Many of you already know this, but a couple of weeks ago, I competed in Miss Vietnam Arizona pageant 2018. This was the first pageant that I participated in and it was quite the experience. In this blog post, you’ll read about my experience with all the other girls, ranging from rehearsals to our bonding sleepover/karaoke night, and of course, the pageant day itself. I was really hesitant in going to the pageant. Never thought I would ever compete in a pageant since I’m a strong believer in “community over competition.” When I first mentioned the pageant to my boyfriend’s aunt, she strongly disapproved. Of course, I’m a very stubborn person so I went into the pageant with an open mind.
First Day of Rehearsal
The first day of rehearsal, I was really hesitant. To be frank, I was planning on not showing up. My boyfriend’s parents were visiting from Vietnam and I wanted to spend time with them. A part of me was also scared that the other girls would be aloof. The first person I met was Jasmine. I distinctly remember her looking at me and saying: “I hope our coach isn’t going to be one of those Vietnamese ladies who think they’re better than everyone.”
I honestly died laughing because she said exactly what was on my mind. During the first rehearsal, we had to bring in a blue blouse or blue dress because we had to take photos for promotional purposes. We never spoke of those photos again and it kind of just disappeared..? (In other words, the photos didn’t meet the standards so they were never released haha).
Going back to my boyfriend’s family is in town, I needed to leave rehearsal an hour early since my boyfriend’s ba ngoai (grandma in Vietnamese) who was hosting dinner that I had already promised I would attend to. I remember telling our coach, Chi Mai Ly, that I needed to leave an hour early. (I’m not one to leave early or request work off. I always feel so bad asking since I feel like I’m not being responsible.) Anyways, when I asked her, she said, “Okay, I can’t really say no, can I?” I remember I was like, “Oh, you’re right…” If you’re reading this, Chi Mai Ly, I was really scared of you on the first day of rehearsal. Haha.
Arizona Asian American Association Festival
The first couple of rehearsals, we were preparing for the AAAA Festival. This was held in December and it gave us some stage presence experience prior to the actual pageant itself. We did a little walk, our introduction speech, as well as a mini Q&A regarding our beautiful country, Vietnam. To make it easier on us, our coach gave us the question prior to the Festival. She also gave us a template to use when answering the question.
My question was: “What’s your favorite thing about the moon festival?”
My answer: “My favorite thing about the moon festival is playing with paper lanterns. It’s my favorite because growing up, I had the fondest memory of playing with the paper lanterns with my cousins. The Moon Festival is a time where we cherish and celebrate children. It truly is a great example of our culture and heritage. Thank you.”
Update: My love for Chi Mai Ly started around this time. When I’m scared of someone, I usually avoid making eye contact with them. So during rehearsals whenever Chi Mai Ly and I would make eye contact, I would give her this upmost awkward smile. If you know me in real life, you would know what I’m talking about haha.
One thing I thought was really unfair was after the AAAA Festival, two girls had expressed interest in joining the pageant. We voted not to add on new contestants. Simply because it was due to the fact that we have already put in so much time and effort to prepare for the AAAA Festival event already as well we had already bonded together. A couple of the other girls had also expressed similar concerns.
Please note that I am only speaking on my behalf. We took a vote and our coach has stated that if there was one single “no” in adding new contestants, we would not. In other words, I don’t know if it was unanimous but I know for sure that we had at least one “no”. Psst, I voted no.
Then a week or two later, a new contestant had joined, disregarding our vote. Our coach has always said: “At the end of the day, Co Thanh Mai has the final say.” She was the “special exception“. Weird.
Over time with every rehearsal, I became more and more excited about coming to rehearsal. To me, I never really saw rehearsal as “preparing for the pageant”. It was rather just hanging out with friends and of course, eating popcorn that Chi Mai Ly has kindly brought for us! Rehearsals were always fun and one of the main reasons why I didn’t drop out of this pageant was because of the girls. It never felt like we were competing with each other. Our rehearsals were 3 hours long, we would spend 1 hour just talking – whether it’s sharing stories, asking each other questions to prep for the Q&A, or just funny Vietnamese jokes. (How does Obama’s mom tell him to take out the trash? Bỏ rác Obama!)
Karaoke Night / Sleepover
One of my fondest memories was having our sleepover. All of the girls, except for one, were at the sleepover and we also went out to karaoke. Two girls had to leave early so they didn’t get the chance to come to karaoke night with the rest of us! After karaoke, we played board games until 2 am! We played One Night Ultimate Werewolf – which is my absolute favorite game in the whole freakin’ world. If you know me, you know that I LOVE talking. There was one round where I was the werewolf, so I didn’t talk at all. It was painfully obvious since I was so quiet. Hahaha caught red-handed!
