Lipinski occupies judges seat at Miss UniverseOlympic gold medalist joins Steven Tyler, Carol Alt on panel
When the offer to be a judge at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant came in, Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski jumped at the opportunity. For starters, she'd never been to Russia before and judging the internationally renowned pageant sounded exciting, which it certainly proved to be.
"Going to Russia was definitely on my wish list," said Lipinski, who will be spending several weeks in the country next February as a commentator at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games. "Moscow is a beautiful city.
"The pageant was such a great experience," she added. "All the girls were so great, and you meet the judges. I met a lot of cool people."
Although only there for a few days, Lipinski did some sightseeing, visiting the Kremlin, Red Square and some of the world-renowned shopping spots.
Lipinski's fellow judges included Aerosmoth frontman and former American Idol judge Steven Tyler, world renowned chef/restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa, model/actress Carol Alt, supermodel Anne V., hair care impresario Farouk Shami, watch designer Italo Fontana and Russian pop star Philip Kirkorov. They judged the final 16, narrowed down from an original field of contestants representing 86 countries.
The contestants competed in swimsuit, evening gown and interview. Miss Venezuela, Gabriela Isler, was crowned Miss Universe at Crocus City Hall in Moscow.
A longtime fashion maven, Lipinski wore a Badgley Mischka gown and Charlotte Olympia shoes.
"You don't get to dress up that fancy all that often," Lipinski said. "The after-party was great. It was just overall a pretty incredible experience."
Accustomed to being judged during her years as a competitive skater, Lipinski stressed a bit about having to turn the tables.
"It's a tough job," she said. "Figure skating and pageantry is a bit different, but I can relate to the fact that this is one of their most important moments in their lives and they have been working for this goal and this dream for so long. They take it so seriously. It was a big night for them, so obviously I took it very seriously. I was a little nervous because I wanted to make sure that the right girl was chosen.
"They're all beautiful -- that was the hardest part. When I first got there, I thought, 'They're all beautiful, they're all smart -- how am I going to pick one?' "
Each judge got to ask one of the finalists a question. Lipinski asked the contestant from the Philippines (who finished in the top five), "What can be done about the lack of jobs for young people starting their careers around the world?"
"All of them were so articulate, so well spoken, it was tough," Lipinski said. "It's really about their presence, how they hold themselves, their confidence. That's what stood out to me."
In preparing for her role with NBC at the Olympics, she is commentating the ladies events during the Grand Prix circuit. She's enjoying working with Johnny Weir, who is handling commentary for the men's events, and looking forward to Sochi.
"We had a big meeting last week at NBC," she said. "It hit me that this is what I'm doing now. It's an honor. It's really exciting. I'm super happy."
With Yu-Na Kim temporarily out of action with a foot injury, Lipinski has been carefully surveying the rest of the ladies field.
"You get to know all the skaters," she said. "Mao [Asada] looks really strong this year. She reminds me of the old Mao of 2010. She's so on point, so aggressive and so mentally prepared. I really haven't seen that from her in the last couple of years. The triple Axel is in the short and the free skate. Yu-Na Kim will have to be on point. It's going to be interesting."