In a Miss Namibia edition with strong competitors and no obvious frontrunners, standing out would have been easier said than done. But the feat was seemingly effortless for Chelsi Shikongo, who wowed audiences and the judges - not only with her beauty and elegance but her fluency and grace.
Therefore, talking to the freshly-crowned Miss Namibia was one of this VIBEZ! reporter's coolest moments so far.
Chelsi Tashaleen Shikongo was born in Swakopmund in 1998 and was raised in Walvis Bay. She is the firstborn of Bernhard Shidengi and Mary Shikongo. She has six siblings.
Shikongo said growing up as an older sibling came with its own challenges. "I had a lot of responsibilities but I would change nothing. I feel very fortunate that I could be a part of most of my siblings' raising (upbringing) as well," she said.Shikongo spent most of her childhood in Windhoek before moving to the harbour town.
Shikongo said she grew up in a loving home and had a pleasant upbringing, despite the many responsibilities.
Journey of a model
Shikongo started modelling at the age of 15, and was inspired by her mother, who was also a model during her heyday. "I still remember a vivid memory of her doing modelling or pageantry." Shikongo has thus far taken part in five beauty pageants. However, she faded into the background, and only made it into the semi-finals in all pageants.
Last year, she gave pageantry a try - more confident with her natural short hair, and demanded to be noticed. She ultimately became Miss Namibia 2021, which makes it her first-ever title, and the only winner of the title from Walvis Bay.
In addition, Shikongo is also an international model, and has travelled to six countries in four years. "I have made the best of friends in the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Italy, America, Singapore and Germany - all because of my job as an international model. Cape Town is my second home because of my job."
Becoming Miss Namibia
The beauty queen reflected on her historic crowning, which she said changed her life. Dressed in a silky raw sienna-colour evening gown, Shikongo tearfully cat-walked as Miss Namibia 2021, before rushing back for a group hug with the other 14 finalists.
She said her mind went completely blank, and adrenaline rushed through her body. "I could not believe it was me because I strongly believed we all did well and it is anyone's game, but I also knew when I took my first walk that my hard work and investment paid off. I am nothing but grateful and excited to be a goodwill ambassador for Namibia."
Shikongo's win was both historic and controversial. The beauty queen observed that soon after she won the crown, conversations online revolved around her hairstyle, the evening gown she wore at the finals and her physique.
"I have been critiqued before, as I was already a public figure before I became Miss Namibia. Now my career is on a bigger platform. There is the saying 'with greatness comes a huge responsibility', and that's what I am focusing on - that is what I want Namibians to focus on - on how we can develop our nation together.
It is also part of life to have people who disagree - and that is okay. What should matter is how you talk to yourself; what you say to yourself," said the confident model.
Shikongo, who describes herself as a multifaceted creative, is aware that she has big shoes to fill when she heads off to Miss Universe in December.
"I am so honoured and it's a responsibility that I am so fortunate enough to take on and proud to be a part of."
Modelling vs Cashier
Shikongo spent several years working for Style clothing store, and said if she was not into modelling, she would have taken up the challenge with retailing.
"I would have probably still worked at Style as a cashier, as I enjoyed the job because I had a great manager and colleagues."
Social scientists believe names produce a Dorian Gray effect, influencing personality and how people are perceived. Could this be the case for Shikongo?
As it turns out, Shikongo was named after the late American actress Chelsi Smith, who was crowned Miss Universe 1995.
"I truly believe in the power of manifestation, hard work and prayer. Meditation also really helped me through a lot of days. Chelsi Smith is definitely proud of me right now; what an honour it would have been to meet her and feel her words of encouragement".
Her father could certainly not have given her any better name.
Shikongo does not only use her voice to spotlight issues that spark conversations, but has a great sense of humour as well.
Known as Jennifer in comic circles, Shikongo has a YouTube channel, titled 'Namibian humour girl', where she shares funny vines.
Shikongo is the founder of a campaign, 'I Can Say No, Namibia', a youth empowerment campaign that promotes inclusive sex education through comprehensive communication programmes.
Through this programme, she works with charity organisations to ensure better livelihoods for others.
"I would like to work on agricultural sustainability and the conversation around it -and how raising awareness about the relationship we have with food and how that affects our body image and mental wellness is definitely linked to Namibians investing in healthy living, and one of the methods for that is urban gardening.
Although she is not yet aware of what her prizes for Miss Namibia are, she aims to save it for her future charity projects, "because being Miss Namibia is about beauty for charity and I would like to create lucrative change with this platform that I was given - so definitely stay tuned", she concluded.