Her Korean grandfather emigrated to Hawaii in the 1950s. She is of Korean, Hawaiian, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, English and French ancestry.Lee's mother, Toni, was president of Na Pua Ke Ali'i Pauhi, an alumni association of the school who petitioned the board for reforms.
Miss Universe 1997
Lee represented the USA in the Miss Universe 1997 pageant in Miami Beach, Florida, on May 16, 1997, a contest she won to become the oldest Miss Universe ever at the age of 26.
Lee and Al Masini along with funding from the state were forces behind the Miss Universe 1998 pageant being held in her home state of Hawaii, in Honolulu, for the first time.
Immediately prior to winning the Miss USA and Miss Universe crowns Lee pursued graduate-level studies in communications at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She also attended University Lab School for one year. Lee graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1989.
After her reign as Miss Universe she made several cameo appearances in movies and television shows, and has hosted many television shows in Asia and the United States.
She is the host of a regional television show known as Pacific Fusion, which focuses on Asian-American lifestyles. She has also hosted episodes of Great Cruises on the Travel Channel.