Noor Ashikin Abdul Rahman
The New Paper
Sep 26, 2015
It used to be one of the most talked-about events.
Picking a girl to represent Singapore at international competition Miss Universe was an almost national affair, with television coverage, front-page headlines and a swanky pageant.
But Miss Universe Singapore 2015 was picked earlier this month - with hardly any fuss.
This year's winner, in case you haven't heard, is Miss Lisa Marie White, who was crowned in private and then officially unveiled for the first time at a Formula 1 after-party and catwalk show at Amber Lounge last weekend.
The 22-year-old freelance model, who is of Malay-Kiwi descent, was picked out of over 50 hopefuls by a panel led by Miss Universe Singapore's (MUS) new national director and 2002 winner Nuraliza Osman in a closed-door recruitment and selection process that started in May.
The panel included last year's winner Rathi Menon, former Miss Universe Japan national director Ines Ligron, 2005 winner Cheryl Tay, Mrs Singapore second runner-up Mona Gill, and former models Wendy Jacobs and Hanis Hussey.
Ms Nuraliza, a lawyer, took over the MUS licence and franchise four months ago from Derrol Stepenny Promotions, which ran the event for the past 14 years.
She described it as a "brilliant" opportunity, adding: "It's a great platform for us to create role models for young Singaporean women and to put Singapore back on the map."
Last year's pageant was a glitzy ticketed event at Shangri-La Hotel that was open to media coverage, the format ever since Channel 5 stopped televising the finals in 2008 due to dwindling ratings and declining sponsorship money.
So why go for a low-profile, closed-door selection process?
Ms Nuraliza admitted that the short time frame she had played a part.
Said the 38-year-old: "If you want to maximise your chances of placing in the top 15 in the Miss Universe pageant, what do you do with the limited time you have?
"Run a local show in a dinner ballroom - or get as many girls as possible, pick a winner and spend the most amount of time you can developing and training a strong delegate?
"That is our strategy... (because) we've used the same formula year after year and it hasn't succeeded."
Ms Nuraliza, who wanted greater media exposure for Miss White, feels the Amber Lounge event worked in their favour, thanks to the global coverage surrounding F1.
She said a call was put out online for applications and 50 hopefuls were picked.
Two weeks ago, the field was narrowed down by the panel to about 20 girls, who attended an audition held at one of the judge's homes.
Held over several days, it included a swimwear and Q&A segment, pageant-style.
The panel unanimously decided on Miss White, who was told over the phone days before her official unveiling at Amber Lounge.
According to Ms Nuraliza, everything was above board and she had also consulted the Miss Universe Organisation.
Miss Menon, 24, told TNP: "During the Miss Universe competition held in Miami last year, I realised that there were a lot of representatives, including Miss Sri Lanka, who were not picked from a national pageant in their home country."
But she also acknowledged that the experience she gained from participating in MUS did come in handy.
"I think it was good to have a show where you compete on a smaller scale... it braces you for the international pageant.
"But still, the goal is the same and Lisa will undergo preparation like I did. We have a team to help her," she said.
Indeed, Ms Nuraliza has assembled a "dream team" who are more than willing to help Miss White without expecting a single cent.
MUS 2000 Eunice Olsen is on board as co-mentor, Jacobs will help with catwalk training, Hussey and a personal trainer will monitor fitness and nutrition, and Ligron will do styling and grooming.
Miss White will also be working closely with MUS' adopted charity Compassion Fund, which offers emotional and financial support to students from lower-income families as a result of sudden death, illness or accident in the family.
Said Ms Nuraliza: "The reason I have such a strong team behind her is because I am done with Singaporeans putting our own down. "It is about time Singaporeans rallied around our girl."
She will also take Miss White to Amsterdam for a joint training session with this year's Miss Universe Germany and Miss Universe Holland.
When asked if she missed being part of a traditional pageant, Miss White told TNP: "It would have been nice to have been crowned that way, but I was lucky enough to be the first to experience an unveiling at a prestigious event.
"Furthermore, without a local pageant, there is more time to focus on just me - instead of several finalists - so that I can really improve."
Get The New Paper for more stories.