Vanessa and her family, which includes her brother Vincent, who is two years older than she, lived in California, Nevada, Florida, Germany and Japan, before settling down in Charleston, South Carolina.
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She had loved cheer leading since she was a young child, and was very keen on performing in front of an audience.
With her unaffected style and natural ebullience, she easily won over the judges, sweeping all the categories before winning the crown.
Two years later, on August 17, 1998, she competed in the Miss Teen USA pageant.
They were forced to evacuate when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, leading to the Gulf War of 1991, and Helen brought the kids back to the US, leaving them with their father until she could get back on her feet.
That would be the last Vanessa would see of her mother, who never returned.
Instead, Vanessa began a new life, along with her brother, living with her father Vince and his new wife, Donna, whom she now calls her "best friend".With her life more settled, Vanessa began to turn her attention to the Miss South Carolina beauty pageant in 1996.Vanessa Joy Minnillo was born on November 9, 1980, at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.She is the daughter of Helen Ramos Bercero and Vincent Charles Minnillo, a crew member on an Air Force aircraft (he has since retired).Her father is American, from Ohio, and is of half Italian, one quarter Russian-Jewish, and one quarter Irish, descent.Her mother is a Filipina whom he met while based in the Philippines.