Cal Poly Pomona grad competing in Miss California contest in Palm Springs

Since summer, I’ve been following the journey of one contestant in the Miss California USA beauty pageant.

Her name is Kelleen Lim Chea and she’s a recent Cal Poly Pomona grad. I got exclusive, behind the scenes access to her life as an aspiring beauty queen and how she made it to this weekend’s contest.

On Friday, I had a major feature air on 89.3 KPCC, the largest Southern California NPR station.

Here is the text, but be sure to listen to the report so you can hear my voice and audio from the interviews!

Good luck to Kelleen, representing the city of Anaheim and all the other ladies.


By Daniel Ucko

The “Miss California USA” pageant is this weekend in Palm Springs. Close to 400 young women are competing to represent the Golden State at next year’s “Miss USA” pageant. One of the contestants is a recent graduate of Cal Poly Pomona.

It’s a hot summer evening in August. Kelleen Lim Chea – or as her sash says, Miss Anaheim USA – glides across the floor of a rowdy Huntington Beach nightclub in high heels & a form-fitting evening gown. She’s leading a parade of young women in bikinis and lingerie. It’s a fashion fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds go to a campaign to help stop human trafficking. It’s just another day on the job for an aspiring beauty queen.

“I had this expectation of becoming a doctor but I just don’t feel like it’s my time or it’s my passion,” says Chea.

Since graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a chemistry degree, Chea’s had one eye on her career and another on beauty pageant glory. Now, she’s seeking the crown of Miss California. Med school will have to wait.

“And it’s been a struggle because I always knew this is what my family expected of me; however, deep down inside it just didn’t feel right,” says the petite 23-year-old.

But with her silky long black hair, winning smile and girl next door good looks, Chea is just right for pageant recruiters like Erik DeSando.

I met DeSando at a busy outdoor cafe in West Hollywood. He’s the middle man between pageant producers and the thousands of girls who apply for the Miss California and Teen USA pageants every year. He gets more than a dozen messages during our interview.

“The type of girl I attract for the contest is a five-finger girl. On the four fingers, we have loving, caring,” says DeSando.

“Then I point to my big finger, middle finger which is non-judgment. Then on the thumb, that’s where the beauty comes in.”

So now you know; the thumb is the most beautiful digit.

Kelleen Lim Chea tries to keep her beauty wholesome. Scar removal below the knee and teeth whitening are the only surgical enhancements she’s had. There are however other enhancements. Interview skills and stage presence are sharpened with the help of a pageant coach; Giselle Boone, a fashion show choreographer and former model. Chea & Boone spent the summer working on everything from posture to stage presence.

Competing in beauty pageants also means marketing a glamorous image through sponsorship deals. Sponsors help raise money, and Chea needs it. All contestants must pay a $1700 dollar entrance fee just to compete in this weekend’s pageant. That covers everything from food to personal security.

“You wanna do this? I will show you 15 different ways to get that money together,” says Miss California recruiter Erik DeSando laying out another unconventional beauty pageant formula.

“A girl has a 20-100 sponsor. A 20-100 sponsor is $20 from 100 people,” laughs DeSando. “Now it’s simple as hell, but think about it, you can find 100 people to give you 20 bucks.”

You can also find friends willing to work for you on the cheap as agents, photographers and stylists. Chea has tapped several. It didn’t always work out though. Several friendships, including with her now x-pageant coach Giselle Boone, were cast aside in the quest for the crown.

“I couldn’t say if it was me or the other party, all I can say is we’re just not in alignment for the path I’m going to,” says Chea.

“My mother, she would probably be wishing that I would be going to medical school right now. But she understands life is short. Do you what you want to do.

But the life of an aspiring beauty queen is short. Kelleen Lim Chea is 23. At 28, you’re considered over the hill – even if you’re a winner. But just showing up to compete can pay off handsomely in scholarship money, endorsements, modeling jobs and more.

And the winner of this weekend’s pageant also gets the chance to represent the Golden State at Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas next summer.

Live stream on Justin.TV –

Google results of my feature below:

Hard to be healthy – the bad, bad food saga


It’s hard to be healthy.

To me, healthy is in comparison to what I was my senior year of college: extraordinarily bus, underslept, and ferociously hungry.

I had little no time to make my own food. I barely grocery shopped (except for beer) and got by on Panda Express and Subway, with occasional sushi, In-N-Out, and Cantina Express.

