Pageantry Redefined

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Miss USA 2012 Nana Meriwether and Ava Roosevelt
Photo Courtesy of Fadil Berisha


Behind the scenes with Ava Roosevelt

To sit sandwiched between three of the most beautiful women in the world in the back of the stretch limo provided by the Miss Universe Organization, I must admit, took guts. On the way to the New York Fashion Week event last fall, we crawled through mid-town traffic under the watchful eye of Matt Rich of PlanetPR, while the girls worked their iPhones. Rich, who, for the past 16 years nurtured and chaperoned contestants around the globe, was the only other person in the car old enough to remember when Donald Trump purchased the contest in 1996. Founded in 1952 by California clothing company Pacific Mills, the pageant became a part of Kayser-Roth and then Gulf & Western Industries. Today, under the savvy Trump leadership, the Miss Universe Organization is regaining momentum and has become a highly profitable international business conglomerate.

“Donald Trump’s on-going vision, to reinvent the static brand, leads the way for the astute business day-to-day decision of MUO’s President, Paula Shugart,” Rich said.

South Florida Opulence sat down with Trump, Shugart, the reigning Miss USA 2013, Erin Brady, and Miss USA 2012, Nana Meriweather, to discuss the new approach that has breathed new life into pageantry. I was curious what prompted Trump to acquire an organization that was once viewed as ‘trivial events whose interpretation required no scholary effort?’

I love and respect beautiful women, that’s the first and very good reason,” Trump said. “I could also see a good platform for a successful and elegant broadcast. Money could be made and NBC agreed. It has been a resounding success, with each year topping the last. We have a huge worldwide audience and it is the gold standard of all pageants.”

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Cassidy Wolf, Miss Teen USA 2013
Photo Courtesy of Fadil Berisha

A Task Ripe with Challenges

My vision for the pageant was clear, and it was big — which Miss Universe deserved to be. I had to make this vision clear to everyone else involved. My enthusiasm could not be diminished and, as it turns out, it was warranted,” Trump said. “I wanted a very well-produced show— it had to be sophisticated and it had to be elegant. Our production took beauty pageants to a whole new level.”

Given the complexities of all the titleholder’s personalities, managing to achieve flawless, live television productions and overseeing off-the-air lives of so many participants involved, was no easy feat.

“This Miss Universe Organization has an extended team that looks after the safety and health of each contestant while on location for our shows,” said Shugart. 

It took years (and Trump’s marketing genius) to restore luster to the pageants’ worldwide perception, and to create the Miss Universe Organization. Miss Universe, Miss USA and the less watched Miss Earth and Miss World, are today the largest beauty contests in the world. Miss Universe and Miss USA, broadcast on NBC, simulcast in Spanish on Telemundo, and webcast on Xbox Live, are the most watched spectacles on earth, earning NBC and the Miss Universe Organization hundreds of millions of dollars during Trump’s reign.

Defying the most widely proclaimed misconception that beauty is all that it takes to achieve the pinnacle of world’s most competitive contests, these young women are poised, well-educated, well–mannered and intelligent. Reflecting the much desired (and required) global perspective of a beautiful woman of substance, each touched my heart and inspired my imagination in very different ways.

Since I watch the Miss USA Pageant live in Las Vegas this summer, it was obvious to me that Erin Brady ‘nailed’ her 2013 Miss USA title. Brady, with a degree in Finance and a minor in Criminal Justice, is a former financial accountant for Prudential Retirement in Hartford, Ct. She was the first woman from the state ever to be crowned Miss USA.

“It has taught me so much about myself and being confident no matter what,” said Brady. “Pageants tend to be negatively portrayed to many people, but what they don’t see are all of the personal benefits these women achieve after competing.” 

Today’s global reach of the Internet and the power of social media provide a platform to transform little-know pageant contestants into role models. Enormous and often-well publicized scrutiny is placed on reigning titleholder’s behavior by the Miss Universe Organization and Trump himself.

Photo Courtesy of Fadil Berisha

Erin Brady, Miss USA 2013
Photo Courtesy of Fadil Berisha

One would be mistaken to assume 365 days of each titleholder’s reign is a leisurely stride through glorious global events in the presence of an always-friendly media. Anything but. These young women clock long hours promoting self-esteem, perfect public-speaking, social organizations and raising money for various charities.

Nana Meriwether, 28, 2012 Miss USA, is the oldest contestant ever to be crowned. She is a statuesque African American beauty born in South Africa. In New York, she is making serious strides in her modeling career, recently becoming ‘the face’ of Younique, a Utah-based direct sales cosmetic conglomerate promoting women’s empowerment. The daughter of sports icon Delano Meriwether (the first African-American medical graduate of Duke University) and a South African mother, she heads the Nana Meriwether Foundation, which focuses on her native South Africa.

“There are always challenges in life whether you were once a Miss USA or not,” said Meriwether. “My main objective right now is to leverage the 501 C3 nonprofit organization, The Meriwether Foundation, to earn more national recognition. We provide health, education, nutrition and empowerment-based programs in rural and impoverished communities of South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.”

The titleholder’s perks include digs in Manhattan, about $100,000 a year in salary and, in some cases, college scholarships, wardrobe and consultations from New York’s dermatology star Dr. Cheryl Karcher. Sceptics may claim that few titleholders would flourish without well-defined guidance and the organization’s support. But after spending considerable time with Brady, Meriwether, and the current Ms. Universe, Olivia Culpo, I can personally confirm these women have serious smarts and make their parents proud wherever fate takes them.

Pageantry Redefined