Linette De Los Santos
August 01, 2016 AT 07:18 PM EDT

When Linette De Los Santos walked away from the Miss Florida USA stage as first runner-up on July 16, little did she know that she would be receiving a call days later that would change her life again. The 24-year-old and second-year law student of Nova Southeastern University received the crown after Genesis Davila was stripped of her title for violating the rules and using professional hair and makeup artists for the show.

Although it wasn’t exactly how De Los Santos planned to obtain the title after competing four times, the newly-crowned titleholder is ready to start her year and dedicate her time to service, helping organizations like Crowns of Love, a local program in Miami that provides mentoring and literacy programs to children. The Dominican beauty queen spoke to Chica about her culture, her road to Miss USA, and her thoughts on breaking the rules. 

On Being Latina

“I am very proud to be Dominican American and I want to encourage others to embrace their culture and know that although everyone is different, being different is what makes every culture unique.”

Road to Miss USA

“I am so excited to begin preparing for the Miss USA pageant. I will be working very hard throughout the year to prepare mentally and physically but also to contribute to my community as much as possible. This is an opportunity of a lifetime that not many are fortunate enough to have so I want to take full advantage of this opportunity to give back and speak about believing in yourself and never giving up on your dreams.” 

The Life-Changing Moment

“The week after the pageant, I received a phone call from the Miss Florida USA directors explaining the situation and everything that was going on. It was the longest three days of my life because I was told that my position was up in the air. I could potentially be awarded the opportunity of a lifetime and have my dreams come true. Or I could be told that nothing would change, and I would stay as the 1st Runner-Up. But Friday morning I got the “official” phone call that changed my entire life. I was rushed to an interview and my life has been non-stop since that moment.”

A Winner’s Mentality

“To those who say, “She isn’t the real winner,” I would say that although I was not crowned that night, I truly felt like I had won. I have never felt more confident about myself or my performance in a pageant than I did this year at Miss Florida USA.

Rules are Rules

“Rules are put in place to protect the contestants and to help us grow as individuals. Not abiding by the rules simply is not an option for me. I think others should speak up about anything they witness.” 

No Hard Feelings

“I do not feel anger because I did not have mycrowning moment. Instead I feel blessed and excited to have this opportunity. Throughout my years in pageants, I have learned that being a title holder is not about the glitz and the glam but about what you can do with your title and how you can make a difference in the lives of others.”

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