Miss World Singapore pageant struggles to look good amid controversies

Some of the 16 Miss World Singapore 2013 finalists. The local pageant this year has been hit by controversies, with one finalist accused of prostitution and another revealed to have past legal trouble. Some also complained about being made to sell ta
Some of the 16 Miss World Singapore 2013 finalists. The local pageant this year has been hit by controversies, with one finalist accused of prostitution and another revealed to have past legal trouble. Some also complained about being made to sell tables for the finale, but organiser Edmund Ooidenies this. Mr Ooi is a 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry. He was asked by his brother Raymund, who holds the local contest's licence, to help organise it.PHOTO: TNP ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Some of the 16 Miss World Singapore 2013 finalists. The local pageant this year has been hit by controversies, with one finalist accused of prostitution and another revealed to have past legal trouble. Some also complained about being made to sell ta
Some of the 16 Miss World Singapore 2013 finalists. The local pageant this year has been hit by controversies, with one finalist accused of prostitution and another revealed to have past legal trouble. Some also complained about being made to sell tables for the finale, but organiser Edmund Ooidenies this. Mr Ooi is a 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry. He was asked by his brother Raymund, who holds the local contest's licence, to help organise it.PHOTO: TNP ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Beauty pageant hit again by controversies and scandals ahead of July 28 finale

The last thing Miss World Singapore's organiser Edmund Ooi wants is for history to repeat itself.

Two years ago, his elder brother Raymund was tasked with cleaning up the sullied beauty pageant by the British chairman and chief executive officer of Miss World Limited, Ms Julia Morley.

Ms Morley famously said then that the Singapore version of the 62-year-old pageant had a "showgirl club image".

The pageant had, just two years before, also infamously produced disgraced winner Ris Low, who was later stripped of her crown after her past criminal conviction - for credit card fraud - came to light.

But even as 16 women prepare to vie to represent Singapore in Jakarta on Sept 28, scandals and controversies have crept back into the pageant this year.

One of this year's finalists has been accused of prostitution, while another has been revealed to have past legal trouble, and several have complained about being made to sell tables for the final show.

"It's been very challenging," said 49-year-old Mr Ooi, when he met The Sunday Times at his Dhoby Ghaut office last Friday.

The challenges are not only the scandals he has had to deal with. Fewer than 30 people signed up for the pageant, Mr Ooi revealed. And the contest has been only marginally profitable.

The 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry does not need the Miss World Singapore work to burnish his resume. He helped produce two South-east Asian Games, the 1994 Singapore musical Bugis Street and several National Day Parades, among other events.

His brother Raymund still holds the local contest's licence for the next three years, but had asked him to help organise it.

During a candid, one-hour interview, Mr Ooi defended the finalists and his three-month-old tenure.

This year, 20 per cent of the contestants' final scores will depend on the audience at the finale next Sunday at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

A table for 10 people costs between $3,000 and $5,000, while an individual seat costs $350, including food, wine and entertainment.

Sponsors have snapped up the tickets. Friends and family of the finalists can also pay a discounted rate of $2,500 per table, though a few of them have felt that the prices favour those from more well-to-do families.

Mr Ooi looked at it differently. "One of the hard parts of the contest is knowing how to sell yourself. Canvassing is part of the training if you want to go to the international pageant in Jakarta.

"Also, we never forced the girls to buy the tables."

Miss World pageants in some other countries use text voting to gauge audience support, but Mr Ooi said his method ensures that fans will make up part of the audience for the finale.

"You don't want to do a catwalk to empty tables. You don't want finalists walking down the aisle with no connection to the people there," he said.

Mr Ooi also stood by the two contestants who have made the news for the wrong reasons. There was no proof to support the allegation that one finalist had been a prostitute, he said.

Another contestant, Ms Teri Chua, has "learnt her lesson" after she settled a legal case several years ago for defaming 2009 Miss Universe Singapore winner Rachel Kum. Ms Chua admitted to the legal trouble earlier this month.

Mr Ooi acknowledged that the controversies could further taint the pageant's reputation, but urged Singaporeans and even women's groups here to support it.

"The finalists are young women who have a vision and dream to do something useful with their beauty," he said.

"I hope Singaporeans and women's groups can support us and help us find the right girl to represent Singapore, instead of discouraging the competition and contestants."

The father of a teenage son, Mr Ooi added that he will continue to organise the competition as long as even one woman is interested.

"If we withdraw from the competition, that would be a total failure for Singapore women," he said.

zengkun@sph.com.sg