Bellotte wins Strawberry pageant


BUCKHANNON – The 2018 West Virginia Strawberry Festival queen-elect didn’t start participating in pageants because she thought she had that winning walk across the stage.

Quite the opposite, said Charlotte Bellotte of Charles Town, shortly after she won the queen title at the WVSF Teen/Queen Pageant, which took place Sunday afternoon at the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts.

She didn’t start partaking in pageants – perusing boutiques perfect dress, shoes and jewelry – until she was 16, and even then, the goal was to boost her confidence and improve her poise, not prove she was the prettiest, Bellotte said.

Bellotte, who is in the midst of earning a master’s degree in mass communications from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said her mother, Tammy Bellotte, encouraged her to sign up for her first competition when she was in high school.

“As a teenager, I was very shy, and I was very tall and awkward (Bellotte is 5 feet, 11 inches), and my mom said, ‘we really need to get you involved in something where you’re going to learn poise and confidence,’ and that really helped me get out of my shell,” Bellotte recalled. 

Bellotte may have taken a four-year break during college to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communications from Shepherd University, but after graduating, she decided to re-enter the pageant world, and now, she and her mom are back to traversing West Virginia’s mountainous terrain, making their way to various pageants. Most recently, Bellotte earned the first runner-up slot in the Miss W.Va. USA in October 2017 following her reign over the 2017 West Virginia Three Rivers Festival in Fairmont. Just last month, Bellotte crowned Buckhannon native Tori Rohr, who was named queen for this year’s Three Rivers Festival, which unfolds every Memorial Day weekend in Fairmont.

“She’s been a truly blessing,” Bellotte said of her mother. “I think it’s rare to have a mother-daughter relationship like we do. We have such a great time driving across the state going to different pageants, and it’s kind of something we’ve bonded over.”

Bellotte, who donned a navy blue velvet floor-length gown, was one of just four queen contestants at this year’s teen and queen pageant, which featured personal sense of style, evening gown, interview and, for the top four, fishbowl question segments. Bellotte — who flies back and forth between West Virginia and Baton Rouge, Louisiana to compete in pageants — will be joined by first maid Shelbey Groves, 19, of Summersville; second maid Meena Elango, 24, of Huntington; and third maid Courtney Trader, 18, of Buckhannon. Bellotte also won Most Photogenic in the Queen division.

This May won’t be Bellotte’s first time serving as strawberry royalty. Bellotte was named fourth maid in the 2012 WVSF Teen Queen’s Court, and she’s excited to be back in Buckhannon when this year’s festival — themed “Stars, Stripes and Strawberries” — will be in full swing May 12-20. She’s especially looking forward to riding in the grand feature parade and checking out the arts and crafts show. Bellotte and 2018 WVSF king-elect Joseph Robinson — a born-again Christian, professional civil engineer and fruits, vegetables and Christmas tree farmer — will be crowned during coronation, Wednesday, May 16 at 6:30 p.m. in West Virginia Wesleyan College’s Wesley Chapel.

However, this year’s WVSF Teen Queen — Cayton Carder, 16, of Masontown — already has her crown, which she received from 2017 WVSF Teen Queen Sydni Smith. This year’s teen queen court will include first maid Lauren Gorman, 16, of Spencer; second maid Sophia Martino, 16, of Bridgeport; and third maid Margaret Oliverio, 16, of Morgantown. Maleah Vincell, 15, of Alum Creek claimed the Most Photogenic award in the Teen Queen division.

A junior at Fairmont Senior High School, Carder has been competing in pageants since she was just 8 years old — probably as many as 30, she estimated. She said she’s lost more times than she’s won, which Carder thinks builds resilience and strong moral character.

“It really builds you as a person,” Carder said. “Winning all the time, it really goes to your head and you tend to get conceited, but losing kind of normalizes you.”

Carder, who dazzled the judges with a turquoise and white sequined gown, said she has plans to major in genetic engineering when she attends college.

“I know there’s a big controversy with people saying you’re playing God, but I’m going to go into the side of it where you cure disabilities and help kids,” Carder said.

In her spare time, Carder enjoys painting — she completed 16 paintings last month alone — and loves to read.

Winning wasn’t something Carder went into Sunday’s pageant expecting.

“I’ve become so accustomed to losing, so you just go into the next one if you don’t win,” Carder said. “I was kind of under that impression, but when I won, when I heard my name called, it was incredible.”

Despite queen contestant participation being lower than usual, WVSF past president and 2018 court director Charliena Eubank said this year’s pageant was a huge success.

“Overall, it was an amazing day, and we had a great outpouring of support as well as a lot of people out there watching and many fairs and festivals across the state represented,” Eubank said. “The winners will do an amazing job.

“Even though our numbers were low in the queen division, it could have been anyone’s title,” Eubank added. “All the contestants in the queen division have held fairs and festivals titles across the state.”

Also on Sunday, the WVSF honored Melodie Stemple with the Strawberry Spirit Award. Eubank and pageant director Joyce Greene presented the award to Stemple, who Eubank said began involving herself in the very berry festival when she was just 6 years old. Stemple later marched in the WVSF Grand Feature Parade as a majorette with the Buckhannon-Upshur High School marching band.

“After high school, the parades were made more fun with her dressing up as a clown, Carebear or many characters that all the children loved,” Eubank said Sunday. “The main thing she’s always worked hard toward is helping to have the best Strawberry Festival possible for the citizens of Upshur County and the entire state of West Virginia.

“She truly represents what the spirit of the West Virginia Strawberry Festival is all about,” Eubank concluded. Former Strawberry Festival Queen Dominique Collins was the mistress of ceremonies for Sunday’s pageant.

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