Janice Jann in the question and answer portion of the Miss Los Angeles Chinatown pageant.
We were excited when former editorial intern and Audrey contributor Janice Jann won First Princess in the 2010 Miss Los Angeles Chinatown last month. We’re even more excited that she’s agreed to blog about her year as she fulfills her pageant duties, represents the community, and, inevitably, deals with the pressures and expectations of a reigning pageant winner. Here, a First Princess’s tales from the inside.
“When does a girl become a woman?” my sister asks me, her head tilted to the side and her eyebrows arched.
A thousand answers swirl about in my head but none seemed appropriate for the situation. “Uh, I have no idea,” I shrug.
“That answer is not going to cut it,” my sis says with a frown, but she moves on to another question.
My sister is being harsh with me for a reason and that reason was the 2010 Miss LA Chinatown beauty pageant. Since 1963, young ladies from all over southern California participate in the annual Chinese American beauty pageant, vying to become the cultural and goodwill ambassador for Chinatown and beyond. This year, I was part of a group of 16 girls who competed in the pageant. For four months, we had weekly six-hour practices that groomed us to become well-rounded young ladies, from etiquette lessons to learning a very difficult Chinese fan and handkerchief dance. On pageant night, we were judged on our individual pre-pageant interview with each of the judges, our swimsuit walk and introduction, our evening gown walk and Q&A’s, and our final monologue speech with our traditional Chinese qi-pao gow.
My reasons for entering are many and varied. But once I turned in my application, I made a decision that I was going to work my hardest and try my best at this pageant thing. I was going to take every rehearsal session seriously, I was going to practice walking in high heels while maintaining a beautiful smile and keeping my posture straight (a much harder task than one would think), I was going to listen to the news and be well-informed on current events and global politics, and I was going to give my all for this competition.
I started by going to the gym every single day and watching what I ate. As a foodie (don’t believe me — ask the Audrey editors!), this was a hard task. But I began to learn that trading that second bag of chips for the day for an apple didn’t starve me to death and that mat Pilates can be quite an enjoyable class to take. It didn’t hurt that along with a shrinking waistline, my skin got better and I gained more energy.
Then came the heels. I had to learn how to “strut” in heels, as opposed to the usual dinosaur steps I take when I have on anything close to three inches. One of the best pieces of advice someone gave me was to always create a certain presence when you walk into a room or onto a stage. “You know when you’re at a party and some woman walks in and everyone just immediately takes notice of her? Yea. That woman. It’s not that she’s the best-looking or best-dressed one. But she just has a presence about her.” That was the presence that I wanted to create.
And then came the part I was most nervous about. The on-stage Q&A portion. As a chatty UCLA communications studies major who has engaged in public speaking for most of her life, from giving graduation speeches to hosting red carpet events, this part should have been a cinch. Uh … no. Try to answer a question about anything — and I mean anything, ranging from the Tiger Woods sex scandal to the war on Iraq — in an eloquent, graceful manner and politically correct enough to please seven diverse judges, and see if you don’t break out in a cold sweat.
But practice makes perfect (or as perfect as you can get) and with the help of some awesome and super-smart friends, I felt confident enough not to make a fool out of myself come pageant night.
Ah…pageant night. It was the longest 24 hours of my life. Last minute rehearsals, costume changes, dealing with an accidental curling iron burn on my arm, I went through so many emotional ups and downs and physical fatigue, I felt like a 76-episode Korean drama all in one day. But every time I got on stage, I put my months of practice to use and tried my best to pretend to be a superstar. Even though my stomach twisted into knots inside and my mouth was twitching from keeping the smile for so long, I—literally— forced myself to grin and bear it. When they finally called my name for First Princess (second place), I think I finally got to relax knowing it’s finally over!
Or in my case, actually just beginning. As part of the 2010 court, I will be making appearances throughout the year, from cheering runners on at the Firecracker 5 and 10k Marathon Run to selling raffle tickets at Chinese American Association dinners. And though the pageant may be over, this monumental learning experience most certainly has not. Forget about the crown- I gained so many other great things from this pageant. I gained a rocking body (for me!), a killer way to pose for pictures and a semblance of grace and poise in social situations (alone or in front of close family and friends, I’m still an ol’ goofball).
But the best thing I gained was a newfound confidence in my abilities and knowing that it’s not about what accolades or praise that we win and it’s all about what we learn from the whole experience. Every situation is how you make of it and I am determined to make my year on the 2010 Miss LA Chinatown court count for something.
So maybe this is how a girl becomes a woman.
All photos courtesy of Janice Jann.