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Miss USA Rima Fakih Exit Interview

From the moment she was crowned on May 16, 2010, Rima Fakih knew what was ahead of her. It wasn’t her amazing, once-in-a-lifetime year that so many women before her have been blessed to experience. First, she’d have to face the headlines—“Rima Fakih is first Muslim Miss USA.” It’s a bend or break moment for many when the press misses the point, but not for Rima.

Gifted with her own sense of determination and strong will, and not to mention the supportive force that is the Miss Universe Organization, Rima dodged the nonsense and gripped her fate by embracing the causes that Miss USA has become synonymous with—Gilda’s Club and Susan G. Komen, among others—and she showed the entire world that this Miss USA is more than just a headline. She’s the top story.

Pageantry Magazine: You’ve traveled around the globe as Miss USA. What are a few of the highlights?
I’m very honored and proud to say that I’ve not only been all over the United States, but I’ve been to Africa—one of my highlights has been going to Rwanda, being part of the Same Sky project, supporting and aiding women who have been through the genocide and are wanting to do so much more for their families. I got to go to China and Shanghai, and host the opening of the USA pavilion at the world expo. I’ve been to Qatar, Egypt, and the Bahamas when Kamie was crowned.

But as Miss USA, I’ve been able to do so much more here with Susan G. Komen and Gilda’s Club. For my very first trip to Los Angeles and I got to shoot Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. I just finished shooting a reality show called Tough Enough, and that’s something that I’m proud of because I think a lot of people out there don’t know that as Miss USA, we are women who are not only beauty queens, but we’re smart and we are very tough. It’s really been a trip.

PM: Even outside of the charity work and the travel, you lead a glamorous life. Which celebrities have impressed you the most and why?
Where do I start? I got to be part of a film with Hugh Jackman. I was in Detroit for three weeks, and I was on set with Steven Spielberg. For someone like myself who hopes to someday be in Hollywood making movies, it was a truly amazing experience. I also met Madeleine Albright in China, and I went to the White House and had my own private tour. I’ve been doing a lot with Russell Simmons lately, and I’ve been part of the GLAAD Awards, walking red carpets with Donald Trump, meeting Bret Michaels—there’s a whole list.

Miss USA Rima Fakih with Ricky Martin and in personalized Mets jersey

PM: A lot of press was given to you in the beginning of your reign as the first Muslim Miss USA. How have you embraced the challenges?
A lot of people have asked me that question. They wanted to know if the Miss Universe Organization and I have been able to overcome all the pressure, the media tension and the “attack”—that’s what they call it—and I don’t see it as an attack. What I see is myself and this organization setting a great example for the world. Let’s put it this way—in America, we all come in different colors, different races, different religions, and it was a good eye-opener for everyone to see that Miss USA is Muslim and immigrated to this country—she’s Lebanese and she’s American. One thing people want to know is what I think about discrimination and racism in this country, and in any country there’s going to be racism and discrimination, but in my eyes the United States is exactly like the Miss Universe Organization, as we have 50 beautiful women all from different backgrounds and there is no discrimination. We are all judged how we’re supposed to be judged and that’s by educational backgrounds, how we present ourselves as women, and what we do in our communities and not by what race we are, where we were born or what God we follow—these are not the concerns.

PM: A lot of people don’t really realize how much charity work that you do. You mentioned a few opportunities before, but why is this charity work so important to you and to the Miss Universe organization and in today’s world?
It’s very important. This is my personal opinion as you should always help people. Look at our teens and our children nowadays. They watch TV and reality shows, and they might think it’s cool to do things that are illegal or inappropriate. But when you have someone like Miss USA, Miss Teen USA or Miss Universe walking the red carpets and hanging out with a lot of famous people, we’re also volunteering and going on 50-mile bike rides with Best Buddies in Boston with Tom Brady. We’re also with Susan G. Komen and New Balance working together for breast cancer awareness, and we’re volunteering for Same Sky bracelets in Rwanda, Africa. Everyone can see that doing something for others isn’t just important, it’s cool. Teens don’t see that it’s actually important to do something that’s good for someone and more than just look pretty and wear a nice dress.

PM: You’re obviously very passionate when you’re speaking, and you’ve mentioned visiting the troops. What emotions did you feel while visiting our troops?
The U.S. soldiers are so important to our organization and it’s very important to visit the troops. You’d be shocked how much the soldiers love seeing Miss USA and Miss Teen USA visit them. They thank us, and it’s like—no, we’re here to thank you.

PM: What was Super Bowl week like?
I’m a big football and sports fan as it is, but one thing that happened to me in Detroit when the Super Bowl was there in 2007—I was a student at the University of Michigan and my friend and I couldn’t figure out how we would afford these really expensive tickets to go watch the game. We both got to be hosts in the VIP suites, and she got the owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers and I got to be in the celebrity suite, where I met Puff Daddy and Magic Johnson. Now fast forward to 2011 and I’m Miss USA and I’m part of Super Bowl week.

PM: As the face of Miss USA, who has been your greatest supporter this year?
Paula Shugart, our president, is not what a lot of people would assume our president might be—running a company but hardly seen. She’s been like my mother this year. She told me when I won that I would not be happy and I would consider myself a failure if by the time I was done with this reign, I didn’t feel like I grew as a woman. To be honest, three months into my reign, I already felt like a brand new person.

Miss USA Rima Fakih with actor Kim Coates, Miss Teen USA Kamie Crawford, and actor William Fichtner

PM: What will you miss most when you pass on the title?
I’m going to miss the schedule that I get every evening telling me what I’m doing the next day, because after I’m done, who is going to tell me what to do? I’m going to be lost. Who’s picking me up? What do I wear? That schedule kept me in order. Even though I’m going to miss the Miss Universe family, one thing that made me feel good was that Tara Connor was just here, and Susie Castillo walks in, and Dayana Mendoza, and I realize that this is going to be my family forever. I’m going to miss wearing that sash.

PM: What are you looking forward to most in the near future?
I’m looking forward to my life after Miss USA and being known as a former Miss USA. I’m looking forward to using everything that I’ve learned and everything that I’ve picked up throughout my year, and using it as a secret weapon for the rest of my life.

PM: Are there any individuals you would like to recognize?
Besides, as I’ve mentioned, the Miss Universe Organization, I’d love to recognize my family. My mom and my dad were supportive of me every single day that I was away, and my brothers and sisters who never thought they would be such big pageant fans and they’re on the Pageantry website every day. They fill me in on pageant news that I didn’t even know. I’d also like to recognize Gilda’s Club and Susan G. Komen for not only seeing me as someone who would volunteer and help their organization but as a representative and an ambassador to spread the word on breast and ovarian cancer awareness. I’d also like to recognize Francine LeFrak with Same Sky. She’s such a big supporter of our organization and she always tries to reach out and make sure we do more with her organization. Honestly, there are so many people that it’s hard to name them all.

[To listen to the interview in its entirety, visit the Pageantry PodCast]


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