It could have proven to be an Achilles’ heel for mere mortals, but an injured ankle didn’t stop Samantha Katie James from her end goal.
Last month, the Chinese-Brazillian model and aspiring actress won Miss Universe Malaysia 2017. She beat 16 other hopefuls in a glittering ceremony held at The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
The aforementioned injury – sustained a day before the pageant preliminaries began – saw James hobbling about with crutches.
“I was just walking in a mall and ran up to my friend, twisted my foot and cracked a bone,” she recalls. “The doctors said I’d need crutches for six months, but I healed in three.
“It was difficult for me at first, as I was always the last (of the contestants) on the bus, or the last to arrive for meetings. I couldn’t wear high heels for catwalk training, and I couldn’t go to the gym, which is my therapy.
“That made me question ‘Why did this happen to me?’ But ultimately, it helped me find myself. I discovered that it’s not about the foot, it’s about the mind and positive affirmation.”
The 170cm tall beauty, who assures us that she’s fully healed, turns 23 in November. The only child hails from Klang.
At 17, James was discovered as a model and has since travelled and worked all over the world. During Star2’s photo shoot, her modelling pedigree certainly came in handy, as she breezed through three wardrobe changes with ease.
James has appeared in TV commercials as well as Indonesian and Chinese films. In fact, she shot a movie in China just recently; her co-star, Chinese actor-singer Zhen Xiao, was, incidentally, one of the performers at the Miss Universe Malaysia gala night.
This year’s pageant was James’s second attempt at the coveted title, her win breaking away from the old adage “third time’s the charm.”
“The only thing I told myself was to keep believing in myself, and visualised that I would win,” muses James.
“I joined this pageant previously, when I was 18, but I did not make it. I wasn’t ready then, but I knew this time around I would be. And here I am!”
Along with her title, James took home a cash prize of RM50,000 from Miss Universe Malaysia Organisation, RM2,000 by main sponsor senZues, and sponsored prizes worth RM150,000. She will also be representing Malaysia on the international stage later this year.
James also won the subsidiary title Miss Tsubaki Crowning Glory and was chosen as the face of Ash Be Nimble and La Juiceria. (First, second and third runners-up were Dana Low, 22, Ollemadthee Kunasagaran, 25, and Laura Simon, 25.)
Asked how she intends to spend the prize money, James replies: “To be honest, I’ve never thought about it. Money comes and goes; I’ve learnt that the hard way. After I won, I had to ask my friend ‘So, what am I getting?’ What I wanted was the title, and to put it to good cause.”
From the beginning of the competition, James stood out as someone who speaks her mind.
And she doesn’t intend to change. “I always remind myself that even after all this, I will remember the person I was before I won. As you can easily get lost amidst the glitz and glamour, I write my goals every day … to stay true to myself and give back to society.”
In the following Q&A, James shares more of her candour, including growing up in a foster family.
Who are the most important women in your life?
My mum, my foster grandmother and my three best friends from high school – Bianca, Puteri and Amanda.
How have they influenced you?
From my mum, the thing I learnt was how strong she is. She has gone through so much in life, raising me as a single parent. So, I want to have her strength when I am a mother one day. She left me with a foster family when I was two, and I was raised by my foster grandma until I was 17. She was really strict with everything; she taught me housework and how to be independent and disciplined.
Can you relate an anecdote that capture these women’s importance to you?
When I was crowned the winner, I saw my best friends rush to the front of the stage. They were pushing people out of the way, screaming “That’s my best friend! That’s my best friend!” They were hugging each other and crying. They are like sisters to me, and they have been my pillars of support. Looking at their faces, it made me feel so proud that I have made them proud.
What was going through your mind when they announced your name as the new Miss Universe Malaysia?
I was telling myself, even if I don’t win, I’d accept that Dana (Low) wins. And if I do win, then all the affirmation and self-belief is true. And I can share with other people (my belief) … not just in pageants but life in general.
This is your second crack at the title. How have you changed since your first attempt in 2013?
As a model, I have travelled the world and met a lot of people with different personalities. I learnt to study a person’s mind, and how to deal with people better. I’ve learnt to get along with everyone; that’s especially important as I will be going to the international finals and meeting many beauty queens from all over the world. I used to be shy and a real introvert, and I wasn’t so expressive. These years of travelling have made me speak out more.
Speaking of the international finals, how are you preparing yourself?
Definitely fitness-wise, I want to have a really fit body. I practise my meditation and focus on visualisation. I’m also working on my speech. In terms of charity, I’m getting involved in children’s causes. I have wanted to do that for the longest time and now that I have a title, I can have a bigger impact.
Why is there a strong inclination towards children’s welfare?
Since I was young, I’ve loved children; I feel calm around them. My mum left me with a foster family when I was two. What I went through made me tougher, but I didn’t miss out on anything, as I had the best childhood ever. To this day, I call them ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’. If I could help a child – especially an orphan – who doesn’t have someone to talk to, I want to be there for them as a friend. That’s why I have this urge to help other children, to show them that (there are) people who love them.
Apart from winning Miss Universe Malaysia, what’s on your bucket list?
What I want is my own family. But before that, I want to succeed in my career. I want to be able to provide my kids with what I didn’t have – love and support.
Growing up, what was your childhood ambition?
I wanted to do psychology, and work with the mind. I love to study a person. If I see a sad person, I wonder, “What can I do to make you feel better?” I always want to help others.
You are active on social media (with 68,000 followers on Instagram). What do you convey to your fans?
I write about myself and my experiences. But I keep the captions short, as I don’t want them to be too draggy. I hope my messages reach out to others. Recently, I added other languages, like Bahasa Malaysia, when I’m here, or Portuguese, when I’m in Brazil.
How many languages do you speak?
I speak Bahasa Malaysia and English fluently. And I understand Tamil and Mandarin.
In terms of diet, you describe yourself as a pescatarian. Please elaborate.
I don’t eat meat but I eat fish. I’ve never liked meat, even as a kid. When my grandma gave it to me, I would throw it away without her knowledge.
Which past or present beauty queen do you admire?
Deborah Henry (Miss Universe Malaysia 2011) is gorgeous; she carries herself well and is really smart. I love the energy of Miss USA Olivia Culpo (who won Miss Universe 2012); she’s always so happy.
During the recent Miss Universe ceremony in the Philippines, the Top 3 finalists were posed this question: Name something over the course of your life that you failed at, and tell us what you learned from that experience. What would be your answer?
I would make it a point to be extra early for appointments. I always put too many things on my plate, and procrastinate. I need to be better at time management.
What’s your message to young girls who want to follow in your footsteps?
Never stop trying. And never compare yourself to others, as you’re unique in your own way.
Episodes of The Next Miss Universe Malaysia 2017 can be viewed online at hurr.tv.