- Associated Press - Thursday, July 8, 2010

DETROIT (AP) - Rima Fakih said she’s learned to fear no question since competing for _ and becoming _ Miss USA.

That includes questions asked during the May contest in Las Vegas in which the 24-year-old Miss Michigan from the Detroit suburb of Dearborn took the national crown. But it also includes the media interrogation that began afterward, when photos emerged of her pole-dancing in skimpy shorts and a tank top at a Detroit radio show promotional event in 2007.

“Once you’re successful, everyone’s going to feed on that success,” Fakih told The Associated Press on Thursday between events honoring her at Detroit Medical Center, where she’s on leave from her job as a marketing representative.

“I’ve learned to be so proud of who I am to the point where I fear no question,” she said. “I have no problem because I know who I am and I feel like it’s for the world to either accept it and if not, that’s fine.”

The Lebanese immigrant’s first homecoming since the competition includes an invitation-only gala Friday at Detroit’s Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel. It’s a fundraiser for The Pink Fund, which provides financial aid for people diagnosed with breast cancer.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn graduate also is scheduled to receive a key to her hometown Saturday and give a talk aimed at young people.

She said she’s had a lot of local support from people who knew the pole-dancing photos were merely part of “a silly morning show” event “for just women.” It was meant to be about exercise, she said, not eroticism.

What she and her supporters didn’t understand was why the station _ and a friend who took those pictures _ would send them out “for the world to see.”

“I’m not going to deny the pictures _ they’re really (at a) bad angle and they’re ugly,” she said. “However, they’re not what they’re trying to make it out to be.”

The show’s producers said in May they were contacted by representatives of the Miss Universe contest requesting more photographs and information. But the show also noted that the photos were no more provocative than anything on the Miss USA website.

Reginald Lee, the medical center’s senior vice president of physician recruitment and development and the man who hired Fakih, said she’s handled the adversity well. He’s been impressed by her demeanor in the national spotlight _ acting much as she did in department meetings.

He was among dozens of colleagues gathered to welcome Fakih at a private reception where video of her crowning was projected onto a wall.

Karen Rychlinski, who worked with Fakih at her previous job recruiting physicians, said Fakih was hardworking and humble, and deserves her success.

“We didn’t even know she was competing for Miss Michigan until she won,” said Rychlinski, director of physician relations at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “It’s just nice to see someone go after a dream.”

Fakih was born in Lebanon and moved to the U.S. as a baby. She was raised in New York and moved to Michigan in 2003.

She said she’s proud to be seen “as a different kind of Miss USA.”

“I come from an ideal American, melting pot family that has immigrated to this country _ becoming citizens and being so proud to be part of a country that has so much opportunity and freedom,” she said.

After a world tour that took her to Rwanda and China, Fakih is focused on her next milestone: competing for the Miss Universe crown next month in Las Vegas.

Still, if it all hadn’t worked out, she imagines she’d be at the hospital on this day _ minus the crown, sash and co-workers who are a little more adoring than usual.

“Thursdays are busy days, so I probably won’t leave the hospital until 7 or 8 o’clock at night,” she said. “I was always a hard worker. That’s probably why Miss USA wasn’t too difficult for me to do and work so much because I enjoy it. … I enjoy being put to the test.”

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