic Regional Finals she can further her modeling career.
Modeling would be a second career for Dennis. When she graduated from TMCC High School at the age of 16, she intended to go to law school but decided to go into cosmetology school instead. At 18, Dennis was working as a nail technician but quickly became a young entrepreneur.
Dennis bought Pure Platinum Salon and Spa on Pyramid Way and Greenbrae Drive two years ago and is partners in the business with her mother, Cindy. Dennis said she has plans to continue expanding her already successful business, but as she spoke about her salon the calendar photo — and her dreams — sat steadily on her lap.
A teacher nominated Dennis to compete in the Miss Junior America Pageant when she was 10, but Dennis’ mom wasn’t easily persuaded into signing her daughter up.
“I was kind of against it because I thought there was a lot of negativity around it,” Cindy said.
“I definitely had to talk her into it,” Dennis said with a smile. “I ended up winning third runner-up.”
From Miss Junior America, Dennis has placed in runner-up positions the last three years in the Miss Nevada pageant but is adamant that she is not a stereotypical pageant girl.
“I think pageants kept me wanting to strive for more and expect more out of life,” Dennis said. Being involved in something kept her out of trouble, she added.
Dennis’ parents agree that pageants kept her striving for more.
“(Pageants) helped her become the person she is today,” Cindy said. “She’s a high achiever.”
Dennis’ involvement in pageants has even helped her overcome her hearing disability. When she was a baby, doctors believe Dennis lost part of her hearing as a result of trauma from an illness.
“A judge came up to me after a pageant and said, ‘I just wanted you to know that I noticed your lisp,’ ” Dennis said, acknowledging that the judge meant well.
“I went to speech therapy,” Dennis said, but when the lisp didn’t get better she went to another doctor. “We found out I couldn’t hear a certain tone.”
To make up for the tones she cannot hear, Dennis has learned to read lips and with a sly smile admits she’ll use her ability to watch people’s conversations.
Dennis’ family is more than supportive of her career choices and her parents beam with smiles that show how proud they are.
“As long as you remember that it’s not everything and remember who you are, have fun with it,” Cindy said.
Dennis is very aware of her ability to make more than her parents proud and she wants to keep it that way. The hard-working beauty admitted she has turned down high-profile adult magazine jobs because she doesn’t think it was right for her image.
“I take pride in being a role model,” Dennis says with a smile. “I don’t want to give myself the wrong image.”
And while she is more than aware that Hawaiian Tropic is a bathing suit competition, Dennis takes her mom’s advice to have fun with it.
“It gives me an excuse to buy 10 bathing suits and not know which one to wear,” Dennis said. She giggled as she explained that the competition motivates her to stay in shape and gives her an excuse to pamper herself.
“I work out and eat right,” she said.
For Dennis the competition could lead to bigger jobs and greater opportunities, but it will be a tough climb.
“There are 30 girls from five states,” said Vanessa Bednar, Hawaiian Tropic executive model search director. “The winner will move on to the national competition.”
Bednar, who started out with the company as a promotional model 13 years ago, explained that the stakes for Saturday’s competition are high and include winning modeling contracts, cash and other prizes.
“It’s the largest model search worldwide,” Bednar said. “More than 60 countries compete in the international model search.”
To cheer on Kristy or just admire at the bevy of beauties, the Hawaiian Tropic Model Search Regional Finals will start at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Grand Sierra Resort. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 1-800-648-3568 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com. To learn how to take part in future model searches, visit www.hawaiiantropicmodels.com.