With a look of sheer disbelief on her face and eyes welling with tears of joy, Christine Pillow found out she'll be flown to New York in January to compete for a $250,000 modelling contract with Ford Models after being crowned the Maltese Ford Supermodel of the World at the InterContinental Hotel on Friday night. She will also become the face of Diet Coke 2006.

Christine, an 18-year-old sales assistant from San Gwann, was one of 15 female finalists who participated in the fashion show event organised by Pierre Camille and Modern Elegance magazine. Stephanie Hodgkins, a 19-year-old make-up artist and sales assistant from Swieqi, scooped second place with 15-year-old Stephanie Ganado, a student from Balzan, coming third. Marc Borg Spiteri, 17, from Marsacala won the male section to represent Diet Coke next year.

And it wasn't an easy path to the top... over 200 people had entered the competition in May, 52 were shortlisted and the 15 finalists were picked at the preliminary auditions in June. They were then polished up, trained and moved into a shared house to be filmed for the reality TV show The Search. The final episode of which will be aired on Tuesday at 9.30 p.m. on PBS and will feature backstage footage from the final.

The same competition was held in different countries all over the world and in New York Christine will compete against the 54 other national finalists for the ultimate Ford Supermodel of the Year title. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Christine, "she will stand a very good chance of becoming Malta's first supermodel to work professionally with the world's most respected modelling agencies - Ford models," Modern Elegance editor Sarah Borg said.

Iris Minier, a Ford Models director, flew in from Paris to audition each of the finalists who commented on the impressive choice of the lucky 15. She said that very few countries had so many finalists with the right credentials.

Mrs Minier was also one of the panel of judges who decided the fate of the finalists on the night, along with Sharon Cachia representing Women Secret and Christine Pace for Top Shop - both labels were used in the fashion show along with items from Beatrix by Charles and Ron. The male finalists modelled the Sir Edward collection.

Wilfred Camilleri from Diet Coke, Graziella Fava representing the Chemimart Group, and Patricia and Giuseppe Piazzi, directors of the Italian model management agency, Eye for I, completed the judging team.

The other 12 finalists were Racquele Abela, Justine Bartolo, Kristen Buhagiar, Joanna Butterworth, Elaine Calleja, Vanessa Cassar, Bianca Darmanin, Petra Galea, Sarah Ganado, Rachel Mifsud, Kim Vella and Lana Xuereb.

So fingers crossed for 'our' supermodel Christine with her quest to take on the fashion world.

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