DAVID BOWIE (1947-2016), PART 1: PERSONAL IMPRESSIONS

I watched the Golden Globes on a Monday morning two weeks ago in our shores, then took a brief afternoon nap when after I woke from my nap I checked my Facebook feed and found out about David Bowie’s death.  I was shocked about this as two days before he released his latest album Blackstar (on his 69th birthday) and most of the public (including myself) thought besides not doing press to preserve his health after his heart attack over a decade ago, there was no indication or news that he was dying.  It was disclosed upon his death that he was actually battling terminal liver cancer for over 18 months, and the lyrics of his latest album now turned from the typical cryptic and enigmatic we expect from him to finally being more explicitly elegiac, as it turns out David was actually saying goodbye to everyone.

Growing up I wasn’t as big a Bowie fan as I am right now.  I only first learned of him via his song “Let’s Dance”, which was promoted in the form of a boxing-style dance contest in Vilma Santos’s variety show (I suppose inspired by the album cover) back in 1983, when I was starting high school.  Then I saw the video in one of the video clip shows they used to show on broadcast TV in our shores then (shows like Video Hot Ones aired during the weekend mornings and weekday afternoons, among other shows).  Well, there was the very blonde David Bowie singing his song in the sweltering heat of a dive bar in what I later learned was Australia, interspersed with scenes of native Aborigines.  My naive, ignorant 13-year-old self was not aware about the Aborigines and their plight at the time, so my reaction to the characters in the underlying storyline was like, “What it the hell were those homely people doing in the video?”  I basically treated that plot as a distraction in those days.  Now, of course, I’m more enlightened and now get the commentary of the Aborigines’ plight and the onslaught of consumerism pervading our society (which rings especially true these days).

I had a similar kind of reaction when watching the video to the follow-up single, “China Girl”.  I was raised on my mother’s 1950’s notions of classical beauty so I thought–“Why did David Bowie think this plain looking girl is desirable?”  Admittedly to this day, the leading lady Geeling Ng would still not fit my notions of Asian beauty, but I’ve become more tolerant and respectful that different people have different tastes, and I have appreciated after seeing more recent pictures of her that she is looking good these days.   I also of course took notice of the Time magazine cover, that indicated what a big deal this recent success must have been.

His third single from the Let’s Dance album, “Modern Love”, I liked as a catchy tune, and though it’s basically a concert video, what I found notable (and slightly baffling to this day) was why did David after receiving a bouquet of flowers from a fan, then threw it back on another side of the stage?  I also remembered it being prominently featured in an obscure, now-forgotten TV series about a family who traveled to alien planets, and the teenage son became a big Beatles-level superstar in one of them by basically by playing a cover of this song.

The year 1984 was the year I became a voracious music enthusiast, listening to as many artists and genres that I could get my hands on.  Around this time David Bowie released his first single from his follow-up album to the mega-successful Let’s Dance, “Blue Jean”.  I wasn’t aware of his previous legendary personas at that time so I was enthralled at the stage guise he assume, “Screaming Lord Byron”, and I dig those neck moves in one of those close-up shots.  It was accompanied by a long-form version called “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean” where the dual role that David played “Vic” made more sense, though when I first watched it all those years ago, I found the ending headscratching (and a tad sad since the protagonist Vic didn’t get the girl).  Now, I understand the concept of “meta”, and how this video is a bit of a send-up of the legendary personas David assumed back in the 1970s.

In my teenage voracious music-phile phase, besides religiously listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 I also regularly buy and collect Jingle chordbook magazine.  This was probably my chief source of learning any music information in those days since imported magazines were a bit hard to come by (and beyond the reaches of my allowance), and finally this was where I saw pictures of  David’s Ziggy Stardust persona.   There was a Book of Lists in our school library and in the 1977 edition of that book, I was a tad surprised then to discover that David Bowie and Elton John were featured in a list of homosexual celebrities–but then, we live in such a repressed age then, and it was considered a “rare” thing in those days (I’m glad more have come out of the woodwork since then).  As I entered my third year in high school in 1985, there was the legendary Live Aid event and a major worldwide music video premiere–David Bowie and Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger dueting on a cover of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing In the Street”.  It was lighthearted fun, and I enjoyed it immensely.

In 1986, David made a couple of films and sang in their respective soundtracks.  Therre was the retro 1950s film Absolute Beginners and the Jim Henson-directed film Labyrinth.  Little did I know that the main protagonist, Jennifer Connelly, would emerge as a major actress (like earning an Oscar for the Russell Crowe biographical drama A Beautiful Mind 15 years later), but I have to say I appreciated her classic beauty even then–but David Bowie was a major scene-stealer as the Goblin King.  Both films were deemed unsuccessful, unfortunately, (though Labyrinth is now a well-regarded cult classic) and I know “Underground” was not likely going to be a Top 40 hit (because the sound was simply not as contemporary as what was playing on radio at the time) but I enjoyed watching the “Underground” video with those nice special effects.

