Step aside, Chumlee, there’s a new reality star in town—though you’re more likely to have heard of her if you speak Spanish. Marisela Demontecristo, a 20-year-old Salvadoran immigrant raised in Las Vegas, is currently competing for the title of Most Beautiful Latina on the number-one-rated show on Univision, Nuestra Belleza Latina.
She’s the third Vegas beauty to make the finals since the inception of the show—a kind of Spanish-language cross between Miss America and America’s Next Top Model, in which 12 women are chosen from auditions around the country to live together in Miami while they vie for the crown.
“For me it’s the greatest experience that I’ve had in my life… just to think I am representing El Salvador and Nevada,” said Demontecristo, who worked at a boutique in The Mirage before taking to the spotlight.
Though the show offers typical pageant fare (dance and swimsuit competitions, sparkly headgear), contestants say the standards of beauty reflect a specific cultural influence. “They want a real Latina, they want someone with curves and they don’t care about height, which is good because I am only 5’ 3”,” said Leticia Castro, a 2008 top-five finalist and Vo-Tech High School graduate who parlayed her success into a weather presenter gig on Univision Las Vegas.
And while struggles against adversity have always been part of the beauty contest narrative, Nuestra Belleza has taken on a few topics with real sociopolitical bite: In March, contestant Karina Hermosillo caused a minor media frenzy after she came out as lesbian on the show, saying she wanted to send a message of acceptance. And this week, Demontecristo appears in a video clip talking about her experience being bullied as a child for not speaking English.
Competition segments on the show are filmed before a live audience. “Personality is certainly a huge part of this. They don’t just look for a pretty face, but someone who has good presentation skills,” Demontecristo said.
That’s because the winners go on to sign contracts with Univision that include multiple appearances on the network’s shows as hosts and guests.
Besides Demontecristo and Castro, Las Vegas resident Mariel de Santiago also made the top 10 in 2011.
“When you meet someone and tell them you’re from Vegas, that definitely catches people’s attention,” said Castro. “They think you’re going to be crazy and wild, but I’m actually pretty conservative.”
All three Sin City contestants auditioned in L.A., but with Las Vegans repeatedly beating out thousands of other women for a shot at the title, perhaps we’ll see live casting calls here in town soon.
Catch Marisela Demontecristo on Nuestra Belleza Latina this Sunday at 8 p.m. on Univision, Channel 15.