Sunday, February 03, 2013

2002 – The Palindromic Year of Pageantry

2002 – The Palindromic Year of Pageantry
2002 is a palindromic number which means it remains the same when its digits are reversed. It is said that in any base there are infinitely many palindromic numbers. They are also referred to as Scheherazade numbers taken from the storytelling wife in 1001 Nights where stories proceed from the original tale; some are framed within other tales, while others begin and end independently. 2002, the international year of ecotourism and mountains, is palindromic also in terms of the events that transpired in the world of pageantry where there are stories framed within stories, some interconnected, while some intertwine at one point but diverge at a certain point to have their own endings.
In this feature, we will give attention to a special year, when all the big 4 pageants had a major shake-up, which would somehow realign their concept of beauty and the business of running an organization. No pageant powerhouse held a major title and it’s an open season for new players to get their first crowns and best placements. It is also the first time that 3 out of 4 eventual winners of the big 4 pageants are Muslim women/or women who came from predominantly Muslim countries.

Welcome to 2002, the palindromic year of pageantry.

Miss Universe 2002 – A Tale of Two Girls’ Destinies
“Something happened... when we were down to the five finalists of the Miss Universe pageant, we were standing together on stage and right before they started calling out the positions, one of the girls said, “Best of luck to all of you.” But it’s not about luck, it’s about one girl’s destiny... this time, it ended up being about two girls’ destinies.” – Justine Pasek, Miss Universe 2002
Their respective national directors got the memo that white elicits a more positive response from judges.

A beautiful face, a fit body with curves in the right places, intelligence, and the clout to take the reins and embody the virtues of a whole organization – these are the qualities that the big 4 pageants look for in modern beauty queens. Gone are contests of pure pulchritude and blushing virgins. This time it’s all about the woman who has it all and more. In this feature we will take a look into 2002, one of the most historic years in pageantry, when the Miss Universe Organization sought to find the most perfect beauty queen to represent its advocacy, only to find two – one who’s beauty headlined one of the best Miss Universe finals in recent years, and another who’s beauty shone brighter off stage, in performance of the duties and responsibilities that came with the crown.


In pageant terms, this refers to a situation where the eventual winner was virtually unchallenged in all aspects of the competition. The date was May 29, 2002 and the arena was the Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan in the enchanted island of Puerto Rico. CBS broadcasts the world’s beauty superbowl for the last time. 10 modern day glamazons fought it out on stage in skimpy white bikinis, exquisite evening gowns, and their intelligence in answering the dreaded final question. This year, no beauty of black ethnicity was able to advance to the semifinals, an event which would happen again 10 years later in Las Vegas. After nearly 2 hours of competition, Russia’s Oxana Fedorova not only set the highest recorded swimsuit score in history, she gave Russia’s best finish since Yulia Lemigova’s 2nd-runner up triumph in 1991 and, became the first European Miss Universe since 1990’s Mona Grudt , while making it all look like a walk in the park. She enjoyed a huge lead, making it appear that the other 4 finalists were just fighting for the 1st runner-up position. It was pure heaven for pageant fans as their fervent wish for a stunning queen came true. She became the first Miss Universe to wear the new official crown crafted by Japanese jeweler, Mikimoto valued at approximately $200,000 and has 500 diamonds totaling nearly 30 carats adorned with 120 pearls, both white South Sea and Akoya pearls, ranging in size from 3.0 -18 mm.

She won prizes worth about $250,000, in addition to promotional contracts, a scholarship and a salary. She was awarded a pearl and diamond tiara valued at $20,000 that she will wear most of the time, since the official Mikimoto crown was kept by the Miss Universe Organization for the annual crowing of the new Miss Universe. This tiara was part of the overall prize package awarded at the conclusion of the Miss Universe 2002. On top of all is a residence at the Trump Towers in New York together with Miss USA and Miss Teen USA and memories that will last a lifetime.
The Russian doll was just untouchable that night.

RUSSIA OR THE UNIVERSE – A question of priorities

The year was full of promise and the new Miss Universe followed a hectic schedule touring the world and promoting AIDS awareness. She visited Nairobi’s AIDS orphanages. She also toured France, Italy, Canada and Greece. She even met Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the latter’s residence in Istana Negara.

