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Two words of pure pressure: Miss Universe

Updated: 2012-10-29 13:41
By Tiffany Tan ( China Daily)

Two words of pure pressure: Miss Universe

Xu Jidan, who was crowned Miss Universe China in Shanghai in September, prepares for the competition in Las Vegas that will name a new Miss Universe on Dec 19. Zou Hong / China Daily

Faced with the task of parading in a bikini and high heels before millions of TV viewers, and giving a smart answer within seconds in the Q&A, guess what worries Miss China the most about competing in the Miss Universe pageant? Being able to interact with the other contestants in English.

"We will stay three weeks with other girls and have a lot of events, a lot of charity. We need to talk, we need to socialize," the statuesque 22-year-old Xu Jidan says in halting English.

"Miss Universe is not just about good looks, being a Barbie. You should talk, you should show your heart," she says, adding in Chinese that she fears being misunderstood and mistaken as impolite.

Xu has been training hard for the competition in Las Vegas, which will crown a new Miss Universe on Dec 19. Since winning the China title in Shanghai last month, the model's days have been filled with lessons in stage presentation, public speaking, human psychology, etiquette, makeup and, of course, English.

She meets with an American tutor, reads English newspapers and watches Hollywood movies (her favorite exercise).

"From when I wake up, I will speak English," says Xu, who hails from Liaoyuan, Jilin province, and holds a bachelor's degree in fashion design and a master's in luxury product management.

Wu Lili, public relations manager of the Miss Universe China organization, says: "Even the work staff like us talk to her in English." They prefer to call her by her English name, Diana.

Then there are the travels abroad to expose her to the limelight and broaden her horizons. In September, Xu attended the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix, along with a dozen other Miss Universe contestants. Earlier this month, she walked the red carpet at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

"Seriously, getting the crown is not about how much she has been trained," Yue-sai Kan, national director of Miss Universe China, says in an exclusive China Daily interview she gave with Xu in Beijing. "A lot depends on how she performs that night onstage. There are things we cannot control."

Kan, a Chinese-American beauty icon on the mainland, who took the helm of Miss Universe China last year, has said she hopes to produce the first-ever Chinese Miss Universe. The closest China has come to winning the crown was in 2002, when the country's first representative to the pageant, 19-year-old Zhuo Ling, became second runner-up.

Last year's contestant - the first under Kan's mentorship - 24-year-old Shanghainese Luo Zilin, became fourth runner-up. Kan tries to remain realistic about the odds - Xu is up against some 80 other girls - but you can sense the pressure she's facing.

"What she is as a person at the age of 22, I can't cram more into than I can. Everything relies on how she does that night," Kan says. "It doesn't matter if she wins or not. In fact, if she wins, I lose her for a year. She works for Miss Universe for a year.

"But if she doesn't win, it's OK, too. The more important thing is that she represent the country well."

There must be tremendous strain on the 1.8-meter tall beauty queen, especially since her predecessor landed in the top five.

"It's better to describe it as motivation, not pressure," Xu says. "In the past 60 years, no Miss China has become Miss Universe, so I want to achieve better results. This is my motivation."

With less than two months left before she flies to Las Vegas, what else needs to be done?

"I think it's just helping her to be more confident," says Tamara Pohlman, the American managing director of Miss Universe China. "Just be yourself, and be proud of where you're from. She's beautiful. She's smart. She has a chance just like any other girl over there - maybe even more because she has a great heart."

In the self-confidence arena, Xu seems to be learning fast. After the Miss Universe China contest, some members of the public expressed dissatisfaction with her win, homing in on her looks.

Xu, who says she didn't know about those criticisms, just shrugged them off.

"They don't really know me. But you can't make all people like you," she says. "Beauty for everyone is different. I just can improve myself."

Well said in the language she's still trying to master.