The brains behind the beauty
Director of Miss Universe Thailand Surang Prempree and its managing director Chichaya Karnsuta talk about how they prepare their girls for the international pageant
She might not have won the ultimate prize at the 65th Miss Universe pageant, but Chalita “Namtan” Suansane, won the hearts of the international audience, placing in the top six at the recent competition in Manila.
Yet while she undoubtedly put a great deal of effort into both her physical and mental preparation, much of the credit for Chalita’s success must go to Surang Prempree, the national director of Miss Universe Thailand since 2000 and the brains behind the “Miss Thailand” pageant, as the competition was previously known, for 16 years prior to that. With a total of 33 years experience, the billionaire, former media mogul of BBTV Channel 7, now the managing director of entertainment venture Chandra 25, Surang recently took time out from her busy schedule for an all-too-rare interview.
“To me, the beauty pageant is ‘eternal’,” says the self-confessed feminist, activist, and teacher. “I hate that stereotype of a beauty queen.”
Surang has been largely successful in moving her girls away from that stereotype, organising from year two of her tenure with the Miss Thailand pageant a day-camp for the young and beautiful contestants to ensure a well-rounded learning experience.
“I have lots of friends, respectable ones, to help groom those young girls. I remember when we had an outdoor camp at Siam Park City and we invited [the late] Pumpuang Duangchan, who was one of the most popular singers at that time, to join the event. It was not easy but it was a lot of fun,” she recalls with a fond smile.
“In the third year, we organised proper training with the John Robert Power Institute led by Pranom Thavornvej. Every year we give our contestants valuable knowledge and not just tips on how to makeup or do their hair. We introduce them to current issues about women’s rights, we take them to significant sites to learn about history, culture, religion and so on, and widen their circle of friends. We improve their characters and open their minds. It’s serious training and earns the girls a certificate on completion. Ultimately, we would like to have qualified and well-educated beauty queens,” Surang explains.
“Every minute of the three-week Miss Universe Thailand training camp is used, even while travelling on the coach. We train them to speak clearly and knowledgeably because answering questions on stage is extremely important.”
Asked if she knows from the outset which of the girls is most likely to win the crown, Surang shakes her head. “Every contestant has the same chance to win. We prepare them equally for the contest and the differences in them from the first day until the last day of the pageant are enormous.”
Chichaya Karnasuta, managing director of Miss Universe Thailand and Surang’s niece, adds that the organising team is responsible for observing the contestants and seeing what they lack and need to improve so that they will look their best on the pageant stage.
“Every contestant has a different background. Once Miss Universe Thailand is crowned, then it is our duty to groom her for the international stage. Take Namtan Chalita: we made it our business to get to know her better and more deeply. Then we fine-tuned her attitude, bearing in mind that she would be representing her country. We must have the same goals. After all, every country wants to see their contestant crowned. Namtan is not talkative; she is more of a scientist. [Namtan is studying at Microbiology at Maha Sarakham University’s faculty of science.] So we worked on improving her speaking and communication skills, her walk, her posture, her body shape, and her English so that at least she could talk to her international friends with confidence.”
“Namtan was not the favoured choice among fans initially. So we stopped all other work and focused solely on training and grooming her, both in terms of looks and personality. When we had to do Namtan’s profile presentation, we made sure she had a very interesting story to tell,” Chichaya adds. “And she shot up in the popularity stakes when we unveiled the National Costume and remained high in the polls,” she says.
Surang echoes Chichaya’s sentiments. “We cannot really tell if Miss Universe Thailand will steal the hearts of the public. But when we have the same goals, everybody in the beauty pageant earns the credit. We work with strong determination and wholeheartedly.”
“When you love someone, you love her for what she is. Namtan is friendly and easy-going. When she left for the Philippines [host of Miss Universe 2016], we told her to go and enjoy herself; to have fun and be happy,” says Chichaya.
“Namtan is just so natural, she is real,” Surang adds.
Being among 80 beautiful contestants and under constant media and camera attention is daunting for any young lady, no matter how well she might be prepared. The countries of Latin America, whose beauty queens usually get into the final round, have a number of beauty pageant institutes devoted to training girls dreaming of the ultimate crown. “But Thailand doesn’t have that,” Surang says.
Indeed, Namtan had just four months for her final grooming. From the moment she arrived in Manila, the 22-year-old beauty emerged as one of the crowd favourites. She had many memorable looks. Her one-piece backless swimsuit and the yellow bikinis accentuated the curves of her body and drew admiring looks. The stunning “Jewel of Thailand” National Costume and all evening gowns by Asava were flattering. Namtan became the first person from Thailand to make the final six since Porntip Nakhirunkanok Simon, Miss Universe in 1988. She had a chance to answer questions on stage and was proud to speak about the beloved monarch, His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
“Namtan gained confidence. She doesn’t have to be rich, and she should never ashamed of her roots but she must have inspiration and be a fighter,” says Surang.
The young woman quickly created a buzz on the social networks, with even government officials encouraging the public to vote for Namtan and the hashtags #MissUniverse and #Thailand among the highest trending.
And the Namtam phenomenon points to the future direction of Miss Universe Thailand pageant, says Chichaya, who has been involved in the beauty pageant for 15 years and managing director for the last two. And while Surang says that for her the beauty pageant is eternal, for Chichaya it is just the beginning. In 2015 Miss Universe Thailand finished in the final ten. This year, our contestant made the last six. And now both are looking forward to the next Miss Universe Thailand 2017, which will open for applications in July.
In a brief interview with The Nation, Namtan says that she was never disheartened when people said she was not suitable for the Miss Universe Thailand’s crown. “I worked very hard and I absorbed and learnt everything I needed to improve myself within a very short period. And my efforts paid off. A beauty queen today no longer relies on beauty alone. The crowd looks at who she really is, the complete person. And for the future, right now I’m concentrating on finishing my studies and then I would like to experience life to the fullest.”