ONE hundred pairs of eyes watched intently as a make-up artist did her stuff. The girls came in all sizes - fat, thin, with glasses and without. Some were pretty, some were not. Many were there for the free make-up samples, others for hairdressing tips. Another set of eyes, belonging to the organiser, TVB, was focused on the audience. This was more than a make-up demonstration - it was the first step on the long road to the annual Miss Hongkong pageant. It was a recruitment seminar. And while tips on how to make it on the catwalk were being handed out, TVB scouts were hovering, ready to jot down phone numbers of potential contestants. Videos showed former contestants smiling sweetly as they glided down the catwalk. There was no sign of talons drawn or the nerve-racking pressure of participation. The organisers insisted the exhibition was designed to encourage more contestants to enter the competition so the judges would have a wider choice of girls. However, the event seemed more like a hard-sell business pitch. Ms Lily Chan, assistant controller of TVB's external affairs division, said: ''There are a few pretty faces in there, I have spotted a few potentials. We will definitely approach them after the seminar and see if they are interested. We will take down their telephone numbers so if they don't turn in their applications, we will do some follow-up work. We hope they will turn it in, of course, but if they don't we will follow it up for sure. ''We will help them make up their mind. If they are interested in coming to the exhibition, I think they at least have some interest in taking part. I think it is just a matter of giving them that final push.'' But was putting so much effort, time and resources into staging such an exhibition worth it? ''It is not essential, but it offers good exposure to the girls. We want to arouse their interest, this is not just a beauty pageant, there are a lot more things they can learn through the experience. We will be having more formal seminars after the applications are through. This is just a preview of what we have got to offer. We certainly don't have to do this,'' said Ms Chan. ''I think many girls in there are certainly interested but from my experience I don't think they will let you know they are committed to this kind of pageant. They will say they will go home and think about it. I guess it is human nature, they are shy. ''We want to give these young girls exposure. We want them to know about make-up, hairdressing, we want to arouse their interest. We want them to know it is not just a competition but an experience. The idea is to get more contestants. We did this last year and we got a few girls to sign up afterwards, so yes, it is worth our while.'' At afternoon's end, the girls were shuffled into another section for a series of talks on the magic of the pageant. Beauty queens past and present took to the podium singing the praises of the competition that had changed their lives. Ms Rosa Chan, Miss Hongkong Pageant deputy project manager, denied TVB was encouraging young girls to take part in a degrading and outdated event. She said many doors were opened to the reigning queen. ''No, I don't think pageants are out of date, they go on all around the world,'' she said. MANY girls want to be beauty queens because Miss Hongkong is really the event of the year, it draws a lot of attention. It is a good platform for a girl who wants to enter the entertainment world. To me it is not degrading for a woman to parade on stage, it gives the girls an opportunity to let more people know their good points,'' said Ms Chan. ''TVB does this competition because it is good for Hongkong. Miss Hongkong does a lot of promotional work. We have more than 10 overseas trips for the Trade Development Council and the Tourist Association. They also do a lot of charity and promotional work.'' And the girls, some of whom have become major stars, are also quick to praise the pageant. ''Yes, I have enjoyed being Miss Hongkong. I have met a lot of people. I have made a lot of friends,'' said last year's Miss Hongkong, Emily Lo. ''First of all I felt embarrassed displaying my body but after the training you gain confidence. Overcoming the pressure is important. If you feel comfortable you enjoy it much more. '' Shirley Cheung, second runner up in last year's competition agreed. ''Even though I am not in the frontline I do a lot of things. I have travelled to Japan and China as a goodwill ambassador. I have done a lot of community work,'' she said. ''As for the future, I will probably hang around in the entertainment industry but more behind the scenes than in front. I've got my marketing degree. Beauty queens are not stupid. The competition is not only for people with beautiful faces, although many girls go into it because they are told they are pretty. I am here to tell the girls to try and open their minds, to learn and experience new things, and to take part in the pageant.'' Olivia Cheng, Miss Hongkong in 1979, had this to say: ''You don't have to be a movie star, you don't have to be a rich man's wife if you are a former Miss HK. I was in the entertainment business but now I just teach pottery.'' So was all this good publicity having any effect? A group of girls were giggling over a video of last year's show which showed three of Hongkong's highest paid, male sex symbols emerging from the chest cavity of a huge Egyptian sphinx. Aaron Kwok Fu-sing, dressed as a Roman centurion in silver, snatched a woman and gave her spin on the dance floor. She was promptly hijacked by Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, fitted out as a medieval troubador but was finally rescued by Andy Lau Tak-wah as a prince from the Punjab. So was this the stuff of every young girl's fantasy? Miss Chan Chi-yan, a 17-year-old student, said: ''I just came along to look at the pictures of ex-Miss Hongkongs. I am considering joining the competition but not for two years or so. I wish to further my studies. My classmates talk about the competitiona lot but I don't know if they would really join up when it came down to it.'' Another student, 20-year-old Miss Vivian Lo, who was dragged up on to the stage to take part in a hair demonstration, expressed the same sentiments. ''I am thinking about joining the pageant. But at the moment I want to continue with my studies.'' It will be interesting to see whether these two girls will be seen on the catwalk this year - after all there is still that telephone call from TVB.