Miss China Is in New York to Prep for Miss Universe Pageant—With Lots of Help
On a recent weeknight on the Upper East Side, the current Miss China, a beauty who stands 6 feet tall in stockings, was learning how to mingle at a dinner party.
"I am Rosaline, pleased to meet you," the beauty queen said to the bankers and lawyers present, giving an English version of her Chinese name, Luo Zilin.
"Tell them about your dress Rosaline," prompted her host, Yue-Sai Kan.
"It is Calvin Klein, isn't it beautiful?" Miss China announced with a practiced twirl.
The performance was but a small part of Ms. Kan's determined bid to make this Miss China into Miss Universe. Like many champions before her, if she wins, Miss China's greatness will have been forged on—or at least near—New York City's mean streets.
For the past few weeks, Ms. Luo has been living in Ms. Kan's posh Sutton Place townhouse, taking a crash course in Western manners and mores in advance of the pageant, to be held in São Paulo on Sept. 12.
"This is like trying to create a gold-medalist swimmer," said Ms. Kan, a cosmetics mogul and media personality who is organizing China's Miss Universe bid. "If you don't train her well there is no way you can throw her into an Olympic-type situation and expect her to win. In the past these women were not trained. That's why they didn't win."
The problem with Chinese contestants at the Miss Universe pageant? According to Ms. Kan, they've been, well, too Chinese. "The girls can't be all that Chinese—it's Miss Universe. They've got to be quite savvy about the world and what I am trying to do is to expose them to as many savvy things as possible."
Blunt and pragmatic, Ms. Kan is one of several female moguls who have been dubbed "the Oprah of China." Like her American counterpart, she has a crack team of experts behind her—in this case to help Ms. Luo live the Miss Universe dream.
Making the 24-year-old model battle-ready in New York are fashion model Lu Sierra, fashion photographer Fadil Berisha, dance instructor Linda Kurtis of Forest Hills and a brace of French coaches, who are polishing her table etiquette.
From the moment Miss China awakes at 7 a.m. until she climbs into her pajamas at night, Ms. Kan and her team of three assistants drill her with questions, instructing her on how to handle interviews and when to respond with a graceful dodge.
"She is representing China…there are always people who don't like China and I have to prepare her for all kinds of situations where the questions may not be friendly," said Ms. Kan, who obviously relishes her role as a diminutive Henry Higgins—in red lipstick, red blazers and leopard-print accessories—to Ms. Luo's Eliza Doolittle.
"As a model I never need to answer questions and I am shy around strangers," said Ms. Luo. "I need to work very hard at it. I can still improve."
On the subject of U.S.-China relations, however, Ms. Luo appears to have mastered the art of statesmanship, answering questions while saying nothing at all. "I'm not a policy person and it's not important for me to show my feelings about whether it is good or not," she says. "I do think we need to communicate more."
Dance lessons (samba, jazz and some tap) take place in the Sutton Place salon, before a fireplace flanked with framed magazine covers featuring Ms. Kan. There are hours of English-immersion classes, etiquette lessons, cat-walking practice and interviews with the Chinese media.
On an infrequent break from training, the two women, always in the company of two or three handlers, dropped by Century 21 in Lower Manhattan. There, Ms. Luo delighted to find aisles of size 10 shoes.
"I can never find high heels my size in China," Ms. Luo said. "They don't make them."
During her New York stay, she's eaten dumplings in Chinatown, seen "Mary Poppins" on Broadway and toured the Alexander McQueen exhibit—skipping the long lines thanks to Ms. Kan's VIP membership card.
The Miss Universe pageant's president, Paula Shugart, says Ms. Kan's approach to beauty-queen boot camp is unprecedented.
"We have had different countries come to New York for some training but never to this extent," she said. "I certainly think that Rosaline will be a contender this year."
Ms. Kan also believes her pupil is ready.
"We can only do so much. The crown is now hers to win or lose," she said, adding: "But I am thinking she will win."