Dear Pageant Girl,
I must say it’s not every day that I leave a pageant with a high.
In the many years that I have watched or been involved in a pageant, I can count the number of times in one hand where I can say I have left with a big smile on my face and a high that’s lasted for days. It’s been a while since I’ve had that feeling and the constant chasing of the dragon becomes rather tiring after a while.
I’m happy to say that the activities in the last week surrounding the Miss World Australia competition brought that feeling of excitement, positivity, hope and reason for being back again.
This is the first year that I have been involved with the Miss World Australia organisation. I couldn’t assist or watch the show last year, being at Uluru and being a not-for-profit organisation myself, a trip to the Red Centre was not as easily justified as a flight to Melbourne. When I was invited to judge at this year’s competition, I jumped at the chance.
For years we have struggled with Miss World in general. We have wanted to love the concept, embrace its Beauty with a Purpose motto and relate to its search for a holistic, well-rounded woman. It was great in the 90s. Then again, weren’t they all amazing in the 90s? But watching the “innovations” introduced in the last decade had left many of us cold and sadly the ladies who have worn the crown of Miss World Australia post 1995 had been, well, forgettable. It’s a struggle for me to name any Miss World Australias prior to 2010 to be honest.
So I’m going to come out with it. I’ve always been a Miss Universe boy.
I watched with great interest the growth of the Miss World Australia organisation for the last three years since Nadasha Zhang took over from Pauline McFetridge and I have been very impressed. It’s nice to see a newer and younger team inject a new kind of energy to what unfortunately was a dying pageant here in Australia.
When Amber Greasley was crowned in 2011, I knew that this would be the start of something truly exciting and hope for the national pageant was restored. Her top 21 finish at the international competition was a major achievement for the fledgling national pageant and Jessica Kahawaty’s third place achievement in 2012 made me realise something very important.
Miss World Australia is a sleeping giant.
And the giant is stirring.
I arrived the day before the pageant in time to watch the Belluccio Top Model Fast Track event at the Whitehouse Institute of Design. Head designer Julie Sufi, who has become a close friend over the last couple of years had no qualms taking me backstage to view her Miss World Australia 2014 range. What I saw was typical Belluccio – beautiful draping, whimsical trims and flounces, elegant silhouettes and bling. Lots of it. I was impressed at the professional way the show was handled and set. A stark white runway was the perfect setting to show off the beautiful gowns on show. And the girls didn’t disappoint, either! Sleek and minimal in their styling, they provided the perfect hangers for these masterpieces.
The mood backstage was warm and there was a genuine camaraderie amongst the girls and the backstage crew. Hair and make up provided by Ciccone Cosmetics and Hair by Ciccone who interacted with the contestants at a familiar level usually found only between friends. There were plenty of laughter and chatter and some familiar faces too.
Miss World Australia director Nadasha personally greeted me and requested that I travelled with the girls to Werribee Mansion the following day to observe and to assist the girls pre coronation event. Agreeing to do so (when the director of Miss World Australia asks you to come early to an event, you say YES!) I then retreated back to the executive suite at the Citiclub Hotel organised for me by Nadasha and I slept with a smile on my face, determined to wake up early to join the girls for breakfast and try to get some inside information and gossip, typical of many pageants. I was expecting drama, mean girl stories and sabotage.
I was set for a major disappointment on that front.
Instead, what awaited me was like a scene from a wellness camp. Smiles all around. It was a refreshing change to see the Miss World Australia directors and major sponsors join the girls for breakfast and personally greeting each one with a “good morning” and a bright smile. It’s no surprise that everyone was so positive and relaxed when the very directors themselves set the example. The girls had nothing but positive and exciting things to say about the Miss World Australia program. Each Fast Track event, designed as a framework to encourage well-roundedness in a woman encouraged mateship amongst all of the contestants and each girl truly supported the other. The spirit of competition was there, without the cattiness.
Werribee Mansion was the perfect setting for the grand final. Elegant, old world and beautiful it was Miss World true to form. As the girls got on with rehearsals I watched very closely to try and predict who would be in the top 10 (whom I would eventually be picking the winner from).
Every single contestant glowed and looked amazing as they introduced themselves in their black cocktail dresses before changing back into their Belluccio gowns for the announcement of the top 10.
Five of the ten were winners of the Fast Track events while the remaining five were the judges’ choices. Thank goodness I did not have the seemingly impossible task of whittling down 32 to 10 but immediately, having taken them away from the bevy of beauties, we noticed the stand outs.
