Monday, Aug. 16, 2010 | 2:06 p.m.Check out the VegasDeLuxe.com version of this story with more photographs and photo galleries.
The Miss Universe Organization is expected to release the names of the judges’ panel mid-week, but Vegas DeLuxe has learned, and as we tweeted over the weekend, that Mindfreak magician Criss Angel, who stars nightly in Cirque du Soleil’s Believe at the Luxor, has been tapped as one of them.
“I will never forget this experience ever in my life,” Rima told me in our exclusive one-on-one interview and photo shoot with our contributing photographer Tom Donoghue. “We have so many beautiful girls competing, it’s as if the entire world is visiting Las Vegas all at once. I see myself in the Miss USA sash, and it has so much meaning to me that I represent this great country. It’s a great honor, and I am so proud to be an American.
“It’s incredible for all of us to hear people screaming out encouragement and support for us as we cross the Mandalay Bay casino floor or visit around Las Vegas.
“It’s going to be very tough for the judges. It’s not like the Miss USA Pageant because this time they will see beauty in many different unique shapes and forms. Everybody has a different personality. I’m still confident and am putting my best foot forward every moment.
“I feel I represent the best country in the world, and over the past three weeks of traveling, I have received so many compliments, it’s made me feel comfortable, powerful and confident. It’s been such a marvelous and loving experience. I wouldn’t want to be any other country!
“I’ve learned in a very short time how best to represent the USA. I’ve realized that it’s not my life; it’s America’s life as I represent it. If I don’t sleep for one year with all the things we have to do, I have no worries or fears.”
Over the weekend, Rima and the other 82 Miss Universe contestants kept our contributing photographers busy when they visited MGM’s CityCenter, tackled a chicken wings eating contest at Diablo’s and kept warm under the furs of the new Minus5 ice lounge at the Monte Carlo.
They also attended the National Gift Auction to benefit the Nevada Cancer Institute and were officially welcomed to Mandalay Bay by President Renee West. Then Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez led the girls to a cocktail party at Moorea Beach Club at Mandalay Bay Beach for the Lost ’80s Live concert.
Today, Stefania unveils the official Miss Universe Couture Pop at Sugar Factory in The Mirage. The signature lollipop features a red-jeweled handle to commemorate her work with HIV/AIDS organizations this past year increasing awareness and prevention.
The highlight of today’s activities is this evening’s National Costume Parade with all 83 contestants at Mizuya Lounge at Mandalay Bay. Each hopeful will parade through the hotel in a costume representative of her home country. We’ll have that photo gallery tomorrow, but meantime, here is a sneak peek at Rima’s costume in one of her latest video blogs.
Fashion critics have already brought their sharp knives out for some of the outfits, especially poor Miss Australia Jesinta Campbell. Down Under media branded it a “national joke and travesty” because of its high-heeled Ugg boots, a sheepskin shrug, a racy, cut-out one-piece swimsuit that's been hand-painted by an Aboriginal artist and a multicolored flamenco-style skirt.
Miss USA says she’s thrilled with her costume of a magnificent golden eagle inspired by the one on the presidential seal. Rima drew the first “chicken scratch drawings” herself, and then Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show costumer Martin Izquierdo took over the design and creation. Rima told me: “It’s a symbol of peace in tribute to the U.S. president.”
The “feather”-trimmed gold leotard has a crystal-embellished bustier and corseted lace-up back topped with large golden wings glittering with silver stars. In her YouTube video, Rima’s Tribute to the USA is addressed to President Obama: “The amazing costume I will be wearing during the Miss Universe Pageant represents the celebration of life, love, liberty and all that is American. The eagle holds an olive branch and arrows, which denote the powers of peace and war. The eagle faces right to show a preference to peace over war. The symbol of this costume is a tribute to your work to bring peace to the world.”
“It was 100 percent my idea, even though I’ve never designed anything in my life before,” Rima laughed. “I don’t think you could be more patriotic or sexier, even though some people will say it looks like a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s all-American and perfect!”
She told me that the contestants have kept her busy with questions about Las Vegas, particularly on the tour at CityCenter. “Every one of us has so much energy because we’re just so excited to be here. Even after a night out at Haze nightclub, there we were all still up in hair and makeup at 5:45 a.m. for our swimsuit shots.
“As far back as I can remember, when I was a kid, I watched the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants, and now it’s really hard to believe I’m really a part of it. It’s amazing to now be so up close and inside it -- it is an incredible event.
“You do realize, Robin, that I’ve met girlfriends now from every country in the world so that whenever and wherever I travel until I’m too old to travel, I will always have a friend somewhere in the world. The girls find the most incredible thing is that nobody is actually from America, but everybody who is American comes from somewhere else in their past. That’s why Las Vegas is the best place on Earth for this pageant.
“The toughest thing for me is going to be holding back crying during the show. It’s that overwhelming. … My mom calls me from home before she arrives in Las Vegas to remind me that nothing can ever stop my confidence. I’m feeling confident. I want the crown, and I want to travel the world for Miss Universe.
“But whatever happens, I still feel like a winner already.”
Vegas DeLuxe will continue with our daily pageant reports and photographs all week long leading up to the big event next Monday. We will be blogging live during the telecast, along with Twitter reports, and will post the winning moment as quickly as possible. We’ll also have the final dress rehearsals photos this weekend.