THE PIA PAKARINEN PHENOMENON
STORY: PIA PAKARINEN
REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES
PHOTOS: JONNY KAHLEYN
MAKE-UP AND HAIR: KRISTINA DUFF
The Finnish beauty queen was crowned Miss Finland in March, 2011, and by September she had abdicated her crown amidst terrible press. “What happened?” we asked Pia as she arrived in America for the very first time.
A year ago nobody knew anything about Pia Pakarinen, a 21-year-old country girl from Juuka, Northern Karelia. Then, last spring, she won the Miss Finland beauty pageant and became an overnight sensation. The beautiful and well-spoken blond bombshell seemed to be everywhere. With great triumph, the Nordic maiden was sent to the Miss Universe contest in São Paulo, Brazil. That’s when things started to go haywire. Reports began appearing in the media that Pia insisted that her entourage be brought along and that she demanded money for interviews. She returned from Brazil empty-handed and was said to be canceling and/or missing gigs that she had previously agreed to do. She then dramatically gives up her Miss Finland title in a live TV-broadcast and denounces the organization behind it. Pia Pakarinen was a persona non grata in Finland. There was only one thing to do: Go Hollywood!
Enter Maria and Paul Kizirian, a couple who work at the Network modeling agency in Los Angeles. The Finnish-born Maria happened to know Wille Wilenius, a friend of Pia’s.
“Wille Wilenius contacted me to ask if it would be possible to introduce Pia Pakarinen to the people of Network. Paul had written an article for the Network website about Pia while she was competing in Brazil.”
That set the ball in motion. Maria Kizirian decided to take the bull by the horns and created a full schedule of meetings and events for Pia on her week long trip. The beauty queen arrived in Los Angeles on Friday, October the 14th. That weekend she attended movie industry parties that led to other meetings.
I and photographer Jonny Kahleyn first met Pia the following Sunday at Temptu make-up studio in downtown LA where we briefly shook hands. At first glance, she looked like a girl next door with her hair pulled back into a ponytail rather than an international beauty queen. But as soon as make-up artist Kristina Duff started working her magic on Pia, her eyes started to take on deeper dimensions, and her cheeks were brought out with blush. Her face was airbrushed with an instrument that looked as if it belonged in a doctor’s office and her hair was teased and blow dried to look like a lion’s mane. And, all of a sudden, this gorgeous woman was standing in front of me, looking demure yet seductive in a sixties-inspired electric blue gown that left her knees bare. We sat down to talk. The second impression, after her great beauty, was the calmness about her. It was as though she had remained unscathed by all the negative publicity.
“It’s my first time in America. I am impressed how friendly and talkative people are here. I like it when people can just come up to you and start a conversation.”
When she entered the Miss Finland pageant, she still lived in Eastern Finland.
“Me and my boyfriend moved to Vantaa (near Helsinki), in May.”
She does not seem startled by the sudden publicity.
“Everything has happened quite naturally. One thing has led to another.”
I ask her about the whole pay-to-play fuss, where she was being accused of trying to cash in on interviews while competing for Miss Universe crown in Brazil.
“While we contestants were there, all press interviews were supposed to go through the Miss Universe organization. They had press there and we were allocated specific times to be with them. Of course we gave those journalists interviews that were published all over the world.”
Things got a bit complex when reporters started calling her from Finland.
“Since I only had my own personal phone, I said to them that I should get some compensation. They did not ask how much or If I was asking for a few dollars or a million. Then the headlines appeared that I was demanding money for interviews. I only wanted to get my phone bills reimbursed. It costs even when you just answer the phone abroad. Former contestant had told me that after returning back home from pageants; they had to pay thousands of dollars in phone bills. And that’s not fair.”
The papers also claimed that Pia had asked for 5,000 Euros just to appear at a publicity party.
“I know nothing of that. Those matters are between Finnartists agency and the client, so I can’t say anything about that.”
There was also the incident where Pia had agreed to pose in a pin-up calendar put out by Maria’s Hospital in Helsinki. She was supposed to submit a publicity photo to the organizers. But Pia allegedly never responded to their repeated requests. Finally the gig was given to another model.
“I was in Brussels at the time and no one asked me for that promo photo. It was done and ready for them, so I could have sent it to them any time.”