The top ten competed in an interview round which put the girls in their paces and all did very well. The content and delivery were perfect and I knew that judging the top ten was not as easy as I thought.
The elimination of Cassie Hancock from the Top Five shocked me as I had her in my top three.
I had met Cassie a year earlier at the Miss Universe Australia competition and seeing her made my jaw drop. In twelve months she had grown from a beauty into a supermodel. We gagged when she came on stage and we gagged when she was eliminated. A great mystery but destiny had bigger plans.
Another shock of course was last year’s winner Jessica Kahawaty’s no-show to crown her successor. Her absence left a bad taste in my mouth and made me question her character. It’s definitely not a good look and gave me the impression that she had used her title and discarded it and those who helped her once she got to where she wanted to go. As Miss World it is your job to ensure that you fulfil all responsibilities and to see through the commitments and promises you make. Sadly, Jessica in my eyes did not do this nor had she done anything for the brand during her reign and DPG regrets honouring her with our first ever Miss World Australia Stunner Alert in 2012.
Dear Pageant Girls take note.
The rest is history. We all know the outcome. And quite frankly, I do believe that we have our strongest delegate yet.
A pageant neophyte, Erin Holland transformed herself to become a beauty queen and we watched with fascination her journey. We first saw her compete against Jessica Kahawaty in 2012 and doubted her chances in having a career (is there such a thing?) in pageants. Her competitive nature wanted to prove us otherwise and contacted us for some tips – determined to try her luck at the Miss Universe Australia crown.
Giving her some tips, mostly on styling, Erin took our advice on board and by May 2013 we knew she was ready.
Sadly her Miss Universe dreams would come to a crashing halt when she was abruptly left out of the selections at the State level much to everyone’s surprise. Baffled at the results we started to see cracks in the Miss Universe Australia system when we saw this year’s selections, or more importantly, those who were left out of it (Yvonne Amores, one of the top ten from this year’s Miss World Australia was also rejected by Miss Universe Australia judges).
Erin harnessed all her energy, courage and experience and called upon it to her advantage when she got on stage. Armed with a steely determination, Erin wanted that crown and knuckled down. She played hard and played fair. Her styling, interview, and speech we could not fault.
Winner of the talent competition, even her choice of song (Maybe This Time from Cabaret) added a touch of irony to her story which would eventuate to be her victory anthem. Her song brought the house down and pretty much cemented her place in the judges’s minds as the winner that night.
As she was announced, it was clear that it was one of those pageants where all girls were genuinely happy to have her take the title out over them. Erin is a woman who we know will really be a contender on all Fast Tracks internationally. She’s fit, she has talent, is intelligent, beautiful and can be a top model. She’s charming and has a great personality. Engaging and savvy she has what it takes to activate and influence people to help and to contribute to her cause. A true beauty with a purpose.
If that’s not a well rounded woman, then I don’t know what is.
Miss Universe Australia’s loss is Miss World Australia’s gain. And Australia’s gain for that matter. Our first Stunner Alert for this year we predicted that Erin would do well in the national finals.
Now watch our girl bring back home the Miss World crown.
UPDATE: 23 JULY 2013
Outgoing Miss World Australia 2012 Jessica Kahawaty sent a private message to ‘clarify’ her non-appearance at the final. Below is an excerpt from a private message sent by Jessica to myself (edited):
” Hope you’re well – someone just sent me the article you wrote about Miss World Australia 2013 which is very nice except for one part. I’m sorry I left a “bad taste in your mouth” but you don’t know the reason I didn’t attend the crowning…However, it does say a lot about my character that I am NOT publicly saying the reason. I thought out of all people in the industry, you would sense that there is a valid reason why and be puzzled instead of disgusted…”
While we appreciate the message and ‘clarification’ it was still a bad look on the night. As I wrote earlier, as Miss World it is your job to ensure that you fulfil all responsibilities and to see through the commitments and promises you make.
Part of that commitment is to crown your successor. I have worked with many beauty queens who have had the most horrendous experiences with their respective directors and organisations (reasons of which I shall not divulge as it is not in MY character to do so) yet still manage to fulfill their commitments by attending the finals, crowning the winner and making everything look perfect on the night.
Out of respect and professionalism, giving the new winner her due by crowning her is the right thing to do despite the circumstances. Whatever the reasons, the participants were denied that night your presence and sadly, was let down by the very person that most of them have regarded and held as a role model.
We wish Jessica all the best for the future.
‘No hard feelings’.