Beauty and the brain

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To become a "Miss" you need beauty and brains.

At least, that's what Larissa Ramos (Miss Earth 2009) told Thanh Nien prior to serving as an honorary judge for this year's competition.

According to Ramos, a champion has to be quick in the tough Q&A round. But how tough is it?

Beauty queens have to worry a lot about their smile and tone and they must remain, above all else, congenial. An unpopular or unpleasant answer could tip their whole career into a downward spiral.

This year's Miss Vietnam and Miss Vietnam World pageants gave us Dang Thi Ngoc Han and Luu Thi Diem Huong, respectively. Both queens seem like beauties with brains.

Their graceful, fluent answers during the Q&A sessions can be taken as a sign of progress. In the past, earnest and thoughtless replies made for good comedy.

But according to audience members, this year's questions did not require these beauties to think twice before they spoke.

According to Phan Hoang Phat, editor of local channel VTV9, unlike the practical and interesting questions put forward in the Miss Universe or Miss World pageants, the questions posed by the judges of Miss Vietnam and Miss Vietnam World were fairly simple and soft.

"Good questions create great answers. Wouldn't social issues like child internet addiction, airport security, the difference between men and women, or even sensitive issues like prostitution or capital punishment make for better prompts than the usual fare?"

"You can debate a contestant's beauty, but it is easy to recognize whether she is intelligent or not. I think our beauties' biggest shortcoming is their public speaking ability. They seem to be unnatural and unconfident," said Phat.

Contest clichés, like the beauty queen's wish for "world peace," are decried by people who say they are tired of stilted beauty pageants.

According to Phat, Miss Vietnam World winner Luu Thi Diem Huong's reply during the competition, despite being flawlessly delivered, also came across as somewhat rote. When asked to expound on the Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam (The Temple of Literature) her answer was dubbed "safe but not amazing" by Mai Anh, a freelance event organizer.

However, in many other conferences with the press, Huong has answered questions quickly and adroitly there is no doubt she is well-spoken.

Huong proved flexible and natural even when speaking about first runner-up Nguyen Ngoc Kieu Khanh, Huong's archrival in the contest.

"Khanh did an outstanding job during the contest and was highly appreciated by audiences and judges," Huong said during her coronation on August 21. "But today, I did my best and believe in the jury's smart choice."

Phat said that he and many of his friends found Khanh's answer to the question "How will you prepare for life in the future?" to be honest and practical.

"What's wrong with saying that the contest is like one big preparation for life and that she has learned a great deal about living well in the future?" asked Phat.

PRETTY GIRLS, LAME QUESTIONS

Before the Q&A round in the Miss Vietnam contest, the press was allowed to preview the five questions: "What do you think about your thousand-yearold capital?", "What is your worry if you win tonight?", "What quality of Vietnamese women do you most admire?", "What is the mission of a beauty queen?" and "What do you know about Ha Long the host city?"

These questions were nothing new after 24 years of national beauty pageants, according to Nga Linh who published an extensive round-up of the press's lukewarm reaction to the contest proceedings in Tuoi Tre newspaper. Linh speculated that the clichéd questions left the contestants wondering what to say.

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