Photo caption: Participating in pageants has helped Srisa Ebinger (left) and Elise Hamamoto (right) in career and life. Photo credits: DVM Photography.

How would you like to hear Donald Trump say, “You’re hired!”?

This isn’t for a job on “The Apprentice,” but for Miss USA. The media savvy entrepreneur is the chairman of the Miss Universe Organization (MUO), which is a joint partnership between Donald J. Trump & NBCUniversal. The Miss Universe competition annually attracts about one billion viewers worldwide. It is the most watched television show in the world, and has more viewers than the Super Bowl.

Nineteen-year-old Srisa Ebinger hopes she gets the chance to represent the U.S. in the Miss Universe competition. But before she gets that opportunity, she needs to win the state title at the Miss Washington USA event, which will take place this year on October 18 and 19. If she wins the coveted crown, she then competes for the title of Miss USA televised on NBCUniversal. If she wins that crown, it’s on to the Miss Universe competition. In the world of pageantry, the Miss Universe is like the Olympics. Ebinger said, “I really want the job of a titleholder.”

With there only being one winner at each stage of the journey to compete at the Miss Universe competition, the young woman of Hawaiian, Portuguese, Polish, Irish, German, Spanish, Chinese, Filipino and Samoan descent understands it’s competitive and the odds are against her. The chance at earning scholarship money is what initially drew the Sammamish resident to compete. She also has other reasons.

“Mostly because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” Ebinger explained.

The cosmetology student is not new to pageantry and has competed in other pageant programs including the International Junior Miss pageant. She said pageants have allowed her to break out of her shell.

“I am a lot more outgoing than I was before,” Ebinger said

Ebinger said pageants have pushed her mentally and physically and allowed her to speak about the issue she’s most passionate about.

“My platform has always been to stop bullying, one bully at a time,” she said. “I have noticed when you are wearing a sash, people are more willing to listen.”

11205_WA2011Rewind to 1952. According to MUO’s website, it was that year when the pageant started as a bathing suit competition spearheaded by Catalina Swimwear in Long Beach, Calif. Since then, the Miss Universe competition has transformed to something more than just a swimsuit competition, which now includes evening gown and interview. Each is evenly worth one third of the overall score.

Ebinger pointed out that although the judges are tough on scoring each contestant, it’s oftentimes the public or those that are unfamiliar with pageants that seem to have the toughest critiques to overcome. Ebinger said some think that contestants “are plastic and snobbish, but to be honest, they are intelligent and amazing ladies.”

Elise Hamamoto agrees and has developed friends and life skills thanks to pageants. She is the head of public relations for HydroPeptide, a luxury skin care brand with its corporate office in Issaquah. The 28-year-old Japanese American said when she was interviewing for the job, she learned she had the lowest grade point average and the least experience compared to the other candidates. Yet she said her interview stood out.

“My pageant experience made me stop and ask myself what my natural gifts and talents were, and gave me the presentation skills I needed to begin on what is now a fulfilling career path for me,” said Hamamoto.

Hamamoto competed twice in the Miss Washington USA program. The second time she placed in the top 10 and won “Miss Photogenic.” She may not have earned the title, but said her experiences overall helped her walk out as a winner. Pageants build character.

“I learned to be happy for the winner and realized that, although I did not win the crown, I was about to start winning at life,” she said.

Today, Hamamoto is going after her dreams. In her Renton apartment, there’s a huge Starbucks poster ad, one of numerous modeling jobs she’s booked. With her busy schedule, she also makes time to volunteer for pageants, including the Seattle Japanese Queen. Just several years ago, Hamamoto was an accountant and admits she had no passion for the job.

“I went with an accounting degree simply because it was practical,” she explained.
That’s why Hamamoto encourages all Asians to consider pageants to break out of the cultural stereotypes.

“While a reputation for being hard-working is positive, I would like to see young Asian women become well-spoken while working towards achieving goals and dreams that excite them,” she said.

And, of course, she hopes that someone from Washington gets the job to work for Trump.

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