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Rima Fakih On Making Miss USA History

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, a second-grade girl made news last week when she told first lady Michelle Obama that her mom was undocumented immigrant. In our weekly parenting segment, a group of moms talks about the children of immigrants.

But, first, Rima Fakih made history last week. The first Muslim-American woman to wear the crown of Miss USA. She's here to talk with us about her win, her heritage, one or two photos that emerged last week and what her reign as Miss USA adds up to. Welcome, Rima Fakih.

Ms. RIMA FAKIH (Miss USA): Thank you so much, Tony. I'm very honored to be here today.

COX: Well, it's our privilege to have you as well and congratulations on your win. We're going to talk about those photographs in a moment. But I'd first like to begin to talk about you. Born in Lebanon into a prominent Shia Muslim family, went to Catholic high school in New York. Family moved to Dearborn, Michigan. I have read that your family celebrates elements of both Islam and Christianity. Is that true?

Ms. FAKIH: That is correct. I am born into a Muslim family, however, I'd just like to say that my family is not defined by religion because a lot of people always are asking me, since you're Muslim how is it that you're participating in these pageants? You do have your strict Muslims and you have your more liberal ones and that's probably why I'm supported by so many that are Muslim and of other faiths as well.

COX: Well, we're going to talk about the photographs in a minute. But one of the reactions to the photographs that I have seen online from the Muslim community, they've been fairly unhappy with what they have seen as inappropriate behavior on your part. What do you say to them?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FAKIH: Well, I want to make a point that I don't think just Muslims are unhappy. I think a lot of mothers are unhappy. I think a lot of people from any religion or ethnicity wouldn't be happy to see their daughter up there by a pole. That was a promotional event. That was actually hosted by my friend who was a DJ at the radio station. They get women together, they could teach them how to dance, belly dance, do all these different things. It's considered like an aerobics class, believe it or not.

I actually heard that Crunch, the gym here in New York City, does an aerobics class with pole dancing. So that's kind of funny. At the very end and this was three years ago they wanted women to hop on stage and show what they learned. And of course, who gets the party started besides Rima? So I left the breakfast buffet and I hopped onstage and my friend snapped those pictures.

And you know what? I never knew that someone who sees a successful friend like me go and try to get a piece of that success. But, you know, that's part of being in the limelight.

COX: I have to ask you, when you were asked to go up there and to pose in front of the pole, did you for a second hesitate about whether or not that was a smart move for you?

Ms. FAKIH: If you had asked me if I had any skeletons in the closet or, you know, those questions they always ask, or if there was anything I was afraid of, I would've probably never thought twice about those pictures just because, one, I wasn't doing anything wrong didn't think it was any bid deal. And secondly, I didn't wasn't aware they had those pictures.

COX: There were some very suggestive photos that were taken this year, actually, as part of the Miss USA competition - contestants in lingerie. My question for you, Rima, is this: How do you decide as a beauty contestant when the line is crossed, when what you wear or what you don't wear, as the case may be, is too much?

Ms. FAKIH: I think a lot of people are still living in the grandma age. This is not your grandma's pageant, everyone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FAKIH: Let's be honest. We're in bikinis on stage. So if something like those pictures were shot, it's just to show the beauty and the glamour of these contestants. And we all had decision and a choice of what we're going to wear. So it wasn't something that was enforced, nor was it something that was thrown at us when we got there.

COX: Well, you certainly got your tour off to a rousing start. How's it going for you? I know you couldn't have expected it to begin this way.

Ms. FAKIH: I would've loved for them to at least let me enjoy my reign before they started with all this controversy. But you know what they say, no media is bad media. And I am, from what I hear, I've been the number one search on Google and Yahoo, so I can't say I'm unhappy.

COX: Final thing for you, Rima, is this. Looking at what you have gone through, would you put yourself in that circumstance again?

MS. FAKIH: No, I would not, for the fact that I not only represent myself, I also represent Miss USA, this beautiful country of ours, and the Miss Universe organization. So I made sure that every step I take is cautious and remember that I cannot trust just anybody.

COX: Rima Fakih, the newly-crowned Miss USA 2010, joining us from our bureau in New York City. Rima, it's wonderful to talk to you. Congratulations and good luck.

Ms. FAKIH: Thank you, Tony. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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