It could have been a Japanese samurai, an Italian gladiator or an Egyptian pharaoh but they were no match for Mexico's Erica Andrews, the world's latest transsexual beauty queen.
Andrews was named Miss International Queen 2006 in Thailand yesterday, beating 23 of the world's most beautiful transsexuals who had come from as far as Egypt and Australia to vie for the diamante crown.
Her slinky low-cut red gown and resemblance to a 1920s starlet finally carried the day, putting her past runners-up Patricia Montrecarlo of the Philippines and Thailand's Ratravee Jiraprapakul.
"This is the most wonderful feeling," gushed the 38-year-old from atop her throne after receiving US$10,000 and the title.
In a nation obsessed with beauty pageants and famous for its sexual tolerance, the US$189,000 contest is taken every bit as seriously as any traditional competition.
The night was filled with all the trappings of a conventional beauty pageant, with swimsuit and evening-wear rounds letting the girls show off their long legs, slim bodies and ample chests.
"It's a unique event. No one does it in the world except us," said chairwoman Alisa Phanthusak. "It gets bigger and bigger each year."
The evening began with rousing renditions of "Queen of the Night" and "New York, New York" by last year's winner, Mimi Marx of the United States, resplendent in a red, white and blue sequined headdress.
Andrews was outshone in the national costume round, competing with a sexy pharaoh, samurai and gladiator before top prize in the category was given to "Miss Maria" in a traditional Korean hanbok.
The crowd, comprised of mostly Thais and the odd bemused tourist, went wild for local hero Ratravee as well as statuesque Domanique Shappelle of the United States, and some seemed disappointed when Andrews snagged the crown.
"When we have a beauty contest in Thailand, we take it seriously," said Seree Wongmontha, a well-known talk-show host and one of this year's judges.
Tiffany's Show Pattaya, which organizes the event and claims to be the world's largest transsexual cabaret, said more than 25 million television viewers in Thailand, out of a population of 65 million people, were expected to watch.
"Beauty contests are really popular here because beauty matters. Surface impressions count for much more than they do in the West," said Philip Cornwel-Smith, author of "Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture."
"Miss International Queen is not only a great event but a unique opportunity to create awareness for the transgender population," said Sutham Phanthusak, managing director of Tiffany's Show Pattaya.
(China Daily 10/30/2006 page7)