By Clara Lee
Flashing cameras. Flawless makeup. Strict diets. These are some things that come to mind at the mention of beauty pageants.
But pageants in NTU are more than meets the eye. Usually held after orientation, these competitions are a cornerstone of freshmen welcome activities across student faculties and residential halls.
On the outset, they may seem to unfold in typical fashion: beginning with a banquet in a fancy ballroom, boisterous talent segments mid-way, and culminating in a heady night at Zouk.
But beyond the glitz and glamour, what actually happens before the big day?
With the new pageant season just commencing, the North Spine has become one of the most popular spots for training sessions.
It is where this year’s fresh batch of Sports Camp pageant nominees have set up camp, training tirelessly along the empty walkways long after the last lecture has ended.
They spend their after-class time perfecting their strut and conditioning to peak physique, all in preparation for their big day – Sports Ball 2017.
Second-year School of Social Sciences student Regina Tay, who was awarded the title of Sports Queen 2016, is one of the main pageant coordinators this year. She works with the different pairings on their catwalk routines, offering tips and demonstrating poses without breaking a sweat.
“For Sports Pageant, it’s all about looking healthy and having a good physique. So we focus a lot on physical training,” said Tay, 20. During these sessions, she makes sure to dedicate a good hour for a mass workout that leaves the pageant nominees panting.
Training sessions are intense, she added. Their rigorous regime is repeated almost every day, with most sessions only ending after midnight.
Their end goal, of course, is the Sports Ball’s iconic beach wear segment, where the pageant nominees finally “get to show how hard they’ve worked.” However, Tay stressed that the Sports Ball goes beyond being just about physique.
“Each orientation group (OG) will come dressed in clothing that they’ve designed or made by themselves as an OG,” she said. These costumes are related to the freshmen’s respective OG themes, and it is hoped that the bonds they create over costume-making keep them tight-knit long after camp has ended.
Like scenes from a movie
The pageant nominees of Hall of Residence 7 have been kept busy as well.
As first-year Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information student Eunice Chua exchanges ideas for the solo catwalk routines with her fellow hallmates, she continues to joke lightheartedly with them.
It was this year’s movie blockbusters theme that swayed the 19-year-old into joining Hall 7’s pageant. In line with the theme of movie blockbusters, she dons a black widow costume complete with gun holsters and red hair spray.
While she initially had the impression that pageant nominees had to meet certain physical requirements, she was surprised to find that Hall 7’s pageant did not have any intense dieting or exercise regimes.
The frequent training sessions have kept her schedules packed, but she is more than happy to give her all during practice.
“The fact that I have nine other amazing friends doing this with me as well as all the seniors’ support, makes the time spent worthwhile,” she said.
The entire experience has been a huge step outside her comfort zone, especially when it comes to the mass dance segment involving all the pageant nominees on stage.
But seeing how effortlessly Eunice performs the choreography, it is difficult to imagine that she finds herself “terrible at it”.
Morning runs, which the pageant nominees have initiated on their own, fills her with a sense of camaraderie. They gather at 7am to complete their route around the campus, cheering each other on as they go.
“I know this is something I will look back on and smile about after I graduate, when I reminisce about University.”
Life’s a stage
Over at the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering (EEE), pageant nominees have also been putting in their paces.
Fog machines, smokey make-up and flowing fabrics take center stage, as the EEE Ball 2017 aims to create an otherworldly experience with their theme of mystery and mystique.
In preparation for the official photoshoot, Yong Chun Yee, 22, had his hair and make-up professionally done for the first time.
But it isn’t all fun and games. Yong discovers that working to embody the theme comes with its challenges.
“It isn’t easy for both contestants and organisers, because a lot of work and effort is needed from everyone to make the event successful.”
Despite the extra workload, he takes pride in being a part of this event and bringing its theme to life.
As the big day draws near, the nerves of contestants will eventually kick in, as speculations among their peers become rife: Who will win the title of Hall Queen? Who will walk away with Mr Popularity?
But for these pageant nominees, it is the journey, not the destination, that truly matters.
At the end of the day, every pageant carries the same goal – to provide a platform for students to gain confidence and strut their stuff.