Frédéric tries his hand at judging and helps crown the new Miss USA 2005.

I got my first up-close glimpse of what life is like in the beauty pageant world when representatives of NBC, Donald Trump and Paula M. Shugart, the president of the Miss Universe Organization, asked me to serve as a judge for the Miss USA pageant, held in April at the historic Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, MD.

 Frédéric Fekkai
Frédéric Fekkai

The panel of judges—which included Olympic Gold medalist and swimmer Michael Phelps; actress Molly Sims, who co-stars in Las Vegas; boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, who appears in the reality TV show The Contender; fashion designer Pamela Dennis; and many others—all took the job very seriously, evaluating the contestants in three specific categories: swimsuit, evening gown and interview.

We had no contact with the contestants prior to the competition, which I thought was great, since as a judge, the first time I actually formed an opinion was while each contestant was on stage. Each of the categories involved looking for different attributes. Overall, I looked for confidence, poise, stage presence, intelligence, beauty, class and elegance. And I also took a great deal of time to assess each contestant on her sense of personal style—something that's critically important to me because it's the sum of all these qualities that counts. This enabled me to get a sense of who the contestants are as real women, rather than viewing them as mannequins or paper dolls.

And since I'm a hairdresser at heart, naturally I took time to check out the contestants' hair. I must say that it was certainly good to see the evolution of so-called "pageant hair." Many of the contestants showed up sans stiff, lacquered locks, opting to take a more modern approach with softer curls and more natural movement. In fact, one of my favorites—a style that was swept away from the face and worn in a simple, short, low ponytail—was worn by Chelsea Cooley of North Carolina, who took home the title of Miss USA 2005 that evening.

While I had to give up valuable time in the salon to participate on the judging panel, I was happy to get involved because I love anything that has to do with beauty. And while participating doesn't have an immediate impact on my business, it certainly goes a long way toward increasing awareness about the salon business and how we hairdressers are trendsetters.