An only child raised by her mother and maternal grandparents, Oxana is a driven and career oriented woman. Prior to being Miss Universe, she was a police investigator who graduated with a gold medal from the Ministry of Internal Affairs University. Despite her busy schedule as Miss Universe, she valiantly kept up with her post-graduate law studies at St. Petersburg's Police Academy. Oxana wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on "Regulation of Private Detective and Security Activity in the Russian Federation. Clearly, her beauty was not her only strong suit.
Oxana’s happier days with the MUO

It could be noted that she was supposed to compete in 2001 but had to beg off due to her busy school schedule. Her runner-up Oksana Kalandyrets came instead and entered the top 10 (thank your lucky stars Ms. Denise Q). Nevertheless, the MUO stood by her as she continued her gargantuan juggling act for 4 months. It would later appear that her studies kept her tied up too often in Russia causing her to skip some Miss Universe official travels. Pretty soon her inability to function as Miss Universe for the remaining 9 months of her reign would become too hard to ignore for the MUO. Throughout the pageant’s history, only two titleholders were not able to finish their terms but were not stripped of their titles:

• Armi Kusela gave up her title a month before her reign ended to accept a marriage proposal from Filipino millionaire Virgilio Hilario.
First to win and first to resign

• Amparo Munoz resigned from her post 6 months into her reign to pursue a showbiz career. Her runner-up Helen Morgan of Wales cannot assume the title because she already became the new Miss World. The title was not offered to the 2nd runner-up, though and the following year Miss Universe 1975 Anne Marie Pohtamo was crowned by Miss Universe 1972 Kerry Anne Wells.
RIP Ms. Munoz

This time, in Oxana’s case, she was officially asked to step down due to failure to perform her official duties, with her name stricken from the records of the official titleholders.

Amidst all the wild rumors surrounding the circumstances of her severance of ties with the Miss Universe Organization, Oxana kept a cool head and dismissed the pregnancy rumors. She returned the $20,000 diamond and pearl tiara and clarified that she was not fired; she resigned citing her studies and career in Russia as her main motivation. An incident in the Howard Stern show was also believed to be a catalyst to Oxana’s resignation. It was alleged that Oxana felt blindsided about the sexual questions that would be asked by the notorious Mr. Stern.
Later on, another Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza would get the same disrespectful treatment, this time in Celebrity Apprentice.

Despite her dethronement, she maintains: "I know I will remain Miss Universe for Russian citizens and for myself."


Justine Pasek was born in Ukraine from a Polish father and a Panamanian mother. Her modeling enabled her to travel the world and meet people from different backgrounds. Described as a woman with “supermodel looks and humble personality”, Justin entered the pageant with no expectations and was focused only in representing Panama the best way she can. She later finished 1st runner-up, giving Panama its best placement since Lia Victoria Borrero cracked the top 5 in 1997. She got the adoration of her country and the Central American community and elicited a remark from then President Mireya Morozco that Panama was famous solely for its canal, but thanks to Justine, it’s now also known for the beauty of its women.

After the pageant, she went back home and resumed modeling and her volunteer work with Casa Esperanza, which is an organization that helps street kids get off the street and into schools. She set up fashion shows for charitable organizations such as the Red Cross, FANLIC (Fundacion Amigos Ninos Con Leucemia Y Cancer), and Fundacion Son Felipe. She has supported those organizations since she was crowned Miss Panama.

One fateful day she was invited to New York for photo shoot because a modeling agency based there was interested in her and wanted photos. Later she got invitations to represent the MUO in China and Japan in an official capacity as 1st runner-up. Little did she know that she is under a test to see if she is fit to assume the crown and everything that went with it. She later got wind of things when Paula Schugart herself picked her up at the airport and informed her inside the limousine that she is being offered the Miss Universe title. Upon her acceptance, her pictures from that New York photo shoot were published in the Miss Universe official website. It was Donald Trump who later crowned her as the organization’s official face and in the press conference that followed she expressed her excitement in the new job and promised to make the transition with the Miss Universe Organization, its sponsors, supporters and charitable partners as seamless as possible.
Oxana: Kthanxbye
Donald: I told you it would fit.
Justine: Awesome.


As Miss Universe 2002, she was in the midst of all the activities, working with internationally recognized AIDS/HIV organizations, including the Global Health Council, the Harvard AIDS Institute, AmFAR and the Center for Disease Control’s “Act Now” campaign.

Close to her heart was the organization PROBIDSIDA, a foundation in Panama which works to increase HIV/AIDS awareness. She remembered that back in her days as a full-time model, her agency used to work with charitable institutions on gala and fashion events for fund-raising, yet she noticed that they haven’t’ worked with an HIV/AIDS foundation. She requested a meeting with PROBIDSIDA and upon learning that it is in need of support, enlisted the backing of the Miss Universe Organization.

