Flocks of students packed into the Mandela Room this past Friday, Oct. 26 to support their favorite contestants at the seventh annual Miss Asia event, hosted by the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA). Titled “Crazy Miss Asians” in reference to the movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” this year’s cultural pageant featured nine student contestants representing countries from across the Asian continent — in all, the diverse group included representatives from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Supporters came from across the entire northeast region, with VSA chapters from schools like Stony Brook University and Temple University making the trip to Binghamton University for the event.
Before the pageant began, guests were invited to enjoy a variety of activities — two backdrops were set up that some guests used to take pictures, while others enjoyed an array of different foods, including chicken with broccoli and lo mein. String lights and energetic music helped contribute to the party-like atmosphere, which guests maintained once the competition itself had finally begun.
In the “First Impressions” round, the crowd caught its first glimpses of the contestants. Each was introduced by an emcee before slowly circling the stage in a simple dress, making occasional stops along the way to wave to friends in the crowd. Also introduced in this round were the competition judges: Andy Jean-Baptiste, Student Association vice president for multicultural affairs and a senior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law; Josephine Gong, a senior majoring in biology; and Lilly Do, ‘18, former member of the BU VSA Executive Board. After all introductions were completed, a short intermission followed in which guests played musical chairs.
The second round highlighted the cultural heritage of the contestants, as each donned a traditional dress from the countries they represented. In the third round, each contestant sported their most creative Halloween costume. The outfits were creative, to say the least: Miss Philippines representative Maria Fernandez, a freshman majoring in biology, wore a shark suit, Miss India representative Kripa Mathew, a freshman majoring in political science, dressed as a Tide Pod and Miss Cambodia representative Wyonna Tran, a sophomore majoring in chemistry, did her best Kanye impression by dressing as a Roblox character.
The fourth round consisted of the talent portion of the pageant. While most contestants either sang or danced, both Tran and Sally Bishop, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering who represented Taiwan, took different approaches. For her act, Tran showed off her athleticism by repeatedly kicking targets placed at or above shoulder height. Bishop’s talent was twofold: She began by reciting what was presumably traditional poetry, before abruptly switching to slam poetry. Her verses, which largely reflected upon the experience of being Asian-American and the difficulties that often accommodate her identity, drew raucous applause from the crowd.
The “Final Impressions” round, which was similar in pageant structure to the first round, saw each contestant once again circle the stage in a simple dress. During the intermission that followed, guests were invited to vote for their favorite contestant throughout the first five rounds, with the three contestants who received the highest number of votes moving on to the sixth round.
After intermission the finalists were announced: Miss China representative Lily Lin, a junior majoring in business administration; Miss Vietnam representative Michelle Huynh, a freshman majoring in nursing; and Bishop all made the cut. The sixth “Question and Answer” round gave the audience a chance to get to know the contestants on a more personal level. Each of the three judges on the panel had the chance to ask the contestants questions on a variety of different topics, from personal hardships to what it would mean to be Miss Asia. The crowd greeted each answer with enthusiasm before the judges left the room to deliberate their final judgment.
The decision was not an easy one, according to Jean-Baptiste.
“The confidence of every single one of [the contestants] was off the charts,” he said. “Everybody knew what they were doing and really went for it.”
Upon the judges’ return each contestant was invited back onto the stage, where with interlocked arms they awaited the final decision. This year’s Miss Asia crown was then awarded to Bishop, who was met with no shortage of cheers from the crowd and hugs from her fellow contestants.
Although only one pageant contestant could be crowned winner, Jean-Baptiste stated that the real victory of the evening was the celebration of Asian culture that brought students from many diverse backgrounds together.
“A lot of the cultural organizations on campus [co-host] events, they [co-host] banquets and … fashion shows, and I think these things really celebrate everyone’s culture,” he said. “The contestants coming out on stage were saying ‘When I was younger I used to be ashamed of my culture,’ and now they are fully embracing it.”