SOUTH LOOP — Chicago-born Jessica Ou, a 21-year-old hospitality major at DePaul University, was named the 2013 Miss Friendship Ambassador on Sunday night.
Ou finished first among the 10 young women who donned evening gowns, strutted in swimsuits and showcased talents in the hopes of winning the title.
The 2013 Miss Friendship Ambassador Pageant, a fundraising Gala for the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce packed the International Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago Hotel at 720 S. Michigan Ave.
"Every other year we have a pageant that we select the Miss Friendship Ambassador representing Chinatown and Chicago, and the winner goes to Hong Kong in the beginning of 2014 to compete" at the Miss Chinese International Pageant, said Tony Shu, chairman of the chamber's board.
"Two years ago the winner of the Chicago Miss Friendship Ambassador went to Hong Kong and she was crowned [Miss Chinese International Pageant]. In fact, she’s now working for a TV production company in Hong Kong," Shu said.
During the individual style portion of the pageant Sunday, contestant Jennifer Zhang shook the ends of her flowing dress to create a sea of green fabric as she crossed the stage on the way to the microphone for her introduction. She wore a huge smile as she was greeted warmly by loud applause before she introduced herself, first in English then in Chinese.
Zhang finished second runner-up in the last pageant, and since then she's been training with her pageant coach, Christine Boll.
"She’s been a really good pupil, I’d say. I coach a ton of girls in the Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss America [and] I’ve seen her do her own work on her own," Boll said. "If we meet once every two weeks she’s doing everything on her own afterwards."
"She’ll send me things like, 'Hey I've been working on this, do you want to proof this, and let me know what you think about that,'" Boll said. "She’s been very diligent on making sure she’s going to walk beautifully today and speak well. It's been one of her main goals for two years now."
One of Zhang's focuses for this year's pageant was a common "flub" Boll sees in most pageants during the question-and-answer portion. The two focused on giving concise answers and "getting to the point."
"For her, it was learning how to condense them," Boll said. "And then walking obviously in a swimsuit is not the most comfortable thing ever, but you have to learn how to feel comfortable. You have to feel like you’re elegant, you’re beautiful, this is your moment you have to take it all in, good eye contact with the judges, good posture."
Zhang finished the night as the runner-up, even though she took first in the Miss Friendship Ambassador online poll. While Ou will represent the Chinatown pageant in Hong Kong in 2014, Zhang's runner-up finish means she will take part in the 2015 Hong Kong pageant.