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27 October 2011

Dear Pageant Girl,

There is a beautiful poem written in the late 1920s called Desiderata that contains some excellent observations and advice about life.  It is one of my most favorite poems and in it, the poet warns us:

 “Exercise caution in your business affairs – for the world is full of trickery…”

 Many of you who are recent pageant observers may not have heard of the horror stories that have come out in the last 3 decades about bribery, sexual assault and sabotage behind the scenes.  Behind the Vaselined smiles and the glittering tiaras is a darker side to beauty pageants.

 We’ve all heard it before – the classic pageant urban legends – from corrupt directors and sponsors bribing judges and rigging the competition, to directors promising prizes that never eventuate.   

 Sleazy organisers and judges offering the crown in exchange for sexual favors?  Yup, heard that one before. 

 Contestants stealing or damaging costumes and evening gowns of their competitors?  That’s a classic.

 But are these just urban legends? Unfortunately ladies, it does happen.

 Who can forget Miss Puerto Rico Universe 2007 Ingrid Rivera whose skin erupted in boils when a competitor dusted the inside of her evening gown with chilli powder?

Or a former Miss Universe (who shall remain unnamed) whose tactics included stepping on a competitor’s foot with her stiletto minutes before the girl marches on stage for her performance?

Ashley Talbot, Miss Universe Australia 2003 told me years ago when she came back from Panama that a contestant called her “cute” while in her evening gown and proceeded to mess up her hair just when she was about to step on stage for the evening gown preliminaries.

And don’t even get me started on the mind games.

All around the world, young ladies with stars in their eyes dream of becoming the next Miss Universe or Miss World. With the success of Jennifer Hawkins bringing back Australia’s second Miss Universe crown, young ladies have gone gaga and come in droves to pageant cattle calls, hoping to be discovered and try their luck at winning the coveted crown. 

Desperate and driven to win and experience international acclaim and the same success that J-Hawk enjoys, yet oblivious to the dangers that may lurk behind the scenes.

Thousands of dollars go towards the preparation of a girl for a pageant and shonky operators are a dime a dozen ready to prey on these beautiful but often gullible women.

Exorbitant registration fees, the compulsory purchase of sponsor’s goods, fees for workshops and seminars, make up kits, hair products, evening gowns and travel expenses pile up and before you know it, your own personal contribution just to compete in one pageant amounts to the thousands.

And how does one even put a dollar figure on the mental and emotional aspects involved in the preparation?

Unfortunately here in Australia, we do not have a sanctioned body to act as a watchdog for unfair and unethical practices in the pageant industry so at the moment we have nothing to protect us.

There are plenty of reports of injustice and unethical practices over the years.

Carole Gist, Miss USA 1990 filed an $18 million dollar lawsuit against the Miss Universe pageant claiming unfair labor practices.  According to Carole, she was forced to work seven days a week, often on overtime without penalty rates or holiday pay.  She also claims that she did not receive all the prices she was promised.  Several Miss USAs spoke up in support of Carole.

In 2003 Olivia Stratton won Miss World Australia and earned the right to compete in the international pageant where she became a semi finalist.  Olivia however claimed to have never received any of the prizes promised to her that came to the equivalent of $250,000 and is now suing then pageant organisers Northpac International Pty Ltd for the missing prizes, out of pocket expenses and economic loss which when calculated comes to a figure of over $600,000.

This year, Scherri Lee Biggs, our reigning Miss Universe Australia 2011 found herself embroiled in controversy when certain contestants approached media outlets claiming that her selection was a result of the directors rigging the system.

Most shocking of all however only happened a couple of weeks ago when Miss Asia Pacific World, a new competition started by Lawrence Choi from Korea rocked the pageant world and will no doubt be considered amongst pageant followers as the scandal of the decade.

The Miss Asia Pacific World Pageant (not to be confused with Miss Asia Pacific International) is a pageant to select the most beautiful woman from those countries touched by the Pacific. 

Miss Guyana, Aletha Shepherd documented her experience in a daily VBlog on Youtube called “Confessions of a Beauty Queen”.  While it was obvious that many facets of the pageant was a joke, Aletha kept her beauty queen smile on and remained diplomatic until Day 11 when she obviously could not take any more.

