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Miss Universe contestants ready for pageant

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November 17, 2017 By Robin Leach

Middle Eastern politicians and diplomats went into overdrive hysteria when the two Miss Universe beauty queens from Israel and Iraq wound up as roommates here at Planet Hollywood and posted photos of each other on their Instagram accounts. The two countries do not hold any official diplomatic relations but Jewish beauty Adar Gandelsman and masterful Muslim Sarah Idan proved peace is possible when they posed together.

Sarah is an Iraqi singer and was the English language translator when American forces first arrived in Baghdad during the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. She infuriated Middle Eastern political opinions writing: “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel” as the photo caption. Adar wrote: “Meet Miss Iraq, who is amazing.”

She was in another firestorm when she snapped a photo with Miss Lebanon with an invitation to visit Israel. Lebanese dignitaries promptly branded her an “enemy,” and wanted the 20-year-old, 5-foot-9-inch tall Arabic contestant, Jana Sader stripped of her title. She eventually kept it. And all three were smiling broadly at last night’s private dinner at our Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant on East Flamingo Road, ahead of Thursday’s ( Nov. 16) official welcome at Planet Hollywood.

Contributing photographer Tom Donoghue and I were the only media invited to attend for these exclusive photos and report. Paula Shugart, the president of the Miss Universe organization commented about the political upheaval.

She told me: “We can all get along and they’re getting along. People will joke about pageants and world peace forever, but when Miss Iraq came in, she definitely got some blow-back the first day when she had a picture with Miss Israel, but she said, ‘This is not political.’ This is about two women finding common interest. It’s not about politics…” She said, “It’s about someone of Muslim faith and someone in the Jewish faith not talking politics and talking woman to woman.”

“There’s nothing that’s bad about that. I think we can makes steps toward solving the peace process. I think that’s one of the nice things about the inherent nature of nurturing women and the pageant. Because without the pageant, they’d never be together and the nice thing with social media, they’ll all keep in touch.”

It’s the largest-ever contingent of competitors from 93 countries.

“This is the biggest contestant pool we’ve ever had with a lot of first-time countries, including Laos, Cambodia, Nepal,” Paula said. This is the first year that Laos and Cambodia have been allowed by their governments to take part. They have government support. Mynamar is thrilled to be back because they hadn’t had a contestant since 1962. She won Miss Congeniality and then the country closed.”

The 66th annual Miss Universe 2017 pageant will be broadcast live as a three-hour television special with Steve Harvey returning as the host at Planet Hollywood’s Axis Theater on Nov. 26 on Fox TV. The Parade of Nations with the glamorous girls in their national costumes is set for this Saturday with the preliminary set for Nov 20. The broadcast will begin with the announcement of the 16 finalists.

I’m told there will be two special salutes to our Vegas Strong organization that supports the injured and families of those killed in the recent mass shooting. One major female entertainer has already agreed to appear on the show. Names of additional singers and judges will be revealed next week, but I can confirm two of the judges will be former Miss Universe winners and another will be recognized as a first responder from the shooting.

Paula who worked with me on our “Star Search” show in the 1980s summed up: “I think right now there’s a whole worldwide vibe or a movement that women are standing up more and more, whether it’s Saudi Arabia and women being allowed to drive, to all of the things going on here in the states. A lot of the contestants I spoke to this morning, feel that it’s their turn. They’re the next ones that are going to be leaders.

“I’m really getting a sense that there are a lot of leaders in this group. Women can change the world! This is the first time that women feel that they’re going to. I’ve seen this over the years, that women really realize that they are in charge of their own destiny, which is, I think, what our organization is about. Every single one of these women — they’re career-minded, and it’s not about just beauty. It’s about everything, because beauty is skin-deep. No, there are some amazing women, amazing stories. They realize that it’s about confidence and really going for it all and being fearless.

“Confidence is the one word that defines a standout. Confidence gives you the ability not to be afraid to fail. There’s not just a spot for one woman in the board room; there is a spot for many.”

Reigning Miss Universe Iris Mittenaere of France and the current competing Miss USA contestant, Kara McCullough, who won the national pageant here in May this year both left the Italian dinner party early for a late night flight to Los Angeles where they will tape the Steve Harvey TV talk show. Before the flight, both girls posed for us re-creating the famous Italian movie pasta eating scene with the Miss Universe videographers.

Kara who hopes to win the international title for America told me “ ’m thankful for this entire experience. I’m calm and collected for the pageant. I’m fired up for it like a hot tamale. I have a little anxiety but I just want to do well. The nerves for Miss Universe kicked in when I won Miss USA. It’s been good chaos the past five months.

“I’m proud. I’m thankful to know that we can still have something for little girls to look up to, to be anything they want. They can be scientists, they can be engineers, they can be beauty queens, they can have everything all wrapped up into one. I’m a scientist and I have my program, Science Exploration for Kids, and I go into a lot of the underserved communities and do science projects with the students, hands on learning to really get their imagination going and show them that there’s opportunities.”


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