This year’s Miss Malaysia/World goes online, with elements such as the girls’ blogs, public voting and videos that capture behind-the scene drama. Expect catfights and claws.
BEAUTY pageants are not up everyone’s alley, certainly not the many feminists who indignantly brand them as blatantly sexist (a sentiment shared by many women, mostly in silence). As for their entertainment value, in the company of present-day TV fare, pageants have become truly banal. A two-hour pageant versus a riveting episode of House MD? No contest.
But for the scores of girls who audition to enter beauty pageants each year, these competitions represent opportunity – winning would mark a life change of sorts. And no, this does not refer to the cliché of beauty queens and their quest to help achieve world peace or end world hunger.
Take 20-year-old Briton Rachel Christie. She became the first Black woman to clinch the Miss England title this July, gaining her a spot in the Miss World competition in South Africa next month.
A heptathlete and 400m runner, Christie’s one dream is to participate in the 2012 London Olympics. Winning the pageant, she hopes, will help fund her lofty goal.
In an interview published in www.dailymail.co.uk, the young Londoner (who is the niece of British Olympic gold medalist Linford Christie) said: “My ambition in life is to compete and win gold in the 2012 Olympics. I would also love to do well in Miss England. I thought that it would give me an entry into legitimate modelling and that would help me fund my training. We (family) struggled for years, we had no holidays, no car – the day we children got something we wanted was a rare one. So I know I have to work hard. When you begin with very little, maybe you have to aim high.”
Perhaps it’s time to abandon stereotypes and refrain from haughty judgments for the assumption that aspiring pageant queen beauties have little or no substance to complement their beauty no longer holds water.
In an attempt to change perceptions about the pageant and get the public involved, the Miss Malaysia/World pageant this year has undergone a transformation of sorts.
Explains Chong Wei-Hsiang, who is spokesman for the competition and the managing director of DDB Public Relations (the franchise holder): “People perceive beauty pageants as being passe now. So, we decided to reinvent the way the pageant was run this year to keep it relevant and to get the public interested again. The format is very different this year. For one thing, we’re taking the event out of the ballroom – the final will be held in a mall this year where the public can join the invited guests and enjoy the show and be part of the evening.
“Also, we have taken the pageant online and our digital agency, Tribal DDB, will enable all the footage of the competition, from start to finish, to be uploaded online in the form of webisodes. There will, in total, be more than 20 webisodes throughout the course of the month, with a new episode uploaded every two days or so. If you log on now, there are already about six or seven webisodes up. The girls will also be blogging and uploading videos about themselves so the public can get a feel of who they are.
“We also have a parallel campaign going on where behind-the-scenes footage – all the cattiness, the drama, the backstabbing and plotting – will also be uploaded and streamed through YouTube, facebook or tweeter. We hope that by adding the online element, the public will become more engaged with the pageant as they’re able to follow the competition from start to finish,” says Chong.
It’s not pure voyeurism though. Another huge change in this year’s pageant is the introduction of the public online voting, a first in the pageant’s history in Malaysia.
“The winner and the two runners-up will be chosen by a panel of five judges but the public can vote for the subsidiary titles. In fact, two titles – Miss Popular and Miss Talented – will be completely determined by public online votes. They can go to the website and check out the blogs and the videos of the contestants as well as follow the webisodes and behind-the-scenes footage throughout the next couple of weeks before they decide who they want to win,” shares Chong.
The 20 finalists this year were recently announced at a press conference at the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel in Petaling jaya, Selangor.
The theme for this year’s pageant, Beauty is Power, is based on a fundamental truth that a beautiful person holds quite a bit of power which can be harnessed to their advantage, says Chong.
“With beauty comes power, and responsibility,” he muses.
Beauty pageants, he says, are no longer the domain of celebrity-hungry beauties. Contestants have become increasingly sophisticated and comprise accomplished women of substance.
“If you look at the shortlisted finalists this year, as well as the winners of the Miss Malaysia/World for the past few years, you will realise that things have changed. There seems to be a new breed of girls taking part in these competitions. They’re strong, assertive career women. This year, we have a financial analyst, a lawyer and entrepreneur ... they’re definitely not silly and there’s much more to them than their beauty.
“For many women, winning a title ... any title ... means getting a chance to do something great. It’s a launch pad, a break and everyone wants a break. Once you’ve won, a whole new world of opportunity opens up for you and they decide what they want to do with it. That’s why it’s still relevant,” observes Chong.
Malaysia has several examples of beauty queens who have gone on to be successful in numerous fields, some unrelated to the beauty or entertainment industry.
Lina Teoh, for example, who was Miss Malaysia/World in 1998 and went on to become the second runner-up in the pageant finals in Mahe Island, Seychelles, is now an up-and-coming documentary filmmaker and director of Novista Sdn Bhd which produced a documentary on the Kuala Lumpur Smart Tunnel for the National Geographic Channel’s Mega Structure segment aired on TV earlier this year.
Others who’ve achieved success are Soo Wincci, a law graduate who represented Malaysia in the Miss World last year in South Africa, who not only bagged an acting gig in a local ntv7-produced Chinese sitcom (Mr Siao Mandarin Class) but also recently released a self-composed album. Her self-titled six-track album is tri-lingual with songs in English (composed for the world pageant after her crowning), Malay and Chinese. And of course, there is international movie star Datuk Michelle Yeoh who won the title in 1983.
With just three weeks to the competition, the contestants have a tight schedule, attending workshops, training sessions, rehearsals, charity events, photo shoots ... the works.
“During the next few weeks, they have to write their blogs and make their web videos and attend some workshops to prepare themselves for the pageant. They’ll be coached on how to blog, for example, and on how to portray themselves in their blogs and videos. All this will go online too.
“In their final week, training gets intensive. They’ll be coached on public speaking, how to catwalk, personal grooming and so on. They are beautiful and accomplished but some may not know how to walk in heels, for example, and they need training. The girls will also have to fulfil their obligation to charity, which is a big part of the global pageant organisation: beauty with a purpose.”
The revamp, adds Chong, was also essential as apart from the public, sponsors too were beginning to shy away from the event which they failed to see as relevant.
“It was difficult this year because ... well, a lot of people did not think the pageant was relevant anymore. But we’ve done fairly well and are grateful for those who have come on board as sponsors and we hope that our new format works both for the public as well as our sponsors,” he says, emphasising that all proceeds from the pageant will be channelled to charity. In total, the Miss Malaysia/World pageant has contributed and assisted in raising over RM10mil for various charity organisations across the country. This year’s recipient will be START Foundation, which provides arts-based training for underprivileged and refugee children.
So what do we have to look forward to in this year’s hopefuls?
“We definitely have an interesting bunch this year. They’re all very determined to win. We’ve got a group of girls who are pageant pros ... they’ve participated in pageants several times before but have not won. They’re confident that they’ve learnt from the past and are going to do better. Then we have girls who are totally not into the whole model lifestyle and are in it for the experience, of course hoping to win. And then there are girls who ... well, who will definitely make for interesting viewing. The vibe is really different this year. In the past, the contestants were relaxed and became quite close friends with each other. This year, they’re all extremely competitive and are already plotting to win the title. It will be interesting to watch,” says Chong.
With about a month to go before the finals, it’s time to go online and get to know the women who are vying to be the face of Malaysia. And with the online feeds, personal blogs and videos and behind-the-scenes footage, we can decide, once and for all, if beauty pageants are more than what they seem to be.
■ Go to www.missworldmalaysia.com.my for all the links.