As Miss Universe, she has appeared in magazines such as Ocean Drive (Español), Vanidades, Cosmopolitan (Latin America), Islands Magazine, Marie Claire (Mexico), Vogue (Brasil), Hola! (Spain), GQ (Italy), and Caras (Argentina, Brasil and Colombia). She worked tirelessly until it was time to pass on the reins to the new queen. On the centennial of the handover of the administration of the Panama Canal back to the Panamanian government, Justine crowned her successor, Amelia Vega; in a glittering spectacle in the Figali Convention Center.
Justine’s eventful 2002


It appears that Oxana’s big sacrifice for her studies did not go in vain. On December 27, 2002, she successfully defended her doctoral thesis and subsequently obtained her Ph.D. from the Ministry of Interior University on May 16, 2003. She was also promoted as captain.

She still got involved with charities mostly involving children, most notably as the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Russia. She would also become a household name in Russia as an actress, singer, host, model and magazine editor. She got married twice, first to German businessman Philip Toft, from 2007 to 2010, and currently to Andrey Mikhaylovich Borodin, an officer for the Presidential Administration of Russia and vice president of the Russian Boxing Federation with whom she has a son named Fyodor.
Now a mom but still a stunning

Meanwhile, apart from modeling, Justine still supported PROBIDSIDA even after her reign. She was also FAO’s Goodwill Ambassador since 2003, working incessantly to make sure the fertility of our soils reaches everyone. Pasek was also appointed Ambassador for the promotion of culture and tourism by the Government of Panamá. She was also Grand Marshall of the Central American Independence Day, organized by COFECA - Committee of Central American Festivities. She currently lives in Los Angeles, United States. In August 2009, she married British businessman Daniel Joelson.
11 years after and still beautiful

Two girls, two destinies – Oxana, an earthly goddess who showed her love for her country in more ways than one, and Justine, the beautiful citizen of the world who gave her time selflessly to help everyone, not just her countrymen. Through the Miss Universe crown we came to know two great women in an eventful year in pageantry, and this has happened once in the pageant’s history, only in 2002.
2 queens in a year. It couldn’t get any better than this.

Miss International 2002 – The Year of the Desert Flower

My, my, what beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one's late! I bet when it blooms, it will be most beautiful of all" - Fa Zhou in Mulan
Miss International was created when Catalina Swimsuit Corp and the city of Long Beach, CA parted ways in 1959 due to differing visions. Long Beach wanted to maintain the Miss Universe as a non-profit community-based project while Catalina had a more commercial vision.

Owing to the circumstances of its inception, Miss International has remained as the most conservative of the big 4 pageants, being faithful to its goal of promoting world peace, goodwill and understanding. It may be the slowest to adopt changes among the big 4 pageants, but it’s always definitely worth the wait, because the resulting winner will always be beautiful.
In the oddball year of 2002, Miss International earned the distinction of being the only Big 4 pageant that doesn’t have a resigned or dethroned titleholder. It also initiated the Muslim triumvirate, where 3 of the winners of the Big 4 pageants were delegates from predominantly Muslim countries by crowning a tenacious desert flower, Christina Sawaya of Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Oddball Miss

Christina herself was an oddity because she was a conservative Christian woman representing a predominantly Muslim nation. She was a non-placer in Miss World 2001 but she thought her beauty would be more appreciated in other pageants and kept trying despite heavy competition. She was supposed to enter Miss Universe 2002 earlier that year, but chose to withdraw due to her country’s political tension with Israel (it was destiny indeed for Oxana and Justine).
The red connection: Georges Hobeika, her dress designer in Miss World also made Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo’s red gown.

Her Last Card

Her last card on the table was Miss International. On September 30, 2002, she gave the best performance of the night and bested 50 other beauties to become Miss International 2002, the first Middle Eastern beauty to achieve such a feat. She also gave Lebanon’s best finish in Miss International.
Christina and her stellar performance in Tokyo

Beauty Inside and Out

Her victory not only broadened the spectrum of ethnicity of Miss International titleholders, she also became active in social and charitable activities in her region, most notably her TV campaigns for the Ministry of Internal Affairs on safety driving, anti-smoking, anti-alcoholism and HIV prevention. She worked in developing Beytuna, a social and health care center for the elderly.
Would someone ask what cream she uses for her face? LOL

Christina went on to become a household name in her native Lebanon, where she became a successful actress, singer, and host. On 15 November 2003 Sawaya married Tony Baroud, a former member of the Lebanese national basketball team and now a sports commentator and TV entertainer with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. She continued to support other charitable organizations, most specially Beytuna even after her reign.
Indeed, when Miss International chooses to deviate from its tradition it really is worth it.

