At the 2013 DramaFever Awards held in New York City, two very special guests who were former contestants in last year’s Miss Korea pageant accompanied Kang Gary from Running Man on stage. In a previous interview, we talked with Heejin Kim. Now let’s meet her former competitor and current friend, Loria Song, who has more insights about what it's really like to compete for the title of Miss Korea.

Beautiful Loria has several impressive beauty pageant achievements to her name so far. She was the Miss Korea Washington D.C. Pageant Winner (Preliminary Regional Title Pageant for Miss Korea Universe 2013) and is the current 2013 Miss Korea Washington D.C. She was also awarded Miss Congeniality at the 2013 Miss Korea Universe Pageant.

Why did you decide to enter the Miss Korea pageant?

For me it was more like a family tradition. My aunt was Miss Korea, and she also placed in the international competition as well. She doesn’t have any daughters so I just stepped in. I thought it would be a nice tradition to carry on. Before I entered the Miss Korea pageant in Seoul, I competed in Miss USA and America pageants, representing New York in Miss USA. In 2012 I placed in the top 20—that year was my introduction to pageantry. I decided to give it a try and gain experience presenting myself to various different cultures and audiences.

What did your family and friends think about your desire to participate in the Miss Korea pageant?

At first my aunt was very skeptical that I would be able to win the regional pageant. I look very different, my body type is very different, I’m definitely more athletic. I was born and raised in the United States, and for us working out is a lifestyle choice. I have concentrated on definition and tone, rather than staying skinny. I am also very tan. I have my father’s darker skin tone, which is not preferable in Korea. Tan skin is not beautiful to Koreans. The way I look and the way I dress, you can tell I am Americanized. Some people don’t even think I’m Korean. So my aunt was skeptical, especially of the (Washington) DC pageants. Judges in US pageants are very traditional, they don’t like to pick anyone who has had plastic surgery. I feel they are strongly holding onto traditional values in US pageants, and this does affect judging choices. Also, if you don’t speak Korean fluently, it’s not going to be an advantage to you. I think the reason I won that pageant was because I was competitive and had the confidence on stage. And, even though I looked Americanized, I spoke Korean fluently – that was a big plus to the judges. The reaction I got was, “You’re out of the scope of what they typically like to choose.” But I decided to give it a shot anyway.

Who were your biggest fans and supporters when you became a contestant?

My brother. I didn’t have a car in the DC area where we lived so my brother drove me to all the orientations. He would come to the pageants to support me, too. He’s really done a lot for me, he’s my biggest supporter. It’s amazing to have a brother like that.

How much time did you spend in Korea as a pageant participant?

Twenty-five days, about four weeks (compared to about two weeks for US pageants). It was pretty long. The place where we lived had no Wi-Fi, either. Also, I was nominated to be a class leader - they were looking for someone with strong social skills. I ended up being a mediator between girls who had issues with one another. It became very stressful at one point. But I guess it’s good that they thought I was capable of handling it!

Photo credit: Loria Song on Facebook

Did you experience culture shock?

Yes, I did go through culture shock in Korea. Even though I had experience being in pageants, the cattiness I encountered at the pageant there (Seoul) was beyond belief. Koreans in general are a lot more competitive, because it’s a smaller country, and there’s a lot of talent and a limited amount of space. So I felt that the competition was a lot narrower. In Korea the girls are raised to be competitive, but the level of competitiveness was high. There was a higher level of cattiness, too.

Also I was very shocked about all the plastic (cosmetic) surgery. Everyone did cosmetic surgery except for me and a couple of other US candidates.

Photo credit: ZIMBIO

So cosmetic surgery is okay for Miss Korea contestants to do?

Technically, they are not supposed to. The thing is, Miss Korea once had a strong reputation and high regard from the people, up until around the early 1990s. After that, plastic surgery became common, then the tables turned. The title of Miss Korea lost its integrity. A lot of the hair salons also had a lot of influence.

What you’re talking about might remind people of the 2013 drama Miss Korea. Did you watch it? Any comments or comparisons? Were there times when it felt like you were treated differently than the native Korean contestants?

My Mom told me that watching all the competitiveness, practices and behavior shown in that drama reminded her of my own experiences. Actually, I think my experiences were worse. Especially for a contestant like myself. I felt disappointed that the pageant could be so influenced by people with power, people who could pull strings. When I was in pageants in the US, I was never so exposed to the industry like that. Nobody knew my face. But I still placed in the top 20, fair and square. That’s why I think people there want to come to the US. Here, when you make it hard for people to ignore you, they recognize you. I really respect that about being an American and I am proud of that. In Korea, not so much. Judges already have their minds made up about certain candidates from the start. I did so many interviews during pageant training. None of them were distributed or published. It really was obvious.The only thing I took comfort from was the community of pageant fanatics from all over the world (who keep updated on pageant news) on (the blog) Missology.

Those people were watching as the pageant was streamed live, and updated the top 20 leaders in real time based on viewers' opinions. At the beginning I wasn’t even on the top 20 list. As the show progressed, people were making comments that I should get crowned. People couldn’t deny what they could see. It was all good experience. But it was very different from what I expected.

Photo Credit: DramaFever

There was one girl who was half Korean, half Brazilian…they made a title for her. They called it the Expat Crown. But what it meant if you translated it into Korean was someone who was a real immigrant. (Based on her circumstances) technically the immigrant status didn’t apply to her. But later I found her father had a position in the government or something like that. There were a lot of things I found out at the end (of the competition) that led me to be disappointed. I thought that if I went there (I could impress them with) how fluently I speak Korean--my parents were very strict about that, so I can speak as well as a Korean native. I had a lot of pride in that. I felt I represented the US immigrant, right down to how dedicated immigrants here are about maintaining their culture. I thought that would carry a lot of weight, and be meaningful to the judges.

What did the pageant experience help you to discover about yourself?

I learned that there are certain things that you just have to accept. I learned that it’s not always black and white in life, that even in a gray area, you have to accept it for what it is, learn from it and move on. It was still a good experience.

What advice would you give to a Korean American girl who dreams of competing for the title of Miss Korea, like you did?

I would tell her that in the end winning shouldn’t mean so much; you’ve got to pick and choose your battles. Here, remember different states will have looks they prefer. Girls going into pageants should never doubt themselves, or change who they are to meet others’ standards. Just give it your best. Having a crown can definitely change a girl, but I feel that the crown is not something that defines you. It’s just another thing that adds to the person you are already.

What are your future goals and plans?

Now that I’ve done the Miss Korea pageant and represented my background and roots, I want to try the USA pageant again. I’m American, I am born and raised in America and have lived in New York since I was 17. Living in New York has been a big turning point in my development of the person I am now. So I’d like to try for Miss New York USA again. It would be a big accomplishment.

Are you a Korean drama fan?

I am, but I don’t have that much free time to watch them. What I like to do is wait until a drama finishes airing in Korea so I can watch all the episodes at once, instead of waiting week by week for new episodes! I love Running Man.

Do you like K-pop?

I like the groups from ten or fifteen years ago, especially 90s K-pop bands. To me it’s really fun seeing older Korean groups that decide to make a comeback.They represent true K-pop to me!

What are your thoughts about Loria’s Miss Korea pageant experience? Add your comments below.

LilySuzuki is an American who lived in Japan for 6 years and considers Tokyo a second home.She also worked in Bali, Indonesia for 2 years. A blogger on Asian cultures and trends, she’s an avid fan of Kpop, Jpop, anime and Korean dramas.

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