As I rushed into the airport to board my flight to Moscow to help judge the Miss Universe pageant, a familiar request was shouted my way: "Vote for Miss ____ (fill in the blank)."
Ever since it was announced I would be a preliminary judge, working with a team to narrow the contest to the top 15 contestants, people from a variety of countries have reached out in any way possible to express why their title holder deserves one of those coveted positions. For many countries pageants are as popular as football in America, or soccer/football globally. National pride is on the line, which means many of the Miss Universe faithful will stop at nothing to campaign for their title holder to take home the global crown.
A couple of hours into the 10 hour flight, panic hit me. The book!!! I didn't check it, did I? Phew, thankfully, I found it safely in my carry on, and got to work. This precious three ring binder served as an introduction to the various contestants. Along with photos, ages and background info on the ladies, it also provides fun facts, and one thing each contestant wants us to know about them.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I ran into the current Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo. Olivia is always poised and greeted me warmly as she rushed out to get into one of the official pageant vehicles. I may have been just arriving, but the Miss Universe hopefuls have been in Moscow for nearly two weeks preparing.
I then met my fellow judges and we were reminded of the rules (can't disclose them all, but lets just say they are in place for good reason). We then took a mini tour of Moscow, with possibly the most hilarious tour guide ever. She spoke at rapid fire, with a heavy accent, which meant I picked up about every fifth word she said. We marveled at the beautiful architecture in Red Square, took in views of the city from the rooftop of the Ritz Carlton, and managed not to get hit by cars as we crossed the street (you are supposed to cross the street below ground, but the New Yorker in me made everyone chance it and run across above ground).
Later in the evening, a small group of us dined at a restaurant which overlooked a glass farm housing where an elderly woman sat knitting as peacocks and a cow roamed.
We're not in Kansas anymore . . .
Try as I might to get a good night's sleep, I tossed and turned. In the morning, we start the intense process of interviewing the contestants. Now, I've covered deaths of luminaries, all of the major awards shows and interviewed some of the biggest names in the world, so what about judging this pageant was making me feel on edge?
I guess it comes down to something noted by one of my fellow judges: "Have you seen how much has already been written about us as preliminary judges? It is a big freaking deal all over the world."
Yes it is.
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