Miss Asian Las Vegas Contestants Strut to Pageant Night

For pageant contestants, the runway to victory is long (and, yes, difficult)

miss_asia_by_anthony_mair_01_WEB“Walk like your biggest crush is waiting for you on the other side of the floor.”

Upon receiving this advice, about a dozen hopefuls in the second annual Miss Asian Las Vegas pageant strut across a studio in City Athletic Club on West Sahara Avenue. Their coach, Joey Galon, is instructing the contestants how to execute a proper evening-gown walk. It’s a skill they’ll need to have mastered by showtime September 28, so Galon has just slipped on a pair of heels to demonstrate.

“You’re wearing a million-dollar gown,” he tells them. “Feel the gown!”

In reality, the contestants are in matching pink T-shirts. Some are fresh-faced. Some are fully made-up. All make me question if I’ve been doing this “walking” thing wrong my whole life. They’re just so … elegant.

Initially, they remind me of the pageant queens I’ve seen on TV and movies. The ones in Miss Congeniality, Little Miss Sunshine and Toddlers & Tiaras, who seem to do and say everything perfectly onstage—then sabotage one another’s talent routines.

Annie Chang, founder and executive director of the competition, says this is the first pageant for many of the contestants, whose ages range from 15-52. All have spent the past few months courting sponsors, engaging in community service and learning pageant A-Z at workshops such as this one.

Galon—whose consulting credits include Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe—says the key to success is, well, the cliché you probably imagined: “Grace under pressure.” He pulls a couple of scarves from his vest and tosses them to the girls in transit. “This is swimsuit now!” he says, cueing Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” on the speakers.

After about an hour of walking, it’s time to rehearse the opening number to “Scream” by K-Pop group 2NE1. The women must cross the stage in a traditional outfit from their country of heritage, then introduce themselves in multiple languages, then hit their marks—all while sticking to strict choreography. “I’m going to forget my name!” jokes one woman.

On this Saturday, the Miss Asian Las Vegas pageant is all that’s on the contestants’ minds. But it’s hardly the only thing on their plates. “I try to squeeze practice times in between classes,” says Karen Beltran, a biology student at UNLV. “Whenever there’s little hiding places on campus, I say, ‘OK, let me strut here.’”

Since routines can be rehearsed, the majority of girls are most anxious about the spontaneous Q&A segment. In today’s mock session, subjects range from silly (Who is your favorite celebrity?) to serious (What’s been the most difficult aspect of your pageant experience?).

A contestant’s lip quivers as she explains that she hasn’t received any support from her family. Makeup runs down her face. Two “pageant sisters,” as they refer to one another, rub her arms as she fights to finish her answer.

Suddenly, this feels nothing like what I expected, nothing like Toddlers & Tiaras. This is real for these women.

“Of course it would be great to be queen,” contestant Christine Ko says. “Whether I get a title or not, I hope I keep in touch with all the girls I’ve participated with.”

After spending three hours with these girls and not witnessing a single catfight, I’m inclined to believe Ko, who participates in a group hug at the end of the workshop, then exits with a group of fellow contestants, chatting and laughing in the parking lot.

Miss Asian Las Vegas Pageant

2 p.m. Sept. 28 in Palazzo Theatre. Tickets from $28, MissAsianLasVegas.com.

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