QUITO, Ecuador — Less than two months after getting fired by Donald Trump on the U.S. reality show “The Apprentice,” runner-up Kwame Jackson got the boot again — as a judge for Trump’s Miss Universe pageant.
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The 80 young women seeking the Miss Universe crown held their last practice session Monday for the beauty pageant, as Indians demonstrated against the event, critics questioned its relevance.
Jackson, the runner-up to the reality show’s April 15 final prize — a yearlong, $250,000 job with the billionaire developer — was disqualified by pageant organizers for waving at beauty queens he bumped into in the lobby of their hotel.
“Kwame is intelligent, charming and we were really looking forward to him judging on our panel,” pageant president Paula Shugart said in a statement made available to The Associated Press. “But his interaction with the delegates, albeit unintentional, is strictly prohibited.”
The pageant statement quoted Jackson saying he was “disappointed and disheartened” and “honestly had no idea that (the hotel) was off limits.”
“I was meeting up with some friends who had flown in to support me, when I was recognized by some of the delegates,” the 29-year-old Harvard MBA said. “As a natural human response, I extended my hand to greet them.”
As the contestants prepared for Tuesday night’s contest, some 500 Indian demonstrators marched several blocks from their hotel, protesting against the pageant as well as against President Lucio Gutierrez, who faces growing demands to resign.
Indian women dressed in multilayered skirts and embroidered blouses wore sashes with phony titles like “Miss War” and “Miss Missile.” Carrying ears of corns, they shouted against the government for spending millions of dollars on the event instead of providing support for their crops.
The demonstrators screamed insults against Gutierrez, calling him “a liar,” “a thief” and “corrupt,” and protested against the government’s plans to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States.
His opponents in Congress have demanded that he resign over a corruption scandal involving his closest aide and have threatened to impeach him if he does not. But he has refused, saying there are no grounds under the constitution for his ouster.
Although Ecuadoreans have shown great enthusiasm and pride that this year’s Miss Universe contest is taking place in their country, some critics have been speaking out against the event.
“Do any readers remember the names of the last five last Third World countries that hosted Miss Universe? Can they say how much poverty has decreased and how much investment in education, health and social security has increased after the candidates packed up and left,” Raul Vallejo, an educator and writer, wrote in a newspaper column last week.
'Message of peace'
Several of the Miss Universe’s contestants defended themselves — and he pageant that organizers say they expect will be seen by 1.5 billion television viewers in 180 countries, including China for the first time this year.
Miss USA Shandi Finnessey labeled as unfair the criticism that the pageant is frivolous.
“With the chaos and trauma in the world right now, I think you need a very strong role model like Miss Universe to travel to countries and spread a message of peace,” she said.
Miss Norway Kathrine Sorland was emphatic in defending the pageant.
“We are a bunch of girls having fun, and this is a positive thing. I have no feelings of guilt, not at all.”
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