Grooming Miss Universe Singapore
Miss Universe Singapore 2002 winner and pageant's Singapore organiser Nuraliza Osman says she wants to raise profile of the event
In 2002, lawyer Nuraliza Osman was crowned Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) and is an example of a beauty contest winner with brains.
Fourteen years on, while most past winners are leading their lives out of the public eye, the 39-year-old is still committed to keeping Singapore's most prestigious and high-profile pageant, which has been sending representatives to the international Miss Universe competition since 1966, alive.
Last year, Miss Nuraliza took over the MUS licence and franchise from Derrol Stepenny Promotions, which ran the event from 2000 to 2014.
As the national director of the Miss Universe Singapore Organisation (Muso), she leads the selection, training and mentorship of local hopefuls.
What used to be a national affair, with televised finals, media coverage and a swanky pageant, turned into a low-key, closed-door event with hardly any fuss.
Miss Lisa Marie White was eventually crowned MUS 2015 in private.
This year, the pageant is back in a big way, with new presenter Singapore Turf Club and new imaging partner Canon Singapore on board.
And for the first time, The New Paper will be MUS 2016's official media partner and co-organiser alongside Muso.
Miss Nuraliza, who has been based in Holland for the past three years as oil company Shell's in-house lawyer dealing with mergers and acquisitions, told TNP: "I've been through this experience and it would be an honour to help my country and the younger girls from the next generation to represent the country through Miss Universe. It's something I know and something I can contribute and help with.
"Aside from that, my goal is not to make money out of this whole thing. My goal is to raise the profile of MUS. We are in collaboration with (Singapore Press Holdings), which is the single biggest media provider in terms of print and periodicals in Singapore and of course in the Internet age, hopefully we can make it digital.
"My hope is just to restore the pageant and the name of MUS to what it used to be. If the girls who participate in MUS have a positive experience from it and if in some way the title helps them to achieve their dreams, whether it is to be more confident on stage or be a better public speaker or be exposed to different people, I'm happy."
Last year, Miss White, a 22-year-old freelance model of Malay-Kiwi descent, was picked from over 50 hopefuls by a judging panel led by Miss Nuraliza after a closed-door recruitment and selection.
The panel included MUS 2014 winner Rathi Menon, former Miss Universe Japan national director Ines Ligron, MUS 2005 winner Cheryl Tay, Mrs Singapore second runner-up Mona Gill and former models Wendy Jacobs and Hanis Hussey.
Miss Nuraliza, who is single, said: "I've always liked Lisa's bubbly personality, but I think instilling a competition mindset has been difficult because most people think a pageant is a really quick and easy way to get fame... you walk around in a swimsuit and if you look good enough you just win.
"But the rigours of the international competition are far greater than that, so preparing someone and motivating her was a challenge."
When she took over as national director last year, Miss Nuraliza had to micromanage everything and often flew back and forth.
She said that during that time, she was "working double duty," devoting her time to MUS preparations before or after work each day.
Why does she continue to devote so much time to MUS despite the challenges?
She said: "It's because I see potential and believe in Singapore girls who I think are beautiful and just need polishing, like diamonds in the rough, to allow them to shine on a global stage."
And to critics who doubt Singapore will ever place on the international stage, Miss Nuraliza stressed we need to "support our girls".
She said: "Many people say beauty pageants degrade women. We're paraded around like a piece of flesh. I don't agree with that... If you're strong, smart, fit, and if you've got what it takes to be able to compete, do it.
Look out for more stories on past MUS winners this week.
A lawyer and a beauty queen
She excelled academically at her alma maters, Methodist Girls' School, Victoria Junior College and National University of Singapore, before starting her legal career as a commercial litigator in 2001.
But Miss Nuraliza Osman decided to join Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) in 2002 because she was 25 then and it was "probably my last chance" due to the pageant's age restrictions.
"My mum was a beauty queen and I grew up watching her with her crown. It was my childhood dream to somehow recreate that for myself.
"My boyfriend at the time also cajoled me into joining. When I won, I don't think anyone really expected me to. It didn't really fit my 'image'," said Miss Nuraliza, who was always viewed as a studious person and was nominated for Young Lawyer of the Year in 2002 by the Law Society of Singapore.
She said winning MUS has given her valuable life experiences.
During her reign, she travelled with the Singapore Tourism Board, going to places like Japan and Sri Lanka to meet other ambassadors.
WINNER:Miss Singapore Universe 2002 winner Nuraliza Osman said winning the title has given her invaluable life experiences. TNP FILE PHOTO
She also worked with charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation that makes terminally ill kids' requests come true, which she found out about in Puerto Rico, where the international Miss Universe pageant was held.
"When I returned to Singapore, I reached out and found out that they were just about to establish a branch in Singapore and then I started granting wishes (to terminally ill kids). I'm a trained wish-granter," said Miss Nuraliza, who continues to grant wishes in Holland.
MUS also opened doors for her in the entertainment industry.
From 2004 to 2005, while she was preparing to sit for the bar examination to practise law in New York, she tried her hand at acting and hosting for television channel Suria.
In 2004, she was named Suria's Best Newcomer at local awards show Pesta Perdana.
"Being in entertainment made me realise my true calling was to be a lawyer. When I went back to practise, I still took up hosting gigs and one-off appearances. I just did it for fun to stay in touch with my community," she said.
5 beauty queen winning qualities
Top qualities Miss Nuraliza Osman, who is a judge for Miss Universe Singapore 2016, is looking for in contestants:
"She has to understand that this journey is going to be challenging and is willing to give all that she has to make the nation proud."
"I'm not looking for a model who is just great at posing, but someone who's not self-absorbed and can relate to people."
3. X FACTOR
"There's got to be a certain charm about her."
"That's what a lot of Singaporeans want."
5. CONFIDENTLY BEAUTIFUL
"As long as you're happy in your own skin, your radiance will shine."