Miss Universe Singapore finalists represent beauty of empowerment
Fifteen Miss Universe Singapore finalists impress judges with personal stories of strength through adversity
Determined to sign up for Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) 2018, Miss Tiong Jia En flew back from Bangkok early on Saturday, just a few hours before the closed-door auditions.
And the 23-year-old made it, becoming one of 15 women selected for the finals, that will be held at the end of August.
The theme for this year's pageant is The Beauty of Empowerment.
During the audition, 40 shortlisted candidates had a Q&A session on stage with the five-member judging panel.
During her turn, Miss Tiong spoke of how she had to juggle four part-time jobs since secondary school because she came from a poor family.
She has been financially independent since she was 15.
The National University of Singapore graduate, who is undergoing a fitness instructor course in Bangkok, recalled how she suffered dizzy spells and even fainted once during PE in junior college as she had no money to eat.
Miss Tiong, who has three sisters, said: "It was a tough and tiring period. I barely slept as I had to work after school till the wee hours of the morning.
"But I don't see myself as less fortunate as my experiences made me more resilient."
Last year, she launched an online swimwear business, Sorakini, for women of all body types.
Fellow finalist Hilary Rupawalla, 26, is a lawyer who champions the empowerment of women and children.
She volunteers at the legal clinic at the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations and is also a mentor under a Young Women's Leadership Connection programme that aims to empower young girls.
She said: "As a young girl, I had many insecurities, fears and dreams. It would have made a difference if I had a mentor to guide me. Now, I see it as an opportunity and privilege to be that for young women."
Coming from a broken family spurred another Top 15 contender, Miss Zahra Khanum, 23, to sign up for MUS.
The design researcher has volunteered at a children's hospital in Pakistan and taught at an orphanage in Vietnam.
She said: "I want to embody a change in society where women are proud of who they are, how they look and are aware of their innate and outer strengths."
After the auditions, contestants had lunch courtesy of Mum's Kitchen Catering before the results were announced.
Miss Ameerah Smith, 23, felt like she was on cloud nine when she made it through.
The pastry chef, who was first runner-up in last year's The New Paper New Face modelling competition, touched the judges recounting how she had to perform on the streets of Johor Baru when she was eight to raise money for school.
Her parents had sent her there to live with her step-aunt because of family problems.
She said: "I believe that despite these hardships in life, we should not stop doing what we love and I hope to empower other women to do the same."
Miss Universe Singapore 2002 winner Nuraliza Osman, who is the national director of MUS, said her fellow judges were looking for empowered women who had substance and showed examples of excellence.
She said: "The finalists identify with younger women of Singapore today. Many of them have gone through amazing hardships and challenges and are not afraid to stand up and advocate for these issues."
Fellow judge Albert Lam, chief executive officer of official MUS beauty partner Beaute Hub, added: "The contestants were very diverse and had a lot of personal stories, messages or causes to share.
"They were more open, more daring, bolder and they embody traits of a strong woman."