Finally, I'm home. The moment I stepped through the doors and put my luggage down, I was already thinking about work on Monday. It was not an insane thought. Somehow, I knew that things were going to be different from this day on. After the pageant, I know I'm not the same person I used to be anymore.
It's been a grueling month, but God has blessed me with great people who have supported me at work and the pageant. Thank you to my family, friends, and all my wonderful colleagues at Tune Group. Thank you for being a part of my life.
My pageant experience involved a lot of hard work, determination and a strong sense of self. There were 18 finalists. All of us met the qualifying criteria – height, beauty, intelligence, personality. The question is simple – who is better? You'd be surprised at the amount of fine detail the sentences had to scrutinize to vet us through. It was a close call at my auditions. According to Andrea Fonseka, our national director, I messed up my audit because I was standing with stooped shoulders.
"You mean it was not a weight issue?" I asked. Inwardly, I rejoiced. I'm not fat. I'm. not. fat. I'm not fat (I had to say it three times for emphasis)!
"No." she answered. "You were standing like this-" Andrea leaned forward, imitating my slight slouch (I straightened my back immediately). "The other girl was standing like this." Andrea drew herself up into a tall, perfect posture.
That point just hit me like a ton of bricks. I can be anal at times, but this called for the ultimate expression of perfection. It was then realized how important the little things were. The art of presentation of feminine beauty in pageants involve poise, grace, class, elegance, and I can not stress this enough: technique. The key word to mastering technique – practice. I learned my lesson well that day, and I did not take the tiniest of technical details in training during pageant week lightly.
There are the technicalities of pageantry we had to learn (which I stress again, is very important), protocols to observe; public appearances to make. None of us were expelled from the activities. We had to do everything we were told to do without having our individuality drowned in detail. That was the only way we could stand out and demonstrate charisma in front of the judges.
We were primarily under Andrea's tutelage in all pageant-related aspects, of which I 've benefited very from. We were also privileged to have other esteemed industry veterans coming in to train us as well. This is not an exhaustive list: for hair, we had Winnie Loo, founder and CEO of A Cut Above (she did my hair for gala night. Thanks Winnie!). For our finals, we worked with Andrew, founder of Andrew's Models (which is the top modeling agency in KL) together with high fashion models Tini and Sue. Andrew has little patience for slip ups, even minor ones. We had to pay close attention to him because he speaks so quickly and if you do not keep up … For make up, we had industry veteran Taymie Chin. Then there was media training with Craig and Farrell of Orchan Consulting, Jahabar Sadiq, CEO of Malaysian Insider, Mr Wong Sai Man, Executive Editor of The Star, and Noorsila Majid of Daily Chili. I've been training under directors who are all perfectionists – and they pushed us because they want the best from us. Thank you for dedicating your time from your busy schedules to come in and train us.
Although pageant training emphasizes on our grooming, appearance, and public speaking skills, it is important to put our training in context. It's also not just about glamorous parties and wearing gowns and jewelry that cost 10 times my annual salary. Our charisma, personality and intelligence, is equally, if not more important than our looks. Charisma is key in delivering stellar performances on stage – and Hans Isaac was right – half of us looked nervous during finals, and that lack of clarity can clearly be seen, ruining chances of victory, even though it's just a split second flash of uncertainty across one's face. It was the women who felt completely at home, in front of the flashing cameras and lights and the hundreds of people – it was them who owned the stage and they knew it. It shows in their smiles and their walk, and it is a beautiful thing to watch. Needless to say, it was a close call for the selection of the final 5 during the gala night as well.
I've taught something about myself that night as I walked on stage. I realized for once, I was nervous. And it was at that moment I knew that I could not win, even though I may have scored in my pre-judging interview. I also realized I did not feel as much passion for modeling as compared to dance. Dance is, and always will be my first love till the day I die.
One thing I envy about our winner Nadine is she gets to have a personal trainer from True Fitness and she has to workout EVERY DAY to train for Miss Universe. I wish I had such a luxury (God willing, I will have my own PT one day). As Andrea mentioned, Miss Universe finalists are not beautiful waive models. They are beautiful athletes. Their bodies are lean and well-toned in demigod-like proportions with glowing skin that is to die for.
Now it's back to the real world (or is the pageant actually real, and my life stuck in the Matrix?), Where everyone is not constantly dressed to the nines in 6 inch killer heels, white teeth, perfect hair and make up, and maintaining gorgeous bodies. I know I have discovered so much more about myself and what I am capable of. Being a Miss Universe Malaysia finalist is an experience I will always cherish (notwithstanding the feet blisters, running on 3-4 hours sleep for a month, managing work expectations, and the constant pressure of competitiveness with 17 other ambitious, beautiful girls). I am better person now from my pageant experience, and that new-found confidence and belief in myself is something that can not be taken away from me.