None of it is healthy. Maybe a few healthy ingredients……like the lettuce on my burgers or the raw fish in my sushi.

But that of course was combined with all sorts of not so good stuff or decent stuff, but too much of it. [See: carborice, carbobread, fattyfriedorangechicken, fattavacado, etc.)

However, since summer struck and my former schedule (consisting of graduating, editor-in-chief duties at The Poly Post, 16 units, hint of a social life, a weekly column, a local beat and more) has turned into an internship at KPCC 89.3 three days a week. That means a LOT more free time.

SO I’ve been cooking, or at least making: lots of salads and smoothies and almost no fast food. Not to mention, regular exercise 2-4 days a week, compared to ZERO days a week during the busy school year.

But I’ve learned quickly that it’s not easy to eat right. It’s not hard if you eat every meal at home, or maybe live in San Francisco where the food is organic and excellent. But round these parts in Pomona, we’ve got fast food, fast food, fast food, and a couple liquor stores. Sure, there’s plenty of Mexican restaurants, but I can only eat tacos so much. [Sorry SoCalians]

I’m looking for more options. Maybe we should have some food parties. I just got some good recipes from my Jewish mother. Chicken burgers, chicken chili, ricotta pancakes, and a blender cookbook full of new ideas.

But what about when I’m interning at Current TV in Hollywood [6860 Lexington Ave]?

What about Pomona/Claremont area? I know plenty of spots I hit up in both towns. But most are either grossly unhealthy or more expensive than I want when I’m looking for a bite. Dante’s Deli and Boulevard Bagels on Diamond Bar, Cantina Express and Buen Taco for Mexican, Back Abbey, The Press, sushi and whatevers in downtown Claremont….

But I’m pretty sure a giant Chipotle burrito ain’t exactly what the doctor ordered either. But I have a big appetite, so salads don’t tend to fill me up unless there’s a lot of meat in them.

Everywhere I look, I see chains. That’s LA for you, right? Fuck that! Gimme something good to eat!

Fresh&Easy isn’t bad, but I’m not big on prepared meals. I tend to be disappointed. Prefer something actually fresh. Give em a sandwich bar! And Trader Joe’s in San Dimas is legit, especially for good sausage and beer and pirate’s booty. But after seeing SuperSize Me, reading all this crap about healthcare (I’m uninsured!), and diabetes and obesity, and waiting to see Food, Inc…’s bad out there.

Just as always, the corporate monsters survive. And they blame Americans for being fat. Consumers are only half to blame in my opinion. Now I’m not suing McDonald’s if I gain a couple pounds, but even its healthiest options (like the McSalad Shaker, ooohhh how clever) become just as fatty once you dress it. And who wants dry leaves? Not I!

I haven’t found my health groove yet…but going on a run today, so that’ll take the guilt off all the Starbucks I’ve been devouring (yuck!). Luckily and unluckily, my girlfriend works there and happens to love the place…and circumstances are, they’re fucking everywhere we are. Now I love me some iced coffee, but the cream and sugar make it probably close to the caloricness of a carmel macchiato (maybe?). Speaking of, *Bux has taken all the transfats out of their fresh frozen pastries. And yes, at least the licensed store on Cal Poly’s campus, they’re delivered the day or days ahead of time, and put in the pastry case frozen the night before, to be perfectly cool and moist upon your 7 a.m. nasty blueberry scone purchase.

Death to us all via mass consumerism, monopolization, and bad, bad food.

Online “journalism” today vs. a few years ago — funny!

Found this via, journalism

Says a lot about the changing landscape of online journalism….smaller news hole, many more ads and A LOT more out of control commenters. That’s of course good and bad — people are reading, but expecting more. I’m all about high expectations from the media, especially with the crap going around out there today (Fox News, dancing weatherman I’m looking at you), but I definitely feel users have gotten more and more just plain ridiculous and cruel online. They call even solid reporters names and question the littlest tidbits.

And at The Poly Post, the college kids don’t even remember to fill in their names and still accuse the editors of, essentially, sucking ass. Too bad we’re better than that, more mature, and smart enough to know that even the best writers and reporters make mistakes. We’re students after all, so we’re still learning. (Full disclosure: just finished up tenure there as editor-in-chief).

And speaking of journalism, I’ll be starting an internship at KPCC 89.3 next week.

What of this week? Revel in some post-graduation laziness and kick it at home in San Francisco with the folks.