Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pageant where the prettiest flock to


A TELEVISION spectacle that is watched by millions of viewers across Asia, the Miss Tiffany’s Universe beauty contest, has come a long way since its inception 10 years ago.
In 1998, Tiffany’s Show Pattaya Co Ltd could not convince Thai television stations to broadcast its inaugural pageant.

“At that time Thailand was still a closed society which did not accept transvestites on the television,” explains Alisa Phanthusak, Tiffany’s Show Pattaya Co Ltd assistant managing director.

The following year, the franchise holder bought airtime from iTV, a Thai television station, to screen the pageant live in Thailand. That broadcast blasted the obscure beauty contest into an international headline grabber.

“That year, we were on CNN. We also received coverage from news service such as Reuters,” recalls Alisa, the 32-year-old daughter of the owner of Tiffany’s Show Pattaya.

On why the event caught the world’s attention, she says: “It is unique. It is a show by girls who are not a girl and who are prettier than a girl.”

The pageant received a further publicity boost when Asiaweek, the now defunct newsmagazine, invited its readers to judge who was prettier – Miss Thailand Universe 1999 Apisamai Srirangsan or Miss Tiffany’s Universe 1999 Pattareeya Siringamwong.

“They said Miss Tiffany’s Universe was prettier. Can you believe that?” exclaims Alisa, who is a member of Thailand’s constitutional drafting assembly.

Her theory on why Miss Tiffany’s Universe is prettier than Miss Thailand Universe is that it is a beauty pageant which attracts Thailand’s prettiest transvestites but not necessarily the country’s prettiest women.

Transvestites in Thailand feel that they are undervalued, she explains. And they are motivated to participate in a beauty contest so that they have an opportunity to show off their beauty.

Perhaps the other reason might be a surgical blade?

“No, no,” protests Alisa. “Like her,” she says, pointing at Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2006 Ratrawee Chirapraphakun (pix), “she did not do anything to her face.

“The only surgery she had was breast augmentation and sex change. Most of them are born pretty. It is only their body which is male. And I think they take care of themselves more than a woman would.”

To the reigning Miss Tiffany’s Universe, comparing the titleholders of the two beauty pageants is like comparing an apple with an orange.

“Miss Thailand Universe looks more natural as she is a woman while Miss Tiffany’s Universe doesn’t have a natural womanly look. And when you look at her (Miss Tiffany’s Universe) you know she’s a transvestite,” explains Ratrawee, who is 23.

Miss Tiffany’s Universe is a spin-off from the world-famous Tiffany’s Show, which is a transvestite/transsexual cabaret show in Pattaya, a beach resort about 110km southeast of Bangkok.

Tiffany’s Show, which was established in 1974, had organised an in-house beauty pageant solely for its transvestite performers. In 1998, it opened up the contest to katoeys (Thai for transvestites) in Thailand.

One of the hiccups of the inaugural Miss Tiffany’s Universe was the winner refused to do media publicity because she did not want anyone to know that she was a katoey.

In 2001, transvestites outside Thailand clamoured to join the pageant and the organiser allowed international participants to contest. But it was chaos, linguistically.

“Even though they (Korean and Japanese contestants) were very pretty they could not win because of the language barrier,” recalls Alisa.

The experiment lasted for two years and the organiser reverted to limiting the pageant exclusively to Thais. And it launched a Miss International Queen beauty pageant for international transvestites and transsexuals in 2004.

The stature of Miss Tiffany’s Universe grew to a point where every Thai transvestite and transsexual knows that winning the title is a ticket to fame.

“It is the most famous pageant in Thailand and everyone wants to win it,” says Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2006.

The past winners, according to Alisa, have become actresses, models or television game show hostesses. The most famous winner is Treechada Petcharat, who was Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2004 and Miss International Queen 2004.

On May 11, in Pattaya, the Miss Tiffany’s Universe beauty pageant will celebrate its 10th anniversary and Thai viewers can tune in live to watch Thailand’s most beautiful ladyboy win a Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

(Published in The Star on April 21, 2007)