No easy win for hearing-impaired beauty queen

SINGAPORE - Despite having a hearing disability, Miss Chui Yee Shia overcame all odds and was crowned a title-holder at Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant 2013 held at Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday night.

The 25-year-old makeup artist, who is 80 per cent deaf in both ears, was named Miss Singapore Friendship International 2013, one of six titles given out at the finals. She also bagged three out of the 10 subsidiary awards voted on by judges and sponsors - Miss Photogenic, Miss Healing Touch and Miss V10 Plus Ambassador - making her the biggest winner of the night.

An elated Miss Chui told The New Paper after the pageant: "I feel really great. I've always wanted to be an inspiration to others, to show that having a disability doesn't have to stop me from achieving my dreams, no matter how big and wild they might be."

She added: "I am so much more confident now and am thinking of joining Miss Singapore Universe next year."

Miss Chui also does not think that she won based on sympathy votes, and attributed her wins to hard work and effort.

"Many supporters encouraged me and said that I was really brave to join the pageant. I have sacrificed a lot of time and good sleep for this, but it was worth it."

But the victory did not come easy for Miss Chui, who lost her hearing and the ability to talk at the age of four after she had a high fever.

Her parents hired a speech therapist to help her learn to speak again, and she can talk and string together proper sentences now, even though her articulation and pronunciation is not clear.

During the Q&A segment in the finals, for example, she could not hear the question posed to her - "What's the pressing problem facing youngsters these days?" - and had to ask the emcee to repeat it. Miss Chui, who was wearing two hearing aids, ended up giving a very short reply: "Negative stereotype."

She also mumbled a few more words after that, but they were unclear.

She said afterwards: "I couldn't hear the question properly and I was very nervous, so I gave a short answer. I was worried that the more I spoke, the more mistakes I would make. I wish I could see the question on the placard!" The 1.65m-tall alumnus of Canossian School For The Hearing Impaired (now renamed Canossian School), St Anthony's Canossian Secondary School and Cosmoprof International Academy also had difficulties keeping up with the rest of the 19 contestants during the rehearsals for the dance segment as she could not hear the music properly.

"I had problems with the dance steps and the poses for the bikini segment, and I made many errors during the rehearsals. I had to train very hard for the finals."

It seemed like her efforts paid off, as it was not evident during the show that she was lagging behind.

One of the judges on the panel, lawyer Samuel Seow, said Miss Chui put up a good performance overall.

Compelling backstory

The 40-year-old, who also runs talent agency Beam Artistes, told The New Paper: "She matched everyone else's steps, and did not dance badly at all.

If no one told me, I wouldn't be able to tell that she was deaf. "I did penalise her for the Q&A segment to be fair to the rest, as she did not answer the question properly."

He added: "I don't think she won because of sympathy votes. She does have a very compelling backstory and she performed well, so it's more like an extraordinary achievement for her."

Another judge, Mrs Akiko Yokota, CEO and founder of Japanese skincare brand V10 Plus, added: "We chose her as our ambassador as she is very positive and serves as a huge inspiration to others.

"We love her guts and admire how daring she is to participate in this pageant despite her disability."

The 44-year-old added: "We are looking for someone who does not give up in the face of challenges and difficulties, and I think she fits in with our brand's image."

Besides Miss Singapore Friendship International, Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant 2013 - which is into its 25th year - also awarded titles like Miss Singapore Tourism Queen International, Miss Singapore Global Beauty Queen, Miss Singapore All Nations, Miss Singapore International Model Of The Year and Miss Singapore Bride Of The World.

The local title-holders will go on to represent Singapore in the respective international pageants in different countries in the coming months.

No details or dates are available as yet about the Miss Friendship International pageant, but Miss Chui is not fearful of representing Singapore on the world stage. "I feel much more confident now, and I will be going for more training, so I am not worried at all."

Miss Andrea Che, a 24-year-old Singapore permanent resident from China's Shandong province, won Miss Singapore International Model Of The Year, Miss Body Beautiful and Miss Elegance subsidiary awards. Standing at 1.76m, Miss Che was the clear front runner alongside Miss Chui.

The leggy private banker said: "I am the tallest among all the contestants, so I feel very happy to have won these awards.

"I feel excited and honoured to be able to represent Singapore on the international level, and I am confident as my height fits the international height of models."

The other winners include Miss Sabrina Bte Alim (Miss Singapore All Nations), Miss Chloe Xu (Miss Singapore Global Beauty Queen), Miss Rachel Koh (Miss Singapore Tourism Queen International) and Miss Tricia Goh (Miss Singapore Bride Of The World).

Miss Sabrina, a 20-year-old student whose mum won Classic Mrs Goodwill 2013 earlier this year, said: "I was quite pressurised as she's a beauty queen too, and I felt the need to up my game. I did not want to let her down."

She added: "My mum gave me quite a lot of advice - she asked me to be punctual, to behave myself and to be humble. This definitely came in handy during the pageant."

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