The Most Beautiful or the Most Complete – The Miss Earth 2002 Dilemma

“I am not the most beautiful. But I think I am the most complete.” – Mariasela Alvarez, Miss World 1982
When Carousel Productions decided to retire the Miss Asia Pacific pageant, I thought it was a great idea. The older big 3 pageants all have their own defining advocacies – Miss World with its Beauty with a Purpose, Miss Universe on HIV and AIDS prevention, and Miss International on world peace. It was genius when they came up with Miss Earth; they have already filled up the newly created niche of a beauty queen who cares for the environment, catchy and very timely. In 2001 the Miss Earth Pageant was born.

Fresh from its successful debut in 2001, the youngest of the Big 4 pageants got an early shake-up in its second edition. On October 29, 2002, Dzejla Glavovic of Bosnia and Herzegovina swept through the competition, taking the Best in Talent and Best in Long Gown special awards along with the platinum and swarovski crown and the title Miss Earth – the newest champion of the environment. With her victory, she became the 2nd woman from a predominantly Muslim country to win a Big 4 title.
Dzejla did her own version of the big sweep

It’s hard to not to notice Dzejla’s good looks – a beautiful, raven-haired Balkan beauty with a natural flair for the stage and the cameras. Her looks also support a sharp wit, which she used in the most crucial portions of the competition – the Q&A. However, not everyone was too happy with her coronation, but why? Before you judge her, let’s try to know her more.

Dzejla has been modeling in Europe since 1997 when she won the Metropolitan Top Model Search after the war was over. Her natural skills landed her jobs in Paris and Milan where she was based when she joined and won Miss Earth. She’s clearly a modern woman of the world, shuttling from city to city while taking modeling jobs one after the other. Her elder sister is also a model and Miss Bosnia titleholder but resigned and chose modeling professionally.

There nothing really wrong about being a model and keeping a beauty title. Many beauty queens have ventured into modeling after the pageant, and vice versa. Girls from neighboring Kosovo and Albania were able to successfully transition from model to beauty queen and succeeded. I’m sure you would remember Zana Krasniqi, Hasna Xukichi, Marigona Dragusha, Aferdita Dreshaj and Anxhela Martini as Balkan beauties that made the transitions to being beauty queens/models successfully.
Dzejla’s Balkan sisters who finished their reign

After the pageant a video footage was posted online showing many contestants walking away in disgust as Dzejla was being crowned. Some even had unsavory things to say about the new queen. There were claims of unqueenly attitude about Dzejla. If Amelia Vegas was the queen bitch in 2003, Dzejla was her older sister. There was an instance where Miss Puerto Rico’s missing national costume was found amongst her belongings. Another was her supposedly undisciplined behavior, sleeping and waking up late for activities, sometimes not showing up at all. Many allegations have added up and coupled with some legitimate shortcomings in performance of her duties as Miss Earth as duly noted by Carousel Productions. On May 28, 20013, she was relieved of her duties and responsibilities as Miss Earth 2002. Ironically, she was the 2nd big 4 titleholder to be asked to step down, after Miss Universe Oxana Fedorova.

Much to her co-delegates’ and fans’ delight; Dzejla’s 1st runner-up, Kenya’s Winfred Omkakwe ascended to the throne. Winfred or Winnie was a Miss Kenya Universe 2001 finalist who later joined Miss Tourism Kenya, earning the right to represent her country at Miss Earth 2002. She was ab orphan at age 12 and was able to obtain a physiotherapy certificate through the support of her older brother and sister. Exotic, articulate and friendly, she was able to befriend everyone, including the supposedly “difficult” Dzejla. On finals night, she was everybody’s sentimental favorite but luck was not fully on her side.
She earned the respect of her co-delegates by being present in all outdoor activities.

