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MTV's New Wonder Woman
Parlaying her natural assets and her mother’s magic words of wisdom, Susie Castillo has made a giant leap from a Boston barrio into show business prime time as a video deejay.
Photo of Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo on a modeling assignment
 
By Fred Abel
As fate would have it, in the 1980s Susie Castillo was a child growing up without a father in a Boston neighborhood inhabited by other struggling Hispanic families. Her hard-working mother held down a number of jobs to feed her family. It was the kind of background from which a bookmaker would have given anyone 1-in-a-million odds of finding success in the world of show business. But if you had asked Susie herself back then, she likely would have rated her probability of stardom at 100 percent.
As it turns out, Susie was right. Winning the Miss USA 2003 title gave her the shot of a lifetime at a show-business career. She stated flatly, “Once you’re Miss USA or Miss Teen USA, there’s no reason for you not to succeed in the entertainment industry. If you play your cards right, and you’re smart about it, you will get to where you want to go.”
This past December she proved that point, inking a deal to serve as an on-air personality and vee-jay for MTV. The high-profile cable network position will give Susie Castillo a variety of enviable host assignments, from the highly rated Total Request Live (TRL) show and a Spring Break special coming from Cancun, Mexico, to interviews with cast members of the Road Rules and The Real World shows and the Beach House telecast, scheduled for summer production in Miami Beach. “I had a couple of pilots lined up, but MTV came knocking first, and it’s a great opportunity,” said Susie by phone from her home in Los Angeles. “I grew up watching MTV, I love music videos, and music has always been such a huge part of my life. Especially in the Latin culture, my mom would always have salsa or merengue music playing while we were cleaning.”
The summer after she crowned Shandi Finnessey at Miss USA 2004, Susie flew to MTV’s New York studios for a dry run doing a TRL-style Top 5 countdown. The studio audience of screaming kids wasn’t there, but, as Susie recalled, “It was fun, and when I left, they said, ‘We really want to work with you; it’s just a matter of time.’” About two weeks before Christmas, her representatives at the William Morris Agency called and gave her the good news.
As it turns out, everything in Susie Castillo’s life has been pointing her toward that day. “I used to watch Entertainment Tonight over and over again,” she said. “I would rather do that than go out to playing with my friends. I had a natural attraction to TV and movies, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do since I was a little kid.”
Susie recalled first entertaining the notion of a show-business career while accompanying her mother to a neighborhood grocery store. “I remember getting into line,” she said, “and there were all these magazines right by the checkout, and I’d always being intrigued by the fashion, modeling, and runway stories. I remember pointing to a picture on the cover and saying, ‘Mom, I want to do this. Why can’t I be this girl in this magazine? I want to look like this, and have these beautiful clothes and look like this!’ And she said, ‘Honey, anything you want to do in life, you can do.’ Those are the most powerful words my mom has ever spoken to me, and I grew up thinking that I could truly accomplish whatever I wanted to do. She gave me so much confidence.”
Susie started plotting the fulfillment of her childhood dreams, of course, when she won the Miss Massachusetts Teen USA title in 1998, and then waited until the last year of her age eligibility to compete for and capture the Miss USA 2003 crown in San Antonio, Texas. “I had gotten videotapes and watched the past three Miss USA pageants,” Susie said, explaining her strategy. “Most winners were twenty-three, had careers, and college degrees, and were pretty established, which gave them some advantage over the younger girls. So I waited until I was twenty-three to enter the pageant. I noticed most of the girls were wearing white gowns when they won. I don’t know why that is, but I said to myself, ‘I’m wearing a white gown when I go to Miss USA.’”
Susie’s planning prior to the 2004 Miss USA finals also had a bearing on her head start in Hollywood. She had moved into an
 

“Once you’re Miss USA or Miss Teen USA, there’s no reason for you not to succeed in the entertainment industry.”

UP, UP AND AWAY: Whether she’s handling the hosting duties on the set of MTV’s Total Request Live or wearing a super-heroine costume for her Miss Universe country-of-origin appearances, Susie Castillo always looks like she’s having fun even as she does a superb job.

Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo on the set of MTV's Total Request Live   Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo struts her stuff as Wonder Woman
   
apartment in Los Angeles before the Miss USA 2004 finals had even begun, having decided that winter to leave the Northeast for better acting and modeling assignments in Hollywood. She found an apartment near the Kodak Theatre (the Miss USA venue that year), and was able to go home each night after rehearsals for the show, during which she would relinquish her title. Not only did that help Susie relax, it also perfectly positioned her for screen tests and pilots in Hollywood shortly thereafter.
Though such decisions may appear to be huge gambles, Susie Castillo doesn’t think so, because she’s not in the habit of leaving anything to chance. Said Susie, “I feel blessed and lucky to have everything I have, but looking back on my life and how I’ve gotten here, I worked really, really hard for what I have. I mean, even winning Miss USA, I worked so hard preparing for that. I felt one hundred percent confident when I was in San Antonio, because I knew that if I didn’t win, it was all in the hands of the Lord. It wasn’t my fault, because I did everything in my power, and I had a great group of people, and a great state director, helping me.”
It also helped that the Miss Universe Organization in recent years has played such an active role by opening doors with agents and networks. Said Susie, “The Miss Universe Organization asks you the morning after you win what you want to do after your reign is over, and I said I want to be an actor. That’s why I did this. Halle Berry had lots of success through pageantry, and Ali Landry is doing wonderfully as an actor here in LA.”
In a matter of weeks, Susie went from being Miss Massachusetts USA to the Miss USA title and having the legendary William Morris Agency in her corner. “From there,” she said, “you’re all set, pretty much.” Once settled into the Hollywood scene, she found herself in good company. “Especially being out here in LA,” she said, “I’ve run into so many girls from the Miss Universe Organization. I saw Shauntay Hinton at an audition once… Keylee Sue Sanders lives here… Ashley Coleman lives two blocks from me. We all entered the pageant for the same reasons.”
 
Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo gets the glamour tratment at Miss USA 2003  

“I feel blessed and lucky to have everything I have, but looking back on my life and how I’ve got here, I worked really, really hard for what I have.”

GLAMOUR TREATMENT: When it came time to make her shine under the spotlights at Miss USA 2003, a makeup artist gets a big assist from Mother Nature.

 
Susie also credits MUO President Paula Shugart and her staff for smoothing the transition from the pageant to show business. “I can tell you I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for winning the pageant, and in making the connections I did, and the networking,” she said. “I tell Paula Shugart all the time, ‘I think I’m going to owe my career to you guys.’ and she laughs and says, ‘Oh no, Susie, you worked hard for it.’ But they took over, and introduced me to my agents, to managers, and all the right people. I will be forever grateful and thankful to everybody at MUO.”
Susie also made it clear that the pageant experience itself is invaluable. “Basically, you get thrown right into it when you go to Miss Teen USA or Miss USA,” she said. “A lot of the same people — the stage managers, the cameramen — all work on huge shows in Hollywood, so it’s really the big time when you get to finals. It’s lights, camera, action, and you’re on.”
As Susie’s career moves into the bright lights of the Big Apple, her hope is to work for a couple of years at MTV, and eventually win comedy-acting roles. Said Susie, “I would really love to have the kind of career that Jennifer Anniston had on Friends — a hit TV sitcom and occasionally do a film. That would be the ideal.”
And if that dream comes true, it won’t be due to luck or any such nonsense, Susie acknowledged, but rather by adhering to her mother’s wise advice. “She would always say to me: ‘Learn from other people’s mistakes, so you won’t have to go through them.’ I think I do a good job, because I research things before I go into them, and treat everything as though I’m taking a test.”
Her mother’s other gift to her? Modeling perseverance. “You just have to learn to keep going,” she said, “and find the jobs that are right for you. It’s a process that’s tedious and tough, but it’s something that you have to continue to do if you truly want to succeed.”

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