Miss Florida USA Brie Gabrielle Opens Up About Fishing, Acting And Her Not-So-Easy Journey To The Crown
After five tries at a state title, actress, fishing show co-host and Miss Florida USA 2016 Brie Gabrielle will compete this summer for the pageant's national title. And with her representing the state, Florida may finally have a winner for the first time in nearly 50 years.
An overcast gray sky masks West Palm Beach where, in an intimate studio, Brie Gabrielle wears red-bottom heels and flirts with a flashing camera. The shoot was planned for outdoors, but thanks to the remnants of a hurricane, the vision and location must change. The turbulent morning and delayed start don't, however, affect the results of the go-with-the-flow 25-year-old's images, as the first shots come through elegant and playful. Gabrielle is in her element, and when she slips into a red dress the stylist exclaims, “You're a Dolce & Gabbana girl!” But between outfit swaps, Gabrielle says that she can't tell the difference between the fabrics she wears today and the clothes she tries on in an H&M dressing room. This is shocking, considering the crowned Miss Florida 2016 does “pretty” so well. And while she has fun posing for the images below, she'd prefer to be on the beach or in the ocean, or holding a fishing pole, or wearing a snorkel, with no makeup on. “I'm always barefoot,” she says. “... I don't collect purses, I collect bathing suits.”
On the Parker Playhouse stage in Fort Lauderdale on July 11, Gabrielle, who hails from Palm Beach, had to bend her knees so the Miss Florida 2016 crown could make it to the top of her head. It took five tries for her to finally snatch the title, and while her journey leading up to the moment was atypical, Gabrielle says it's given her the ammo she needs to claim a national title. As she represents the state this summer, there's a chance Florida will finally have a Miss USA for the first time since the '60s.
In mid-October, after the photo shoot, the phone rings with a call from the Dominican Republic. It's Gabrielle—checking in from her hotel room on her day off. She's there shooting the independent feature film “Catastropical” with Palmera Pictures, set to release next fall. Gabrielle is playing the lead role Audrey Swanson, but this isn't her first acting gig.
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When Gabrielle was 14, she, her mom and her sister gave up their home in Aspen, Colorado, for a 10-by-30-foot RV, which they drove to Los Angeles and parked on Malibu Beach. Gabrielle would be home-schooled so she'd have time to pursue an acting career.
During her first year in California, Gabrielle won Miss Teen Malibu. “I figured it was a good way to meet girls,” Gabrielle says. “I didn't really know much about pageants. It was kind of just, you know, to meet people. I was new to the city.”
The next year, she also landed an appearance on Disney Channel's “Drake & Josh,” followed by two episodes of “Hannah Montana.” By age 16, she graduated high school and enrolled in a community college, racking up 40 credit hours before transferring to Pepperdine University to earn a degree in psychology. Not in a rush to graduate, she kept her workload light and continued to book roles on shows like “Cold Case,” “Criminal Minds,” “The Riches,” “Days of Our Lives” and “My Name is Earl;” and movies like “Forget Me Not,” “Surfer Dude, Spring Breakdown” and “Leaving Barstow.”
At 21, Gabrielle got back into pageants. During her first year competing for the Miss California title, she placed as first runner-up. Her second year, she placed second runner-up. Then, she left California. “I was just ready to be back in the normal life and with normal people,” she says. “I did the whole LA life, and I think I just got burnt out.”
Normal life meant returning to Palm Beach, where her dad lives and where she had split her time while growing up in Colorado. But this didn't put a halt on her acting career or her pageant success. And, she would also be able to delve deeper into another passion: fishing. It's a skill she began harnessing in grade school, fly-fishing in the Roaring Fork River in Colorado, or casting a line in a canal by her dad's place in Florida. “I didn't know what I was catching, I didn't know the bait I was putting on my rod, I was just doing it because I enjoyed it,” she says. “But now, I know it's an art and it's a skill, and there's a lot that goes into fishing.”
Gabrielle's appreciation grew upon her return to Florida when she landed a co-hosting role on the “Chevy Florida Insider Fishing Report.”
Unlike most jobs she's booked in a studio or from a stage, Gabrielle's audition for the show was on the water. “They wanted to see if I could actually fish and that I wasn't going to be a girly girl and afraid to touch the bait or hold the fish,” she says.
When she wasn't traveling the state for the show—her biggest catch in Florida was a 120-pound tarpon (“It took me like, an hour and a half to reel it in,” she says)—Gabrielle was filming the first season of “Bloodline,” a Netflix original series, and placing first runner-up again—this time in the Miss Florida competition.
“It was addicting, really,” she says. “I just wanted it so bad, and my family was so supportive of me, my sister and all that. I wanted to be that role model, and I wanted to tell my stories, and to have that title and to influence people in a positive way.”
But the next year, during her fourth state competition, Gabrielle didn't make it to the top five.
“It was embarrassing, like, I don't want to go back,” she says. “I had done everything I could, and I hadn't placed at all.”
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Gabrielle decided she was done competing. In pageant years, she was nearly too old, anyway. “You age out at 26,” she says.
She started focusing more on hosting the “Fishing Report,” and booking some acting jobs through her Miami agency. But when the time came, her mom and a few mentors persuaded her to try for the title one last time. This year would be different.
With the competition falling a week after her 25th birthday on July 4, Gabrielle celebrated with a camping trip to Ginnie Springs in Gainesville, joined by about 20 friends. “I was eating hot dogs and had a few drinks, you know, I was so relaxed,” she says. “I didn't want to go into it stressed like I had every other year.”
Gabrielle believes it was the contentment she felt that came across to the panel of judges that chose her as Miss Florida USA 2016. The moral to her story? Eat hot dogs before a beauty pageant; and, of course, always persevere.
Gabrielle will enter the Miss USA Competition in the summer with an advantage—she's already competed five times, which is unheard of. The only recent similar case was Crystle Stewart, who won Miss USA in 2008 after competing for her state title in Texas four times.
“It's such a better way to win,” Gabrielle says. “It was the right time, and I truly feel that, you know, I'm 25 now, I've come into my own. I know who I am as a person, and I'm ready to go to Miss USA. I'm not going to let any of that outside noise that upsets younger minds effect me, and I will be the most experienced girl at Miss USA by far. No one competes five times.”
To prepare, Gabrielle says she will likely use a meal plan delivery service and a personal trainer, but what will be most important going into the competition will be her mindset. What she'll be focusing on most? Yoga. “That's where my mind game will come into play,” she says. “I'm going to do—and it might sound a little flowery—but I'm going to do a little meditation.”
She'll also reference her tattoo during the competition. While most other contestants cover up tattoos or piercings, Gabrielle says the words “Just Breathe” etched on her wrist help calm her nerves.
The phrase came from her dad, who, when Gabrielle got into her teen years and had a hard time letting go of the things she couldn't control, would always say, “Count 10 and just breathe.” During the Miss Florida competition, Gabrielle says she glanced down at the tattoo numerous times for reassurance.
“You could have five judges one day that pick a girl and then a completely different set of judges the next day and pick a different girl,” Gabrielle says. “So, it's an opinion of beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So it's very much out of your control, and you really just have to be content with who you are and what you're doing. I got my tattoo just as a reminder that I am what I am, it is what it is, and I just need to breathe and keep on going, and living and loving life.”