Kissimmee’s own Ashley Ann Carino Barreto said she’ll look back on 2021 as quite the journey.
Carino, who won the title of Miss Florida USA in July in her first beauty pageant, earned the title of Second Runner-Up at last week’s Miss USA pageant at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Okla.
It’s just the third time since 1980 that Miss Florida earned a top-three Miss USA spot.
Despite not having the bigstage pageant experience of most of her peers, Carino said she leaned on her experience winning the Miss Florida title.
“It made me more confident, and it helps that my mom (Olga Barreto) is my No. 1 supporter and was super confident, just like she was at Miss Florida,” Carino said.
The field of 51 was whittled down to the top 16 on the first day of competition, then top eight, then top four. Hearing her name called in each round made her “breathe a sigh of relief,” she said.
After two rounds of swimsuit and evening gown competitions, she reached the “question and answer” portion in the top 8. She drew the unenviable spot of going first and was asked, “As a rising professional, what are you doing to be financially literate?” She responded with, “Just educating myself, knowing what I need to do, and how to do it, that’s what I’m doing right now.””
At the finale, hearing her name called as Second Runner-Up was “a brief moment of disappointment,” but it was not as low as the highs of this journey have been high.
“Getting the final four of a national competition is an accomplishment unto itself,” Carino said.
Elle Smith (Miss Kentucky) won the title and represents the U.S.A. at next weekend’s Miss Universe pageant in Israel. Caitlyn Vogel (Miss North Dakota) was named First Runner-Up.
Carino was born in Puerto Rico, where she said pageant winners are idolized and where her mother Olga participated in them. Ashley’s family moved to Kissimmee when she was 5 and has become a home-grown Osceola County product. She graduated from Professional and Technical High School in 2012, and soon after began modeling work. She currently works as a social rehabilitator with a local behavioral specialist, working with people of all ages with mental health diagnoses while also attending UCF, majoring in aerospace engineering. She has an eye on working in rocket propulsion with an outfit such as NASA.
It’s been a whirlwind few months for Carino. She was awarded a proclamation from the City of Kissimmee at its Dec. 7 Commission meeting for her Miss USA placement, and rode with Sheriff Marcos Lopez in the St. Cloud Christmas parade. She is working with the Sheriff ’s Office on an ongoing anti-bullying campaign.
“It’s a topic that is close to me, as someone who faced bullying in school growing up. We’re looking to partner with the (Osceola County) School District, then make it a statewide program,” she said.
That’s what’s next in her service to the community, but what about her next pageant? Now 27 years old, she has one year of eligibility left. If she competes, it would be in the Miss America
“That’s a decision to be made,” she said. “What I’ve accomplished this year has opened doors in my modeling career.”
“Just educating myself, knowing what I need to do, and how to do it, that’s what I’m doing right now.”
— ASHLEY CARINO