Shania Brenon knows there's no point in aiming low.
That's why she wants to be Miss Universe someday.
"If you believe in yourself, you know you can succeed," she said before she and her family cracked up at what sounded like, well, the kind of thing a beauty queen would say.
The 13-year-old's climb toward her goal of being named the planet's most beautiful woman began in June in Rochester, when she won the title of Miss New York Pre-Teen.
Her victory in a field of 97 contenders won her a spot in the national pageant Thanksgiving week in Anaheim, Calif., operated by the National American Miss organization.
She won $1,000, trophies, a crown and a banner for her state victory, along with $250 for winning the talent portion of the contest and $350 toward her air fare to California.
Shania's talent was dance; she performed an en pointe routine, dancing on her toes to the music of Lady Gaga.
The routine was choreographed by her 14-year-old sister Brianna.
"She loves choreographing dances, so I let her do it," Shania said.
The girls' mother, Judy, said Brianna will receive half the prize money.
The whole family, including father Lee Brenon and the youngest sister, 10-year-old Jada, will attend the nationals.
"We're so excited," Judy said.
Shania admitted she's been checking out the competition on the Internet.
"It's going to be tough, because I'll be competing against the girls who tried as hard as me to win their state titles," she said.
The top prize in Anaheim is $5,000, said Lee Brenon, who owns Leo Brenon Topsoil.
Shania had tried to win the New York Pre-Teen title before. She entered the contest, open to girls ages 10 to 13, two years ago but didn't place.
She also entered the Miss Wheatfield contest a couple of years ago, where she lost out on the crown but was voted Miss Photogenic.
Besides the talent aspect of Miss Pre-Teen, contestants are judged on interviews, modeling and being photogenic, based on photos they submit.
"I didn't place in that, but I came in second in modeling," Shania said. "I was thinking I was going to come at least in the top 10 [overall]."
But she was announced as the winner and was crowned by last year's winner, Gabrielle Papia of Lockport.
"I don't really remember the moment," Shania said. But photos show she cried, like seemingly every other beauty queen since time immemorial.
"It's so relieving," she said, admitting that a pageant is a pressure-packed experience.
"I like it, though. I can handle it," she said.
So why would Shania get involved in pageants in the first place?
"I love the stage," she said.
"She's always loved to be in front of people and just loves modeling and being on the stage," her mother said. "She's been dressing up and putting on shows since she was able to walk."
Judy, who's been married to Lee for almost 30 years, said she never entered a beauty contest herself.
Shania has a $2,500 scholarship to the John Robert Powers modeling school, although she isn't sure when she'll take the course. In the meantime, she picks up tips from watching such TV fare as "America's Next Top Model" and "Toddlers and Tiaras."
But makeup, at least heavy makeup, is off limits in the Miss Pre-Teen event.
Lee said, "We were standing in line and one of the girls who runs the show came up to her and said, 'If I were you, I'd take that makeup off right now. You'll score better.' She went in the bathroom and took it off."
"I didn't think it was that noticeable," Shania said, "but she noticed it."
Shania made the Starpoint junior varsity cheerleading squad last season although she was only in seventh grade, and she's also a member of the Outlaws, which her father called "a very high-class upper cheerleading squad."
What do her school friends think of her success?
"They think it's amazing," Shania said. "My best friend Emily [Jacus], she's always telling me, 'Someday you're going to be famous.' She said, 'See? This is just another step.' "
After she hangs up her tiara, Shania wants to be a pediatrician. "When you get the feeling that you help someone, it's so good, and that feeling is produced for them too," Shania said.
Then she started giggling.
"She's rehearsed," her mother said.
"I am," Shania said.