Reacting to widely circulated photos of her performing a pole dance in 2007, the newly crowned Miss USA said Wednesday that she never entered a stripper contest, but was only helping a friend with a radio-station promotion.
“Obviously, they’re not the best pictures that you can see. However, I do want to say I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rima Fakih told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer in New York.
Fakih is dressed in short red shorts and a blue tank top with a high neckline in the pictures, which caused a bit of a contretemps Monday and Tuesday when the gossip site TMZ made it seem as if the Lebanese-American beauty had done something that would jeopardize her crown. But Donald Trump, who jointly owns the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants with NBC, quickly stepped in to say there was nothing wrong with the pictures, in which Fakih remains completely dressed. (TODAYshow.com is part of msnbc.com, a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.)
Fakih did want to set the record straight, however, on how the pictures came to be taken. She had not, as TMZ reported, entered the contest to take lessons in doing a striptease, she said. She was just there to help promote the 2007 event that took place in Detroit.
“I can’t deny the pictures. I just want to make it clear, it was not a stripper pole contest; it was actually a promotional event that my friend, who’s a DJ at that radio station, had — for women,” Fakih said. “[They] collected about 100, 115 women, and they teach them how to dance and be sexy. It actually involved doctors and lawyers, everyone in Detroit. And so I got up there to get the party started and say, ‘Hey, you know what? Hop on up here and show ’em what you learned today.’ ”
Fakih has been presented as the first woman of Arab descent to win Miss USA as well as the first Muslim. She has said that she went to Catholic school and identifies herself as both Catholic and Muslim.
The photographs in question and the video from which they come had been on the Mojo in the Morning website since 2007, but nobody seemed to take any notice of them, not even when the dark-haired beauty became Miss Michigan USA to earn a spot in the Miss USA pageant that was held last week in Las Vegas.
But as soon as Fakih was crowned Sunday night, the tabloid media started digging for dirt on her. Last year, Miss California USA Carrie Prejean had gotten in trouble when it was discovered she had posed partially nude for at least two different photographers. Similar fates have befallen other beauty pageant contestants dating back to Vanessa Williams, who had to relinquish her Miss America crown in 1984 after nude photos of her surfaced.
TMZ linked Fakih to Prejean and all the others in a gleeful report that called the photos “seedy pole-dancing pictures.”
‘Very sexy’Mojo, the host of the radio program, told Headline News that Miss Universe/USA pageant officials had called. “They wanted to know, ‘Are these the only photos? Are there more photos? Can we have those photos?’ ” Mojo said.
The DJ defended Fakih, who, he said, has an ongoing relationship with his radio station. “The photos are obviously very sexy, but she’s a very sexy person,” he pointed out.
Mojo said that the station regularly ran a contest that gave women a chance to learn how to do a striptease for their husbands or significant others. In 2007, Fakih, who was then 21, was among those who won a spot in the class, which employed real strippers as instructors.
No big deal?At the conclusion of the class, the participants had a contest to see which one was the best dancer. No one took off any clothing. Fakih won. The photos and video are taken from her performance.
Mojo said participants in the class come from all walks of life. “There are doctors, there are lawyers, we’ve had judges who have entered this class, there are schoolteachers,” he told Headline News.
Besides, he went on, the pictures aren’t nearly as racy as the publicity shots the pageant did showing the Miss USA contestants lounging in bed in lingerie. Fakih’s official shot shows her sitting up, looking at the camera with a come-hither look. She’s wearing a low-cut bra, girdle, garters, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels. Donald Trump, co-owner of the pageant, approved of the lingerie shoot.
TMZ even made the prizes Fakih won at the class seem wicked.
“She won some adult toys and a stripper pole,” the voice-over leered.
Said Mojo, “People are trying to make a bigger deal out of this than it is.”