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Judging, race bruise Miss Jamaica World contest

Miss Jamaica World 2002, Danielle Ohayon (centre) with first runner-up Natalia Cassado (right) and second runner-up Leanna Prendergast. - File

THE RECENTLY concluded Miss Jamaica World competition was a glorious one, but it still attracted a bit of criticism.

Eighteen-year-old Danielle Ohayon walked away with the coveted crown of 'Miss Jamaica World' at the Hilton Kingston Hotel on August 31. She also sauntered off with criticism from some of her fellow contestants, as well as the general public.

When The Gleaner contacted some of the other 19 contestants, reactions ranged from apprehension to praises.

According to Melissa Roche, who placed in the top five of the competition, "the pageant scoring needs to have some form of transparency. I think the public and the contestants should know how the points are distributed. We need to know what are the criteria used and what the percentages are for each category." Each contestant's score is based on pre-judging, the co-ordinator's report on the month running up to coronation night and the final night's performance. "It would be beneficial to the contestants to know where they need to improve. The scoring process should not be such a big secret," Melissa added.

"The choosing of the top 10 is of a certain pattern. A lot of persons thought it was political, but it is not for me to say. However, there is little possibility of me entering another beauty pageant," said Simone Spence, who did not make the top ten.

Miss Jamaica World 2002 director Laura Butler pointed out that she had no influence over the judging of the pageant. She thinks that the judges selected to oversee the pageant were fully qualified. A panel of 11 persons, headed by Tommy James, scored the 20 entrants.

"It was very fair. I thought the top three was well selected. However, I was hoping that Melissa Roche would have been placed higher in the competition, but that was the judges' decision to make. They did choose the right girl and I think she will do Jamaica well at the 'Miss World' finals," Miss Butler said confidently.

Tommy James, the chief judge, when contacted by The Gleaner, expounded on what the judges looked for. According to Mr. James, the 11 judges looked for "beauty of face, figure, intelligence, poise, charm, personality and the ability to converse. We look for a composite personality," Mr. James explained.

A lot of the contestants interviewed mentioned the fact that Melissa Roche did not place in the top three of Miss Jamaica World 2002. They emphasised that Melissa answered her questions with a lot of composure, accuracy and charm. Danielle Ohayon even mentioned to The Gleaner, in a story published on Monday, September 2, that up to the final moment she thought the crown would go to Melissa Roche.

However, several contestants, as well as members of the public, said that although Melissa was brilliant in terms of answering her questions, she did not have 'the look'.

When asked about 'looks', one contestant replied bluntly: "Except for Joan Crawford (Miss Jamaica 1979), if you look at the trend, all the other Miss Jamaica winners have a certain European look." This particular contestant, who did not make the top 10, added: "I have no grudge and I am extremely happy for Danielle and I hope she does well."

It was not only this particular contestant who stressed that the pageant was seeking a European look, as most of the other participants with whom The Gleaner spoke shared this view. Seven of the entrants said the top 10 was selected based on complexion and hair length; surprisingly, this included two persons in the top ten. Numerous contestants were also disgusted at the idea of persons born in a foreign country being allowed to participate in Miss 'Jamaica' World.

Natalia Cassado and Leanna Prendergast, who placed second and third, rebuffed the 'foreign' arguments. "I was born elsewhere (Spain), but I was brought up in Jamaica. I possess a Jamaican passport and I am a Jamaican citizen," Natalia said. Natalia also said she was happy for Danielle and wishes her well. Leanna, who was born in New York to Jamaican parents, also fired back at the critics. "I am a Jamaican citizen. Not because I was not born here does not mean this is not my country. I have spent more than half of my life here in Jamaica," she said.

When The Gleaner finally spoke with Danielle Ohayon after numerous attempts, she was surprised to know that one of the girls in the pageant was criticising her. According to Danielle, colour has been one of Jamaica's problems. "I don't really see colour, I don't think it should really be an issue at all," Danielle stressed, "We should all focus on our motto 'Out of Many One People'."

Danielle emphasised that the reigning Dancehall Queen, Junko Bashment, is from Japan - and she cannot speak English. "I was born in Jamaica, I believe I was justly chosen and I think everybody did a good job," Danielle said in her defence.

Laura Butler said her objective was to provide as much opportunities as possible for the young ladies. "I reintroduced the sectional prizes, so that the winner does not walk away with everything. This pageant is the only one of kind to offer over $5 million worth of prizes," Miss Butler said. "The top five contestants were given scholarships valued at $2.2 million."

When asked about nationality and its impact on the pageant, the director noted that the entry form highlighted that entrants must be Jamaican citizens.

"Everyone in the top 20 is a winner. However, only one person will emerge 'the winner'. We explain to the contestants that we look for performance and presentation during the pre-judging," chief judge Mr. James said.

"I have been a judge for 21 years and I have not experienced anything that is unfair or biased. We don't look for any particular look. I tell every judge to be reasonable so that their conscience will be free," he said.

"We would like to see more girls of various colours and backgrounds entering the competition, because it has a lot to offer," Mr. James said.

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