She says she never received those emails or phone calls and that the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
On September 16th, Pia appeared on the live talk show “Korkojen kera” (With Interest). A tearful Pia, who showed up in the TV studio wearing her Miss Finland crown, took it off and resigned her Miss Finland title right then and there. The broadcast was on Friday. The next Tuesday she was due to meet with “Miss Baron” Eino Makunen to discuss her difficulties. Pia explains why the resignation could not have waited until after that meeting.
“I wanted to appear on the live TV broadcast because my words had been distorted and misconstrued in the past. I wanted to explain myself with my own words. It was not an easy decision. I had tried to talk to Finnartists (the organization behind the Miss Finland pageant) to improve things, but to no avail.”
She ponders for a long time when asked what this experience has taught her.
“Well, you always learn something new. There is always room for improvement – nobody is perfect. And I feel that I tried to improve things and get help. But it was never given to me.”
So, for better or for worse, Pia moved on and formed her own company, Luxury Promotions.
“I run it with the help of my boyfriend, professional footballer Niko Väyrynen. He has a financial background and takes care of the bookkeeping and other paperwork.”
The couple has been together for three and a half years. They make their home in Vantaa. Are we going to hear wedding bells anytime soon?
“We haven’t talked about it. We live together taking day by day.”
Through her company, Pia offers her services as a model and a hostess. She says she is working now more than ever before. I ask her if people who hire her will get a reliable working partner.
“There have been all kinds of stories in the papers, but I have received only positive feedback from people who have actually worked with me. They know what kind of a person I am. If someone wants to believe in the news stories, then go ahead. I let my work speak for itself.”
That’s a deal. We decide to test Pia’s modeling skills in practice. Our gang, producers Maria and Paul Kizirian, make-up artist Kristina Duff, photographer Jonny Kahleyn and I hop onto a rented minivan and head out to Malibu, the playground of the rich and famous, for a photo shoot. We chose Leo Carrilo State Beach where many famous movies, such as Grease, The Karate Kid, The Usual Suspects and Inception have been filmed. The reason for its popularity with Hollywood lies in its uniqueness from other Southern California beaches with its dramatic volcanic rock formations and the only sea cave within hundreds of miles.
It is early afternoon and the tide is rising. Pia poses professionally for Jonny, while Paul and I take turns holding the reflector. Every now and then Kristina retouches Pia’s make-up and brushes her hair from her face. It all may seem very glamorous, but we had to avoid other crowds of people and other photographers while it was getting cold and downright stormy. We climb to the sea cave with the tide rushing in and gigantic waves washing ashore, flooding the place we were standing just seconds before. Even though Pia was cold and at times shivering due to the strong winds, she never utters a word of complaint. She takes the waves, wind, onlookers and arduous hikes on the rocks in stride. The long shoot ends at dusk. We climb back onto the minivan and head back to LA tired but happy. I found Pia to be an extremely professional, reliable, co-operative, smart and charming person to be around with.
Pia’s LA week was eventful. She was taken to industry parties, visited the taping of Dancing with the Stars at CBS Studios, met with the Network modeling agency people as well as producer Chad Oman at Jerry Bruckheimer’s office. Maria and Paul Kizirian also showed Pia the less glamorous side of town. She visited the Occupy LA encampment in downtown.
“It was an interesting experience. I heard opinions from the people. They had camped out there in front of City Hall.”
Pia also attended a ride-along in an LAPD police car in the notorious South Central district. She saw the local police work in action – how they stopped and frisked suspicious characters, responded to domestic disturbance calls, and found drugs in one suspect’s car.
The purpose of the trip was to introduce Pia to Hollywood bigwigs in order to get her modeling career started in the United States. She sees herself more as a photographic model.
“I am perhaps not tall enough for runways (5’7’’), but there is plenty of catalogue work that I could do. Contacts are essential in this field. I would like to see how far I can get. I am very interested in working abroad.”
Pia was originally supposed to return to Finland on Friday the 21st, but she prolonged her trip in order to meet the CEO of the Nework modeling agency, Paul Fisher, who had been out of town. He is the man behind supermodels Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiefer. Her first visit to Hollywood couldn’t have ended on a better note.