Miss Universe Malaysia 2015 is a small-town girl at heart, with a thirst to learn.
She skydived off a plane in Byron Bay in Australia, bunjee-jumped off the Middlesborough Transporter bridge in Britain, jumped off cliffs in Arizona and climbed Mount Kinabalu. Winning the Miss Universe Malaysia 2015 title seems almost tame in comparison for Vanessa Tevi Kumares, who beat 16 other aspiring beauty queens.
“I was almost in shock and it didn’t really register until the next day when I saw my face on the front page of The Star. Then, it hit home that hey, that’s me, this is real!” exclaims the 24-year-old tourism management graduate.
A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Vanessa was a state-level synchronised swimmer and badminton player back in school, and was game for adventure and anything that would get her heart pumping. Sports took a back seat to her studies, however, once she entered college. There, she excelled in a different arena altogether.
“I was kind of average in secondary school. I studied Science then, but I’m more of a people-person and love interacting with others. At Taylor’s University (Lakeside campus, Selangor), I did well and was at the top of my class. Guess when you enjoy what you’re doing, it comes easy,” she says.
Amiable and congenial, the 170cm tall beauty carries herself well and slips into her new beauty queen shoes easily enough as she’s used to the buzz that comes with being in the service industry. After graduating from Britain, she interned at the Marriott in Chandler, Arizona, United States, for a year before working for a hotel in Singapore.
Since her win, her life has taken on a whirlwind pace. Just before this interview, Vanessa had an earlier radio interview and was going on TV in the evening. Like any other beauty queen, her schedule will be filled with training and grooming workshops, interviews and photoshoots. It’s going to be a heck of a ride for our Miss Universe Malaysia as she prepares for the Miss Universe finals in China later this year.
“I’ve been following the pageant since 2012 when Andrea Fonseka was the national director. I’ve watched past winners such as Carey Ng and Kimberley Legget, and admire how they’re grown to become poised, confident women,” she says. In fact, Vanessa had applied to be a contestant when she was 19, but later decided she wasn’t ready then.
Through this pageant, she hopes to introduce Malaysia to the other beauty ambassadors and give them a taste of Malaysian hospitality.
“I’m so excited to meet all the other contestants! I would introduce them to our culture, lifestyle and multifaceted society. Given the chance, I’d love to be their guide in Malaysia and introduce local food to them. After all, food connects people!”
She lists Ellen De Generes as one of her inspirational figures as “she’s funny, entertaining, yet gives values and heart to what she does.”
Some people have likened beauty pageants to being no more than cattle shows, which is demeaning to women. Vanessa, however, is of the opinion that there are many positive aspects to a pageant.
“I respect that some people may not approve, but then, it’s different for everyone and what you make of it. It’s your choice not to participate if you’re not comfortable with it,” she says.
“For me, even in the last few months running up to the pageant, I’ve learnt so much, from just talking to people to how to take care of my skin and use make-up; to improving my speaking skills and juggling the hectic schedule, and so much more. It’s challenging, but it’s also a great learning experience. I’m enjoying the whole journey.”
Her list of accomplishments doesn’t stop there as she also has a grade eight and teaching certificates in ballet.
“My parents enrolled us in so many things when we were young! (Vanessa has a sister). “I took mental maths and learnt Indian classical dance up till I was 12. I even took piano lessons, but dropped it after grade three since I had too many things on my plate. But I enjoyed it all and am grateful to have had the chance to be exposed to so many different things.".
Of Indian-Chinese parentage, Vanessa credits her father, a police officer, as being her biggest influence because he taught them perseverance and to pursue their dreams. Her sister Sylvia, 20, is a national badminton player and a ballerina as well, and “more of a daddy’s girl than I am. He’s stricter with me, maybe because I’m older.” Her mother, who works in a bank, provides the balance with her softer parenting style by playing “the good cop” role.
While admitting to having a competitive streak, Vanessa says she doesn’t let losing get her down.
“I may not win all the time, but I learn something new and I’m inspired to up my game,” she says, adding that her parents are very supportive.
Though it was amazing being crowned Miss Universe Malaysia, one of her happiest moments, Vanessa recalls, was when her parents attended her graduation in Britain.
“I’m very independent and was left to fend on my own when I was abroad. It meant a lot to me to have them there with me.”
Born in Kuala Lumpur, Vanessa grew up in Seremban and confesses to “being a small town girl”.
“Over the weekends, a bunch of ex-schoolmates (from SMK Puteri) and I would get together back in my hometown to catch up and have fun, and then we’ll head back to the hustle bustle of the city for the week.”
Asked what was the one thing she would change about herself, she replied: “I would like have a more toned body. Generally, I eat healthily (since I’m into sports), but I do love food!” she explains, adding that she has a weakness for nasi lemak.
“Also, the one thing I would love to do is pick up my father’s language. I can understand Tamil, but I can’t converse in it,” adds Vanessa, who speaks fluent Mandarin and learnt Cantonese from her friends.
Having a passion for children, she envisions setting up a foundation for underprivileged kids to help them go on educational workshops and widen their horizons.
After the dust has settled, Vanessa hopes to be able to open a cosy cafe of her own one day.
Well, by the looks of how things are turning out for her, the world is her oyster.