I went home that night because I don’t feel comfortable sleeping anywhere that isn’t my place. This is probably because my mom never allowed me to sleep over at anyone’s house growing up so I’ve been accustomed to sleeping at home haha. Honestly can’t wait for our reunion sleepover!
The Day of the Pageant: The Interview
For our personal interview with the panel of judges, I was the second person to go. I don’t have the best memory in the world but basically, this is how it happened. We were given a form to fill out for the bio for the judges to look over. In all honesty, I filled out this form in roughly 10 minutes since I had so many things going on. One regret would have been to spend more time on filling out this form. Another thing I would like to mention is that my original platform was to raise awareness regarding domestic violence abuse. This was too personal for me to talk about so I decided to change my platform to raising awareness about bullying and to prevent it.
- Education: BASIS Tucson North, Turning Point Beauty College, Arizona State University
- Professional Goals: I hope to pursue a career in Public Relations as well as take my blog to the next level
- Personal Goals: My next personal goal is to graduate undergrad in Communication and Mathematics, and attend grad school for a Masters in Communication
- Hobbies: Blogging, Weightlifting, Speak Mandarin, Volunteering at Skate After School (Skateboarding), and Playing the Piano
- Three Words to Describe Me: Ambitious, Social, and Kind-Hearted
- Favorite Quote: Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness. – Oprah
- Outside of my family, my role model is Oprah. She embodies what a powerful woman is and often gives back to the community.
- In 10 years, I see myself: I hope to have finish grad school, traveled around the world, and start my career.
- One thing I’ve learned from this pageant: More confident and honest with what I believe in.
- If I were famous for one thing, it would be to be an activist against domestic violence.
- One piece of advice I would give my 13-year-old self would be: learn how to love yourself
- If I were crowned, my commitment to my reign is: I want to break stereotypes of what a “pageant girl” is viewed as, as well as to educate the younger generation on their roots and to represent the Vietnamese community to the Asian community and to Arizona as a whole.
The judge received this biography of me. Now going into the interview part. Please note that I do not know any of the judges. The judges I do know was a Chinese judge who is a doctor and famous for some spinal technique and a philanthropist. Majority of the judges were in the medical field – I don’t know if they actually had experience in judging pageantry. One thing I would also like to mention, the panel of judges were predominately male. Someone told me that they were most likely asked to judge since they were high donors to the Vietnamese community – even then, I didn’t think it was fair.
Interview: The Questions
- What would you do with your title if you were crowned Miss Vietnam Arizona? My response: if I were to crown Miss Vietnam Arizona, I would use that voice to raise awareness on my platform. To clarify, my platform is to raise awareness about bullying and to prevent it. Growing up in a community with sparse Asians, I was often picked on for my mom’s cooking. I told my mom that I didn’t want her cooking anymore but rather sandwiches. I then realized that the food is was part of who I am. It was part of my culture and my heritage. If I were to be crowned Miss Vietnam Arizona, I would use that voice to tell younger Vietnamese generation that it’s okay to be different and it’s okay to embrace who we are.
- Do you have a boyfriend? When they asked this question, I was shocked. How exactly does one exactly to this? If I had yes, would it have hurt my chances? The lady, who wasn’t a judge, that was calling each contestant into the room as well as making sure the interview went according to the time. She placed her hand on my shoulder and said: “You don’t have to answer it.” Then the judge who had asked me the question responded: “Well, we just want to get to know you better!” My response: “haha, yes…”
- I see that you attended BASIS, which I heard is a really rigorous school, but then you decided to go to beauty college and then back to university. What made you go to beauty school? My response: I actually went to beauty school part-time during my first year at Arizona State University. I went to get my nail and esthetician license because my mom told me that it was a better job opportunity then to have a minimum wage job.
- Your bio says you’re a Communication major. That’s what I graduated in as well, what do you hope to do with that?I hope to pursue a career in Public Relations because I love socializing and meeting new people, and I am such a team player. I hope to do something in social media.
- Do you prefer Vietnamese guys or Chinese guys? I was slightly baffled at this question. In a professional setting with all judges being Vietnamese, except for one being Chinese. Of course, the judge who was asking this was Chinese. I just laughed, trying to stall time in order to think of a response. My response: I like them all! As long as you’re kind to me, that’s all it matters. The Chinese judge then made a small remark under his breath something along the line of “well, that was the million dollar question.” Confused. What exactly did he mean by that? I find this question to be extremely inappropriate and it made me extremely uncomfortable.
