How does a woman go from working at KFC to becoming a contestant in the Miss Universe Pageant? Ask Joyce Giraud.
PHOTOGRAPHY Matthew Mitchell
It's about a girl. Not just any girl, but one you've seen before. On TV, guest spots on Baywatch, The Bold and the Beautiful, Clairol TV and print campaigns...somewhere. It's hard not to recognize the dark hair, the porcelain skin and the eyes like obsidian, deep pools of liquid darkness that give new meaning to doe-eyed. You try desperately to recall the glimpse. Where? In what? In a second, it evaporates. All of a sudden you find yourself ordering a Frappuchino at Starbucks on Sunset and La Brea for Joyce Giraud, former Miss Puerto Rico and 2nd Runner Up in the 1998 Miss Universe Pageant.
In an instant, it somehow makes sense. And none of it really even matters anymore. The need to remember the magazine or the commercial or the guest appearance is gone in a flash. As familiar as she seems, the slate is fresh, wiped clean. Even the Google search biographical notes hastily jotted down inside the binder on the table in front of you lose their significance.
I'm having coffee with one of the ten most beautiful women in the world, and she's acting like my long lost friend, smiling sheepishly because I've insisted on picking up the tab.
At the table, Joyce Giraud settles in for a casual chat, calmly asking in perfect Caribbean Spanish what language we'll use to conduct the interview. We settle for an organic fusion of both. In English, it sounds as if she could just as easily be from Anaheim.
“I grew up speaking English,” she explains. Add the fact that she began modeling at 14 and was an international sensation by 18 and it's easy to understand her facility for language.
About the decision to participate in the 1998 Miss Puerto Rico beauty pageant Joyce Giraud is flip.
“It was a dare. One of my best friends dared me to do it,” she recalls. She had, she says, already outgrown the pomp and decorum of beauty pageants. As Puerto Rico's reigning Miss Venus and Miss Atlantis, the beauty pageant regimen had worn thin.
Her priorities were by then elsewhere, says the statuesque model and actor who has made Hollywood home for almost two years. The product of a single parent household, she was committed to her profession and her mother.
According to Giraud, she was more interested in buying her mother a dream house and earning enough so that her mom would never have to work again. When her older brother left home to join the Air Force, a teen-aged Joyce remained at home, promising to provide for the woman who had given her so much.
"We're really close. We still talk on the phone everyday," she says.
When Joyce won the 1998 Miss Puerto Rico crown, a title that meant she would represent Puerto Rico in the contest for Miss Universe, it was discovered that she had posed for a risquŽ ad campaign. A series of photographs pictured her topless with hair draped over her breasts. Joyce confronted the challenge with grace. And the people of Puerto Rico stood by valiantly by her side, bombarding pageant offices with calls in her support.
After careful consideration, the photos were deemed acceptable. Measured against the cultural standards of Puerto Rico, the advertising photos were far from the equivalent of Vanessa Williams posing for Playboy. Joyce was allowed to keep her crown and proudly represented the island in the prestigious Miss Universe pageant.
"It's just incredible to know that you have your country's support behind you. The love I felt from the people of Puerto Rico made it all worthwhile," says Giraud.
As a contestant for the Miss Universe crown, Joyce Giraud became the odds-on people's favorite for her down-to-earth demeanor. In the finals, she astonished audiences around the globe when she cited Nelson Mandela as her biggest inspiration. From Mandela, she told the pageant host, we have learned that what people carry in their hearts and in their minds matters more than the color of their complexion.
Selected 2nd Runner Up, Giraud was invited to appear on television in the Philippines.
"I learned to speak some Tagalog. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me up to then," Giraud remarks. "I knew then that I wanted to be an actress." When she got back to Puerto Rico, she packed her bags and moved to LA.
"I got here with my suitcases and that was it. I didn't know a soul. It was so lonely. I was homesick," she adds.
Dressed in a sleeveless Rolling Stones t-shirt, black jeans and spiked heels, she cuts a cool figure. A black leather wrist-band completes the rocker chick look ensemble.
"I used to be into Latin pop, you know, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias," she admits freely. "Since moving here, my tastes have changed quite a bit." She is now, she claims, equal parts Shakira fan and Sunset Strip alt-rock world denizen.
Since moving to Hollywood, where she now shares an apartment with a chihuahua named Rocco—a gift from a love interest—she has managed to talk a childhood friend from Puerto Rico into moving out, and earned considerable work as a guest star on a range of network shows.
"I've been lucky. I've gotten enough work as an actress to live on," she says with modesty. She is excited, she's confides, because she's just heard from her manager. It seems she's been offered a lead role in a feature length independent film. According to Giraud, it's come down to negotiating her fee. She's making plans as we speak to celebrate the offer over dinner at Koi, the A-list, see-and-be-seen sushi restaurant located on La Cienega Blvd.
In an ironic twist on the Cinderella story, Joyce opened a modeling school for young girls in Puerto Rico with her mother before relocating to Los Angeles.
"I wanted her to have something to do, something to keep her busy so she wouldn't miss me as much," Giraud explains. Despite all her success, imminent status as an It Girl and ravishing bombshell good looks, her biggest satisfaction has come from the success the modeling academy which bears her name is having with its students.
"Everyday I hear about one of the girl's getting a contract or winning a beauty pageant. They're my girls," she says with almost maternal pride. "They meet me at the airport whenever I go home. They still call me 'Missi.'"
To her mother's friends, Joyce is still "La Nena," the baby, as in "como esta la nena? (how's the baby girl?)." It's a Puerto Rican thing that can also be the equivalent of "fine jaina" or "ruca firme (a fine female)." At first glance, someone like Joyce Giraud is easily written off as eye candy, or as we say in some barrios, "un taco de ojo." A half-an-hour in her company is enough is enough to prove otherwise.
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