Seattle native Leah Li crowned 2013 Miss Chinatown USA

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

Photo by David Yu Photography

Seattle is a title town again as hometown sweetheart Leah Li has won the 2013 Miss Chinatown USA pageant, as well as the pageant’s Miss Talent title.

Li won the title Saturday, Feb. 16 in San Francisco, beating out a field of 11 other contestants from across the country in front of a crowd of over 900 people to represent the Chinese community in the States.

Her win marks the third time in the new millennium that a representative from the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce has won. Seattle winners were also crowned in 2001 and 2008.

“We are very proud to have Leah represent the Chamber,” said former Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce President May Wan. “She not only has a beautiful fact, she also has a pleasant personality, good manners, respects the elderly, and is very poised. Her dance was beautiful.”

However, Li’s win is notable in that she did not qualify through a local pageant, nor did she have any previous pageant experience. Rather, she was appointed by the chamber of commerce to represent the Seattle community and went straight to California.

Li nearly dropped out of the competition due to her class load, but persevered despite staying up until 2 a.m. to finish her homework during pageant rehearsals. She is currently a junior at New York University studying media, culture, and communication. She also holds leadership positions in two NYU clubs.

The decision to go through with the pageant ultimately fell down to financial need — the winner of the pageant received a $10,000 scholarship, with the winner of the talent portion also taking home $1,000.

The pageant took place in four stages: a self-introduction, swimsuit round, talent competition, and an question and answer session.

As part of the self-introduction round, each contestant chose a hero or mentor to portray on stage. Li chose to portray Mu Guiying, a legendary heroine from China’s Song Dynasty and a prominent figure from the Generals of the Yang Family folklore.

For the talent portion of the show, Li chose a dance routine choreographed by her father, the renowned dancer Hengda Li, founder of the Hengda Dance Academy in Seattle. The routine incorporated multiple types of dance, from modern and ballet to Chinese folk dance.

During the question and answer potion, Li shared a romantic gesture: when a boy she introduced to her parents learned Chinese to show respect.

Her performance won her the $1,000 talent scholarship.

Despite her lack of traditional pageant training, Li was smooth and poised, made no mistakes, and performed strongly during each section of the competition.

Though this was her first pageant, Li grew up on the stage, learning to dance from an early age. She has also taken acting, music, and modeling classes, served as the emcee for many of her father’s dance performances, and won several dance awards.

Despite her strong performance, her father was nervous as the judges announced the winners.

“The first announcement was Miss Talent, which she won, so we thought, ‘Oh boy, she doesn’t have a chance,’ ” said her father.

But Li went on to sweep the competition.

On the day following her victory, Li visited 10 of the Chinese family associations in San Francisco. The national Li family association will be awarding her a gold medal.

She will participate in San Francisco’s Lunar New Year Parade this Saturday, Feb. 23, and is now qualified to participate in the Miss Chinese International pageant in Hong Kong.

Following this victory, the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a 2013 pageant after several years of not hosting. The 2013 Seattle pageant will take place on Sept. 7 in Bellevue. (end)

Charles Lam can be reached at

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