Miss S'pore World is only 1.6m tall

In the end, the girl with the charm and personality won.

Never mind that she didn't have the height: Newly-crowned Miss Singapore World 2012 Karisa Sukamto stands at just 1.6m tall.

But the 19-year-old student's win on Wednesday night surprised many.

And it came after a significant delay - the 13 judges had a tough time deciding their winner from the 14 women and had to retreat to a private room not once, but twice to deliberate their decision.

It kept the 500-strong crowd at the Orchid Country Club in eager anticipation. To many, the 1.71m-tall Michelle Koh, was a shoo-in for the crown as she had the stature and the looks of a beauty queen.

Students Sarah Noble and Jaime Lim, both 1.72m tall, were also crowd favourites. So was lawyer Bridgete Campbell, who is 1.67m tall.

Pageant organiser Raymund Ooi of Limelite Productions told The New Paper:

"The judges couldn't decide and were going back and forth and back and forth in the room...

"The problem was that it was a 50-50 split and while half thought that Michelle had the looks and poise, they felt that she had to work on the way she tackled questions.

"Those who supported Karisa said she had the charm and personality, but was just lacking in height.

"So it was a debate on whether language and answering skills could be honed and that height is something one can't change.

"But in the spirit of Miss Singapore World, where we don't have a height restriction, I told the judges just to look at the marks they scored for each girl, and the girl with the higher marks won."

The first deliberation lasted 40 minutes.

The judges emerged, but some appeared unhappy with what had transpired in the room. To the crowd's surprise, the judges turned around and headed back to the room for a second deliberation - this time taking half-an-hour.

It was close to midnight when the judges emerged for a second time and announced their verdict - Miss Sukamto, who weighs 50kg, was the winner.

Michelle, 18, was named the first runner- up while Sarah, 18, Jaime, 18 and Miss Campbell, 23, were the second, third and fourth runners-up respectively.

According to the judges, Sarah, was penalised for wearing jeans during the bikini segment.

Most of the past winners of the Miss Singapore World pageant have been taller than 1.7m. They include 1.75m-tall Faraliza Tan (2008), 1.74m-tall Colleen Francisca (2006) and dethroned 2009 winner Ris Low, who is 1.72m.

Said a spokesman for the rival Miss Universe Singapore pageant: "We have a height requirement, so only women taller than 1.65m are allowed to join our pageant.

"Last year's winner, Valerie Lim is 1.79m tall, one of our tallest, and one of the shortest was actress Jaime Teo (2001),who is 1.65m tall.

"A winner who is shorter may stand out for the wrong reasons... That being said, Singapore has a small population so really tall girls are hard to come by.

"If a winner is short then she has to be really pretty. If not, no one will notice her."

But in line with the Miss World pageant's motto of beauty with a purpose, having the shortest contestant win - ironically - was fitting.

Miss Sukamto, who is on a break from studying at King's College in London, told The New Paper: "I have always been insecure about my height and with my win, I want to be a role model for other girls who have the same concerns.

Underdog

"I was the underdog and didn't stand as tall as the rest of the girls or fit the mould of a beauty queen.

"But if I had the courage to stand up against these tall, beautiful girls and overcome my insecurity, all the other petite girls out there can, too.

"Yes, I do wish I was taller but I'm growing into my own skin and I will get there eventually."

Born in the US to a Singaporean father and Indonesian mother, Miss Sukamto became a Singapore citizen when she was a child and has lived here ever since.

Her parents are of average height and her brother, who is taller than 1.8m, has always teased her about being the "runt of the family".

Miss Sukamto's American accent is the result of her years spent studying at the Singapore American School.

Apart from the crown, she also won the Miss Celebrity, Miss Charming and Beauty With A Purpose titles.

She said: "My mother has always been very encouraging and told me whenever I envy 'supermodel-esque' women who walk past me that I have to find my own niche in this world and shine with what I've got.

"How I will strive to compete with the other women on the international stage is exactly by doing that.

"I hope the judges ask me questions and find out that just because you're small, it shouldn't define or constrain your possibilities in this world."

When the contestants were whittled down to the top five, she was asked if she could be prime minister for a day, what she would change about society.

She replied that she would use that opportunity to influence the youth as she has "seen how a few encouraging words have changed their lives".

Michelle, who will join the National University of Singapore in August as a science undergraduate majoring in mathematics, said she was content being a runner- up.

She said: "I've done my best, I was really nervous so my speech came out all weird. I normally don't speak like that. But I believe the judges had considered every factor and I will respect their decision.

"I'm only 1.72m-tall, so even I feel like I can't compete against the 1.8m-tall beauties at the Miss World finals. As for Karisa, no one is perfect so she will have to work on her other areas. She's very bubbly and nice."

Thai judge Chutshompu Sharan, a marketing manager who sponsored the $40,000 crown, said: "I thought Michelle had the perfect body and I feel that the Miss World pageant has always been on the lookout for long legs."

But American judge and media company director Sonia Fleck was all for attitude. She said: "Karisa is extremely poised and confident, and the young woman we pick must reflect what Singapore is about.

"She has a 'bring it on' manner, lots of attitude and is innocent, cheerful and ambitious at the same time."

The sentiment that best summed up the dramatic night was from Brazilian plastic surgeon Marco Faria Correa: "It may sound cliched, but beauty is really in the eye of the beholder."

Miss Sukamto, who also won a yet-to-be-disclosed cash prize, will represent Singapore in the finals in China in August.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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