My Time As A Miss Universe Judge

It was a balmy evening in Hanover Park, Ill., and I was so giddy with excitement I couldn’t sleep. It was one of the biggest nights of the year: Bigger than the Oscars, bigger than the Super Bowl. It was the night they crowned Miss Universe 1973.

I have been obsessed with beauty pageants since I was 6 years old and watched Miss Philippines win the crown. For me, they are the entertainment and glamour equivalent of the United Nations. Every country is equal, and every country is celebrated.

So when I was invited, 44 years later and as the editorial director of Paper magazine, to be a judge at the 65th Miss Universe pageant in Manila (the country was hosting the pageant for the third time, having also welcomed the event in 1974 and 1994), I not only was deliriously excited, but also felt I had finally arrived.

Perhaps as a result, I overpacked — my suitcase was crammed with Lanvin, Ashish and L’Wren Scott sparkle tops, an Ashish black-sequined track suit and a J Crew classic tuxedo in case I had to be mildly dignified — but I felt I needed options. I arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which somehow reminded me of San Diego, on Jan. 28. Waiting was a luxury coach emblazoned with the Miss Universe logo and the words “Confidently Beautiful” that would ferry me to the Mall of Asia Arena, where I was coached in operating the electronic voting machine along with the rest of the judging panel: Cynthia Bailey, model turned Real Housewife of Atlanta; Francine LeFrak, a film and theater producer with a jewelry company called Same Sky that employs women artisans around the world; and three former Miss Universe winners.

Sushmita Sen of India, with thick, black hair and a movie star smile, was there; so was Dayanara Torres of Puerto Rico and Leila Lopes of Angola. If this were sports it would be like judging with Peyton Manning, LeBron James and Tiger Woods.

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