It's not surprising that a beauty queen hopeful would have a poised answer for every question. But Chelsey Mori, an 18-year-old Hamilton native vying for the crown of Miss World Canada 2013, even had a quick response when asked about the criticism that surrounds beauty pageants themselves.
"The whole mission statement of Miss World Canada is beauty with a purpose," she says. "You don't need to be physically beautiful, but beautiful on the inside. The whole point is to get involved and connected with charities and to help people."
Miss World Canada partners with Variety, a British Columbia-based charity that helps children with special needs. Along with glitzy dresses and rehearsed speaking skills, each contestant's efforts for fundraising account for 10 per cent of their total score. Each contestant also competes on a platform, raising awareness about a cause of their choosing.
Mori is one of two Hamilton natives competing this year. Vartika Sharma, 21, has lived in the city since the seventh grade. Now in her fourth year studying psychology at McMaster University, Sharma was eager to enter the pageant after dreaming about it most of her life.
"Ever since I was little, I've always wanted to compete in Miss World," says Sharma, who was born and lived in India until the age of 9.
"When I moved here, I realized Canada had never won the Miss World title. I wanted to be that person to win it for Canada."
Along with the crown and a $3,000 scholarship, the Miss World Canada winner goes on to compete at the Miss World pageant to represent Canada. Similar to the Miss Universe Canada and Miss Canada competitions, signing up requires a heavy time and financial commitment.
An entrance fee of $1,200 is required for all applicants, along with costs of clothing, airfare (this year's competition is in Vancouver, B.C.) and hosting events to fundraise for charity.
Most contestants have these costs at least partially covered by sponsorship from local businesses. Mori, a first-year Western University student who will be entering the Richard Ivey School of Business next year, has managed to solicit several community businesses into supporting her. She even reached out to Mayor Bob Bratina for support although, she says, he has not yet replied.
"I've been having a lot of support from community sponsors," she says. "Karnik Alterations is going to donate one of my gowns and I've got a sponsorship from Anchor Bar where I'm going to be hostess for a day."
Sharma has had a little less luck, but says she's hopeful local businesses will step up before the May 8 competition.
Along with financial obligations, the preparation is time consuming. Both active young women — Sharma's a dancer and an actress, Mori has done everything from volleyball to cheerleading — the two are rehearsing their talent portions of the competition. The young women are also responsible for attracting enough attention from their communities to make it to the top ten, decided by an online vote — something both women were keen to mention.
Sharma and Mori have also been working hard to give back to their communities while staying on top of school and work, but it's par for the course for both of them: Sharma participates in tree planting and sponsors a child in India, while Mori has volunteered to coach volleyball for a youth house league for many years.
Their similarities make them appear poised to be in direct competition, particularly when soliciting for sponsorship and support from Hamilton. But in true beauty queen fashion, the young women remained thoroughly diplomatic on the subject.
"I haven't had a chance to contact her yet, but I liked her Facebook page," Sharma says of Mori.
"I think it's great to have someone else from Hamilton," Mori says. "I think I'll ask her to fly to the pageant together."