Yak’s Lauren Freemantle sat down with UON student and pageant finalist Sarah Wilson to talk modelling, self-belief, the Uni’s restructure and…cats on leashes.
Q: What is Miss Universe and what is the process involved?
Miss Universe Australia is a franchise of the international Miss Universe pageant. It has changed over the years, but at the moment it starts with social media – you apply there with videos and photos. If your application is successful, you go through the various stages. That includes being contacted by sponsors affiliated with the pageant and attending events in the lead-up to the State Final.
At the State Final they pick 7 girls out of 26 entrants. If you get through State Final there’s a few more events before a big National Final trip where you meet all the girls. We went to the Gold Coast this year and met everyone except for the Melbourne girls who couldn’t come because of Covid. Nationals will be in October where they’ll pick a top 10 and eventually one Miss Universe Australia.
Q: Do all the runners up support the campaign for Miss Universe Australia to win internationally?
Yeah, I think the good thing about the way the directors run the pageant, they keep the girls involved – you become an alumni. You come back, meet the other girls and stay involved. It doesn’t really end with Miss Universe Australia. The theme of the pageant changes every year; this year I feel it’s been focused around self-development, friendship and camaraderie.
Q: Do you think it’s particularly important to see NSW regions represented among the State Finalists?
I am one of 7 State Finalists – the other girls are from Sydney and I’m the only Newcastle girl. I do think it’s a nice thing, because I’m not originally from Newcastle I’m from Forster, which is again even smaller. If I was in school and I knew someone from the year above me that was doing this, it would give me the confidence to think ‘Oh, this is something that’s within the realm of possibility for me too.’
Q: So how did you start modelling?
I don’t really consider myself a model, or an influencer – I have one ring light so maybe I’m a micro-influencer haha.
But I started modelling because I live near a vintage shop named I am Billie Boots on Beaumont Street, Hamilton. I’d go in all the time and try on clothes. I loved the pieces Julie the owner would pick out, she’s got great style. I came in one day and she started taking photos of me on her phone, and then she had arranged a photoshoot for the shop with a few models, and asked me if I wanted to come along. I was unsure because I hadn’t done anything like it before.
It was at Matt Briggs’ studio, he’s an amazing Newcastle photographer; he shot all the clothes pictures, they were just catalogue-style chill photos. I was about to leave when Matt asked whether they could get a portrait style shot of me. I was so embarrassed, but I now look back on that photo and remember why I started modelling – Matt just pulled something out of me, a bit of my soul escaped into that photo and it gave me the confidence to think I could do this.
I decided to keep shooting with Newcastle creatives and I’m just going to have fun with it, rather than seeking it out as a big career. I suffer with anxiety and modelling is a place where I can do whatever and be whatever, with no high stakes. That’s how I always want it to be.
Q: The Miss Universe process seems to tie in with your degree (B. Communication majoring in PR). Have you learnt a lot about PR during this process?
I have definitely. I think how you present yourself is one thing and social media is a whole other kettle of fish which I feel the Uni isn’t fully harnessing or teaching us. I feel there needs to be more social media-centric content in our degree because that’s where everything is heading. I think traditional media is great and that will never die, but social media is a hybrid of it all, and I think Comms students are getting left behind.
I’m approaching the last Semester of my degree; I’ve written one media release for Public Relations. The last time I did professional writing was first year. It’s so focused on theory and academia that we aren’t obtaining the practical skills we need to go into a workplace and be confident and comfortable. I’ve said this to lecturers who do agree, but they can’t do anything about it.
Q: Over the past few years the Uni has been rejigging the Communication degree as part of its restructure, cutting some courses, saying it’s a way to streamline things and produce job-ready graduates. Is that your experience?
No, I think when they say they’ve streamlined it and made us job ready, they’ve actually just made the courses more vague. I started doing an internship and I had no idea what Canva was, which is the main social media content creation app that you need to know how to use. Another example is, they teach us to use Premiere Pro and that’s not a software which is used in the industry.
Q: Not to ask the forbidden question, but do you have any plans for after graduation? If not, how are you coping with that uncertainty?
I’m just manifesting not another Christmas in retail! I did have intentions of moving to Sydney to pursue PR jobs, which is very hard due to Covid. But I’m not worried to be honest, I know it’ll work out, whether I end up in PR or journalism. But for now, after Uni, I just want to have a really beautiful Christmas and Summer with my family, spending time with my cat and not having to wear a mask.
Q: You’re a trendy person, tell me your favourite places to eat, drink, shop and hangout in Newcastle.
Oooh, good question. The Blind Monk – the cocktails are beautiful, amazing, perfect *chefs kiss.* They have the best Mojitos and an alcoholic hot chocolate with Baileys in it.
As far as food goes, Naka Noodle on Beaumont Street! Also, I feel like I’m late to the party, but I recently tried Habesha at the Junction and it has got to be in my top 10. I loved the experience – they bring a kettle and basin to the table, and you wash your hands there.
For shopping, I am Billie Boots vintage of course. Julie the owner has supplied me with outfits to wear to Miss Universe events, and I love giving a new life to vintage clothes, rather than contributing to textile waste.
Other than that, I really like walking the ANZAC Memorial bridge. But more often I’ll do a drive around the city and the beaches – I take my cat in the car with me, or I’ll take her to the beach at night…
Q: *Surprised Pikachu face* does she go on a lead?
*Extended talks about the cat ensued.*
Miss Universe Australia is due to be crowned at the National Final in October, location TBA. You can keep up with Sarah’s campaign on Instagram.
Feature Image by Yak Staff Writer, Lauren Freemantle.
All other photos supplied by Sarah Wilson.