- Obviously, this whole thing isn’t serious to you because what is your relation to domestic violence abuse? The same previous judge asked this question. At the moment, I was just so nervous that I didn’t comprehend the first part of what he had said. My response: Growing up, my parents are actually divorced. I was around 5 when – I couldn’t finish the sentence. My voice started cracking and I begin to cry. The lady who was advising the interview placed her hand on my shoulder again and said: “You don’t have to answer the question.” The Chinese judge then said “fine, I guess you get a pass on this question.”
- You volunteer at a skateboarding organization Skate After School. Why do you volunteer there? My response: I love skateboarding and I love working with kids. Studies have shown that kids who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely to stay out of trouble.
I strongly felt that the Chinese judge’s remarks were uncomfortable and inappropriate. Was this his first time judging a pageant? What exactly qualified him into judging this pageant besides his “new, advanced, patented, non-invasive technique”? What are his relations with Miss Vietnam Arizona Pageant? I wish we were given a list of the judges and their credentials because from what I know, the majority of them are doctors and that title is basically what made them qualified to be a judge. Would they be biased to those who are interested in the med field since the majority of them are doctors? Is their doctorate degree the reason why they were considered to be judges? Because that’s what I felt like.
The day for Miss Vietnam Arizona Pageant 2018 has FINALLY come. I don’t think I was even slightly nervous but rather excited. There were a couple of components to the pageant: introduction dance, introduction speech, evening gown, Jacky Tai’s Ao Dai Collection, and of course, Q&A.
For the introduction dance, we were provided with an outfit. There were three outfits for three parts of Vietnam: Northern, Central, and Southern. The introduction dance went horribly since the stage was a lot bigger than we had been practicing on, so timing went incredibly behind. For the introduction speech, we had to wear our own Ao Dai. I wore my mom’s because hello, broke college student! Can’t really afford my own custom-made Ao Dai, but it’s okay! I showed off my mom’s old school “classic,” as my mom likes to call it, Ao Dai and couldn’t be any more proud wearing my mom’s.
I remember backstage behind so disorganized. The stage was twice the size of the room where we’ve been practicing and last minute changes pretty much became predictable. The show took [ f o r e v e r ]. I’m pretty sure 99.9% of the people who came to the show was there for the pageant and the pageant was roughly 25% of the show. A lot of my friends who have been to pageants said that this was by far the longest one and they’re usually an hour to two long. I guess a suggestion for the next pageant show would definitely be cutting down the performances between the pageant segments. Majority of us had plenty of time to change, eat, touch our makeup/hair up, and to socialize.
I definitely felt like I’ve grown a lot throughout this journey. Being on stage, I felt so empowered during my evening gown walk to the instrumental version of Halo by Beyoncé. I honestly don’t think I have ever felt so powerful wearing a dress before. However, to say that all of these accomplishments was because of the pageant would merely be the surface. It wasn’t the pageant that made me feel more confident in myself. It was rather our coach, Chi Mai Ly. Throughout this pageant experience, she taught us to use my voice. She exemplified the true definition of “if you believe in something, fight for it.” (Seriously tearing up right now as I am composing this).
She told us that we are the next generation of the Arizona Vietnamese community. We are who the younger generation will look up to. Chi Mai Ly is someone who I aspire to be. Her dedication to the Vietnamese community is astonishing but also, her passion for working with minorities in the dentistry is also impeccable. Also, Chi Mai Ly is such a mysterious person! I’m not gonna lie, I googled her a couple of times. Sorry, Chi! I don’t mean to be creepy, but I’m just so curious about you and you’re just so intriguing that I just wanted to know more! Haha…
I’m honestly so grateful to all my friends and family who came to support me. Thank you to my family and my boyfriend for their endless support throughout the journey. Also, huge thank you to my best friend Valerie, for staying up until 2 am to help me prepare for the question and answer section, as well as helping me practice my walk. Many thanks to my friends who came to support me (Asia, CJ, and Drey – I’m so sorry I didn’t get to take pictures with you guys!).
Although I didn’t win, I want to emphasize on my favorite quote from Oprah, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” While I was really upset when I didn’t make it to top 6 in the pageant; the next morning, I was so overwhelmed and overjoyed by all the love and support I received. It made me appreciate my family who drove a total of 4 hours from Tucson to come see me, and my boyfriend who came right after drill to come watch me and he had drill the next day too.
Thank you to the Vietnamese community for this opportunity. Check out my other personal posts here.