Hours before the finals several of the contestants protested claiming mistreatment and unfair practices by the pageant organisers.

Aletha, together with the contestants from Wales and Costa Rica fled the pageant, only to be stopped at the airport by the organisers.  Aletha chronicled the three’s escape – alleging that the organisers kept them hostage, did not feed them properly and gave them sub-standard accommodation.

They also claim that certain contestants were given an unfair advantage and of irregularities in the judging and prize giving.  Even more shocking (not to mention insulting to those involved) was the blatant ignorance when it comes to basic geography.

Miss Puerto Rico was awarded Best National Costume in Europe while Miss Guyana was awarded Best National Costume in Africa. 

Aletha comments about this in her V-blog and wonders if they thought Guyana was in Africa just because she’s black.

Hmmm.

Kelly Louise Maguire has seen it all.  Kelly Louise is what I would consider a professional pageant girl.  She has been in over 12 pageants since 2007.

She has competed internationally and has represented Australia in Miss Earth, Miss Intercontinental, Miss International, International Model of the Year, Miss Tourism Queen International and Miss Leisure World among others.

More importantly, she was in Korea representing Australia at Miss Asia Pacific World.

Read my explosive interview with Kelly Louise here: 

DEAR PAGEANT GIRL INTERVIEWS KELLY LOUISE MAGUIRE – MISS ASIA PACIFIC WORLD AUSTRALIA 2011

HOW DID YOU GET INTO PAGEANTS?

I was approached whilst shopping along Pitt Street Mall in Sydney City – this was back in 2007. I guess you could say I was scouted! I was encouraged to join Miss Earth Australia, which I did amidst some reservations about what on earth I was doing. Luckily I managed to achieve the title Miss Earth Australia Water (2nd RU out of 45 girls) and was then sent to Miss Intercontinental in the Seychelles to represent Australia.



WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO DO PAGEANTS?

Well Miss Earth is something that resonated with me particularly as I come from a very environmentally aware family. In 2007, I was already doing regular modelling gigs, and the feeling of about to step out onto the runway or onto the set was one that I loved. I tell you now – it has NOTHING on the feeling that I get when I’m about to step on stage in front of thousands and thousands of people! I also have a competitive streak, so if someone presents me with an opportunity, I feel compelled to compete and give my all… so I suppose it was a combination of things as the reason why I initially started all of this glittery craziness!



HOW MANY PAGEANTS HAVE YOU COMPETED IN?

More than I care to mention!! I think for both national and international comps, I’m now up to eleven or twelve. I have travelled to eight different international competitions.



HOW WAS THE MISS ASIA PACIFIC WORLD  EXPERIENCE FOR YOU?

Amazing, but definitely less amazing than a lot of other competitions! No girl involved in pageants will tell you a competition is a waste of time or a flat-out horrible experience, no matter what happens. That’s because of the other girls primarily – you still meet incredible people (I have widened my vast array of international friends!) – as well as the things you get to see and do together. Craziness strengthens the sisterhood, so to speak.

Although there were undoubtedly MANY problems with the organisation, I managed to maintain both a sense of humour and a level head along with my roomie (Miss Denmark, who went to Miss Universe in Vietnam 08) and together we laughed and gossiped about it all. I think it would have been much worse if I was with someone that I didn’t really get along with.



HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THIS PAGEANT?

I was approached by the organisation directly, who had offered me to take part. Incidentally, they already had a girl representing Australia already but they wanted candidates of a higher calibre – girls that had already been to a major international competition.



WHAT DID YOU PERSONALLY WITNESS?

From the beginning we had hardly any chaperones (2 for 50 girls), and then one left. No security, at all. Sometimes they only ordered one bus, so girls were squeezing in and sitting on each others’ laps and on the floor. The food was okay to start off with – but as we travelled from Seoul to Daegu they didn’t provide lunch, and our only chaperone was forced to pay out of his own pocket and bought us little snacky things (which were Korean, and most girls didn’t like that).

