Jeff Lee saw the Miss Universe Pageant at his cousin's California home in 1995. "Pudgy, legally blind without his glasses, [and] deaf in one ear," the 9-year-old was captivated, feeling "an ache inside, something like longing," writes Burt Helm. In a sprawling profile in GQ, Helm traces the hyper-ambitious Lee's journey to becoming a "professional beautiful-woman coach" for Miss Universe hopefuls, most recently in Malaysia. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Lee, 30, has always been driven—by both his parents (a "tiger mom") and himself. "In life, everyone is judging us all the time." Helm writes, summarizing Lee's worldview, "Why shouldn't we be our best?" He started SAT prep at 11, gained entry to Stanford University at 16, graduating at 20 to go onto Yale Law School, ultimately landing at the creme de la creme of US law firms before, in 2015, heading back to Stanford for his MBA.
Through it all, he carried with him the fascination for Miss Universe. His break came more than a decade ago, when the father of a contestant for Miss Venezuela (a feeder program for Miss Universe) asked Lee—who had made a website on that country's pageants—for advice. The contestant, the late Monica Spear, advanced to Miss Universe, bringing Lee with her. Since then, he has coached Miss Universe contenders from Albania, China, and Indonesia. Lee is blunt in his assessment of contestants: "This is a beauty pageant," he says. "I'll say, 'Your nose needs some fixing.' That's just a statement of fact." But Lee, a relentless taker of selfies, holds himself to the same high standard, once dropping to 3% body fat to win an Equinox fitness contest: "It's about credibility. I'm able to say to these girls I know exactly what this diet looks like." Read the whole profile here. (Read more Miss Universe pageant stories.)