Winnie was scouting for a university in the US when she got the fateful notice that she is being offered the Miss Earth 2002 title. Upon her acceptance, she immediately went to work and showed what it’s like to be Miss Earth. Other delegates were quoted that she was the most eligible to the crown. She’s not only a beautiful African queen; she’s also a committed environmental warrior with no job too squeamish or too trivial to be accomplished. She attended coastal clean-ups, clam seedings, tree plantings and other events as required of her new title.
When it was time to crown her successor, Dania Prince Mendez, there’s no doubt that she really is the true Miss Earth 2002. The judges on finals night initially saw the most beautiful queen, but later Miss Earth found the most complete, and that’s what is important.

Miss World 2002 – A sharp reminder on the responsibility of media practitioners

“One of the hopeful things that I’ve discovered is that nearly every war that has started in the past 50 years has been a result of media lies. The media could've stopped it if they had searched deep enough; if they hadn't reprinted government propaganda they could've stopped it.” – Julian Assange
When Nigeria’s Agbani Darego won in 2001, she did not just become the 1st black African Miss World, she got the leverage to persuade the Miss World Organization to stage the 2002 edition in her home country, in the capital city of Abuja. For the first time, audience text votes together with the judges’ scores will determine the 20 semifinalists. In this last chapter of the palindromic year of pageantry, the Miss World Organization, despite being the oldest big 4 pageant, still got a reminder in the power of media and almost faced the prospect of not being able to stage the event at all, if not for Julia Morley’s experience and quick thinking.
Destined to win wearing lime green

2 months earlier, there was a bloody clash between Christians and Muslims but for that time there is peace. Nigerian authorities were excited at the opportunity to showcase the beauty of their country to the world. The prospect of bringing Nigeria closer to 4 billion people excited journalists, and as the delegates started coming, the media were in a frenzy trying to get as many snapshots and interviews of the delegates as possible. The earlier parts of the Miss World broadcast were already shot and recorded until the first major issue confronted the event. Although beauty pageants are allowed in this predominantly Muslim African nation, certain issues are still sensitive, especially their religious beliefs. Muslim woman Amina Lawal was accused of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning by an Islamic Shariah court. Despite a statement from Julia Morley that she was assured by the Nigerian President that Amina would not be executed, the entrants from Norway, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Panama, Belgium and Kenya boycotted the event and threatened not to participate. Amina appealed to the contestants not to defer their participation will be good for her country.
Lucky to be alive

Despite numerous protests the pageant went ahead as scheduled only to hit its 2nd roadblock. Lagos-based newspaper ThisDay columnist Isioma Daniel wrote in humorously in her column that if the prophet Muhammad were alive, he would have taken one of the Miss World delegates as his wife. This lighthearted comment on her part was a ripple that started a wave of violence in the city of Kaduna where inter-religious riots resulted in double the casualties of the previous fighting. A fatwa urging her beheading was issued but was not carried out, though.
She learned the importance of comedic timing the hard way

10 days of preliminary footage have already been shot in Nigeria, but the escalating violence in Kaduna was already close to Abuja. The Miss World Organization decided to fly the delegates out of Nigeria and transfer the event to London. The delegates from France and Korea withdrew participation and went home to their respective countries.
There’s a rush to get plane tickets, but not due to a seat sale

On December 7, the Miss World 2002 final was telecast from Alexandra Palace in London. Turkish model Azra Akin won the top prize – the azure Miss Word tiara and $156,000.00. As the new Miss World she travelled to United Kingdom, Turkey, the United States, New Zealand, Ireland, Jamaica, Australia, China and other countries to promote the advocacies of the MWO. There were some allegations that her victory was an effort by the MWO to appease the Muslims offended by the controversies concerning Amina and Isioma. Nevertheless, Azra had a peaceful reign.
She showed the world how to win a crown wearing boots.

After her reign, Azra continued to model and also became an actress in Turkey and reality show contestasnt in Britain.
Still cute as a button after 11 years

Aftermath in Nigeria

Ben Maray, the chairman of the Nigerian organizing committee, was disappointed at the loss of a big opportunity for Nigeria to host the event. Information Minister Jerry Gana expressed his admiration for the delegates for coming to their country but also vented his outrage at the British press for conspiracy to sabotage the vent in Nigeria. Indeed, Jerry knew the power of the media, and he knows if there have been more responsible journalism, this wonderful opportunity to promote his country to the world might not have been lost.
Not an ideal place to hunt for bargains and get a suntan during those times.

Dethronements, political conspiracy, violence, and venue changes – it seems that 2002 served as a pivotal year pageantry. Since 2003 there has been no major controversy of the same sort.

I wonder what 2013 will be like. I guess we’ll have to find out for ourselves.

Happy reading!

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