We then started getting little bento boxes comprised of Korean food – and as Miss Mali so eloquently put it – “I bet they get better food in prison!” Most of the girls hated Korean food, especially those from Western countries, as their tastes are so different (and in any case it’s wasn’t high quality food and that was the reason why I wasn’t happy about it).

After the DISASTROUS talent & national costume show in which girls from the wrong continents got awards (e.g. Guyana for Africa, Costa Rica & Puerto Rico for Europe!!) I personally witnessed some of the girls screaming at the sponsor (Canada, Wales, Costa Rica mainly) – which a lot of people captured on video.

They accused him of some insane things – although I cannot confirm that I ever saw anything of the sort transpire. I stayed at the hotel in Daegu when Costa Rica, Wales and Guyana left the competition – there were 15 of us that actually waited 8.5 hours in the hotel lobby whilst the other girls travelled to Busan. I found out later this was because the sponsor (man who was yelled at until 4am in the same hotel lobby we waited in!) left– and the hotel was owed about $25000 in expenses. I guess we were effectively held at ransom – although I was very comfortable the whole time – just very bored.

WHAT HAPPENED THEN?

When we went to Busan, after the disaster that was the final night, the same thing happened at the hotel the next day when the girls attempted to check out – the hotel actually took matters a little more drastically and put the entire hotel in lockdown, so no one’s keys worked so we couldn’t access our luggage in our rooms (passports, wallets, bags, EVERYTHING). It just so happens that my roomie and I were in the room at that point in time, so when we found out (courtesy of a little visit by Miss Tahiti!), we packed all of our things, grabbed Miss Guam (a very close friend of mine from Miss Earth) and the three of us bailed the pageant. There were police everywhere – called by the hotel to sort out the no payment fiasco – so we had to duck and weave our way inconspicuously out of the hotel, run halfway up the street and jump 2 taxis to the train station. Our initial plan was to catch a high-speed train to Seoul – it was about 2pm at this stage, and Guam had her flight home that night at 8.40pm. Busan is about a 6-hour drive from Seoul, so even if she caught the bus and it was on time, she would likely have missed her flight. The train would have taken about 2.5 hours, so it was a decent plan until we discovered there were NO seats AT ALL, on any train until 10pm that night!! I think that’s because it was Sunday afternoon, so people that worked in Seoul were travelling back to the capital city for the following work week.

Anyway at this stage we were freaking out but did the only thing we could do, ever mindful that Korean police were liable to show up and arrest us for fleeing the hotel – go to the airport! We jumped another two taxis, and managed to communicate that we wanted to get to the airport to catch a plane to Seoul. We fortunately got to the airport without further incident, and bought tickets to the next flight out of there, which left at 4pm, and arrived in Seoul at 5. Guam then caught an airport transfer straight to Incheon and was nice and early for her flight – I was so proud of our efforts in getting her there! Myself and Denmark meanwhile booked our own hotel not too far from the international airport as we were both leaving the following afternoon. So – room service club sandwich and a bottle of wine that night, a decent night’s sleep, and then homeward bound soon after.

THOUGHTS ON THE FIASCO AND YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I was outraged! I became quite close to Jacquie Mikhailides – who was the National Director for the UK girls. She is a very grounded and she ended up keeping me and my roomie informed and we all ended up sticking together for the most part as things became more and more ridiculous.



WHAT ABOUT CLAIMS OF RIGGING?

Considering the results were changed, talent winners that didn’t compete in the section happened even before the final, I’d have to say that it was entirely rigged. The judges’ papers were taken off them halfway through the final so I have no idea where they ended up pulling the final result from! They then changed the official results, after calling the pageant a “failure” (that’s what they told us on the bus afterwards). Interestingly, Miss France was the most outraged (despite coming 2nd initially, which was then amended after the fact to first place) – claiming that she was going to sue etc etc.

From the outset I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever that the entire competition was rigged. For what reason and why they chose who they did, I have absolutely ZERO idea.



MISS VENEZUELA WINNING TALENT WITH NO TALENT?

