Miss Vietnam USA

Contestants practice singing “Tu Do,” a Vietnamese song meaning freedom, during a rehearsal for the Miss Vietnam USA beauty pageant in Costa Mesa, Calif. Sixty women will compete for $10,000 dollars and a Mercedes-Benz sedan.

The week before the pageant the women labor 16-hour days full of fashion shows, rehearsals and photo shoots.

Exhausted, Truc Ngo, left, of Salt Lake City and Lanchi Nguyen of Buffalo, N.Y., take an afternoon nap the day before the pageant.

Leyna Tram, right, of Westminster, Calif., looks at a sexy pose photo her friend Jasmine Ho of Santa Ana, Calif., made of her.

Mai Lan Pham of San Jose, Calif., practices her smile in a mirror just off the stage.

The day of the pageant, Madeleine Thuy Dieu Koang of Vista, Calif., left, hugs her makeup artist, Kelley Cua. Three years ago Koang was hit by a car while riding her bike and doctors told her she would never walk normally again. After a year in a wheelchair she fully recovered, and says she entered the Miss Vietnam USA pageant to celebrate life.

Thy Nguyen, assistant choreographer for the pageant, looks for a medium size bikini top in yellow, the color signifying the women who made it past the first elimination round.

Other contestants rub Derma Blend coverage cosmetics over a burn scar on the back of Vicki Nhu Dang of Ventura, Calif., before the bathing suit competition.

Wearing red to signify losing, the thirty-five women eliminated after the first round of the competition joke critically about fat rolls on their skinny bodies as they wait to sashay across the stage. “We’re the losers,” says Diana Huynh of Los Angeles. “I want to go home and eat a big fucking cake, sit on my butt and not talk to anyone for a few weeks.” Another girl says, “I promised if I didn’t make the first cut I would jump into the freeway,” and a girl in the background yells, “Let’s do it!”

With emotions high and several more elimination rounds to go, the women try to keep their nerves in check and try their best. One will win. Fifty-nine will lose.