Along with Miss Cameroon who won Miss Talent for Africa and also didn’t compete! It was nothing short of bizarre. The sponsor that everyone was screaming at in Daegu the night following the subtitle show was seen talking to all the judges and changing their papers – I think this was the source of most of the girls’ outrage, to be honest. It was touted as a super talent competition and there were some INCREDIBLE performances (including from Miss England, who is a professional singer. Nearly blew me off the damn stage, she is just out of this world incredible) – yet those went unrewarded. It set the scene for zero faith in the integrity of the final, and girls began to question why they were even still in the competition and not on a plane home. It was such a sad shame that those awards were done the way they were.



WHAT ABOUT CLAIMS OF BRIBERY AND PRIZES IN EXCHANGE FOR SEXUAL FAVOURS?

I have some serious doubts about those claims. I think some girls pulled that card because they could, knowing it would cause the most outrage. I didn’t witness anything, and it was only after the mess of a subtitle show that the more dramatic girls (who had previously been ignored during sponsor visits etc I noted, very suspicious; they were clearly not favourites) decided to claim all this outlandish crap. All I can say is – I have my doubts about the validity of those claims on the basis of who made them and the circumstances under which they were made, and I did not see anything of the sort occurring at any visit or event prior to or after any of the shows.



HAVE YOU SEEN THIS HAPPEN IN OTHER PAGEANTS BEFORE?

No. Never in my life. There is always favouritism, however – but I have never even heard of some of the girls going so nuts. It was a very scary mob-mentality moment.




WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE? WILL YOU BE TAKING LEGAL ACTION OR?

Not at all – I don’t really care to be honest. I spent about $120 getting myself and my roomie out of the country, and other than that I didn’t see anything that really warrants legal action. I was slightly inconvenienced – but for what it’s worth, what an amazing story to tell people later on in life – the Escape From Busan was definitely the highlight of the trip for us! It was scary but the three of us were in fits of laughter most of the time during that heist. I’m taking all these crazy accusations and legal plans with a grain of salt. Some of the other girls are definitely taking it more seriously but it’s really not worth my time, personally. I start my Master’s degree next year so I’ve got more important, more productive things to do with my time!




WHAT KIND OF THINGS HAVE HAPPENED IN OTHER PAGEANTS THAT MADE YOU SHAKE YOUR HEAD?

At Miss International two girls had a physical fight and one girl bit another – it left a massive bruise on her arm that could be clearly seen during the final. They were some crazy-competitive girls at that pageant.



WHAT ADVISE DO YOU GIVE GIRLS WANTING TO ENTER PAGEANTS?


Go with a clear mind, laugh, make some intelligent and decisive friends. Have more than enough cash so that you can take care of yourself (hotels/food/flight changes) if everything falls apart. On top of that, always get travel insurance and don’t hesitate to contact your embassy if you suspect something is up – it’s better and easier for them if they’re aware of the situation and know where you are.

Dear Pageant Girl was given access to confidential documents between the Miss Asia Pacific World organisers and delegates who have been cheated by the organization.

Explosive accusations flew back and forth between the continents, from accusations of racism, theft, botched boob jobs, unpaid bills and contestants and their belongings held against their will.

 A complete and utter nightmare.  In all the years I have been following pageants this must be the worst I have ever encountered or heard about.  To this day, as I read about the things that went wrong and continue to go wrong my jaw still drops.

So who won do you ask?

Well, Miss Korea of course!  Apparently of the 16 judges, 13 were Korean and 1 Japanese.

Two days later, a somewhat embarrassed Miss Korea resigned and gave up her crown, passing the title on to her first runner up, Miss France who reluctantly took on the title.  Her prize? Two pairs of jeans, a promise to have her teeth whitened and an alleged cash prize of $20,000.  Apart from the jeans, she is yet to see the rest.

Hopefully, with the rise of social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the rate of real time updates that has now become second nature to many of us, shonky pageant directors will become less of an occurrence because these days, bad news travels faster and further.

So for those with stars in their eyes, remember not to lose yourself in the glitz and glamour.  Remember that sometimes, all that glitters oftentimes are just rhinestones. 

Do your research and when a pageant director tells you you’re beautiful and tries to sell you their pageant, take a step back and remember this saying in Latin:

CAVEAT EMPTOR – BUYER BEWARE.

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