Actually since “Dancing in the Street”, David Bowie was largely absent in the Top 40 airwaves.  So I was glad when as I started college, he returned back to the Top 40 with “Day-In, Day-Out”.  I actually loved this song at the time, but I know these days, this song and the album Never Let Me Down are regarded as one of his weakest works.  Still despite the obvious dated-ness and overproduction, I still like this song and the follow-up title track single.

I haven’t really heard any of Bowie’s more legendary early output except a casual glance of some TV specials and retrospectives until he released his greatest hits album Changesbowie  with “Fame 90” promoting the collection.   I was hoping the remake would chart, but well I now discovered why songs like “Space Oddity”, “Changes”, and “Ziggy Stardust” were so referenced so often, but I also loved listening to “Rebel Rebel” and “Young Americans”.  It also dawned on me how his earlier stuff have more accessible melodies and lyrics (even if they are high concept) than his later work.

With the exception of his Earthling album in 1997 and his last two albums (The Next Day and Blackstar), I wasn’t that keen on his later material (Tin Machine, anyone?).  But I started becoming obsessed with him much, much later, around 2009, triggered by a casual web article on the Entertainment Weekly website which featured this old 1975 video of David Bowie singing a free-association medley of songs with Cher in her variety show.  It triggered me revisiting and absorbing and rediscovering many of his 1970s work, and they never left my psyche ever since.  More on those in the next portions of this three-part essay.

On a last note for this section, I have to talk about his video for “Jump They Say”, from 1993’s Black Tie, White Noise.  When I first watched the video back then, I found it visually riveting with the early 1960s retro look (with David looking pretty crisp and dappe), though I dislike the melody and thought there has to be a way to rearrange it to make it, well, more “accessible” or more melodic.  On the surface, it seemed to almost glamorize suicide with those very pretty visuals.  However, i read that the song and video is David dealing with his older brother Terry’s death back in 1985.  With that in mind, when you look deeper, the “pretty” visuals had a darker message–it represents oppressive conformity, and we all know living in such a society is unhealthy as people are so different that to dictate and force one to fit a narrow mindset is inherently wrong.  The video now resonates to me more and to me it represents what is dangerously oppressive in the corporate world, and I feel this oppressiveness claimed a victim with my brother, Jonathan–just like in the video he jumped from a tall building, but I have to note David’s older schizoid brother Terry actually lay down on the train tracks to be run over.

COMING UP:  HIS INDELIBLE INFLUENCE IN THE WORLD

 

 

MISS UNIVERSE 2015: THE “CRAZY” ROAD TO THE CROWN (CONCLUSION)

I got three of the Top Five correct.  With Vietnam out of the Top 15 and Venezuela being less than stellar in evening gown, it paved the way for two very worthy contenders to make it in the hallowed Final Five.  And this combo turns out to be the most gorgeous and stunning Final Five combo in ages–it’s almost as good as the legendary Final Five in Miss World 2013, and as it turns out there are more parallelisms that could be had about that pageant and this one.  Another thing that is praiseworthy about this Final Five is the caliber of their answers–all of them delivered strong answers, which could’ve easily made them victorious in the previous edition last January.

AUSTRALIA – Monika Radulovic.  She had a human interest angle as she was a refugee from the war in Bosnia when she was a baby and her family had to emigrate to Australia.  But, like, say, Mister International 2015, she grew up a bonafide, dyed-in-the-wool Aussie girl, with a laid-back, likable, bubbly vibe about her.  She also has strong stage chops and an enviable lean figure that also made her finals worthy, and for most part she delivered the goods.  Sure, we can quibble the she tripped in the Top Ten evening gown, but her charisma could not be denied and hence she advanced to the Top Five.

Her Top Five question was about her views on impending legalization of marijuana in her country.  She gave a great answer about how recent findings show there are benefits to using marijuana especially for cancer patients, but government should still set limits regarding their use.

AUS

AUS U

Monika Radulovic, Miss Australia 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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FRANCE – Flora Coquerel.  Many thought her shocking exclusion from the Top 25 in last year’s Miss World despite topping the preliminary interview led to the rebalancing of points in this year’s pageant.  But she at least found vindication and more in her stint with this pageant.  The fact that she was a first-hand witness in the Paris terror attacks (she was attending the France-Germany friendly match with some other beauty queens and personnel from the Miss France organization when two suicide bombers were blocked from entering the stadium but still detonated their bombs outside of it) bolstered the human interest angle on her.  Still, her beauty was undeniable and so was her elegance that she managed to cast a spell even in a very simple red evening gown.  Even other contestants took notice of this, and many of them later professed they actually wanted her to win, and some of them were upset when she missed the final cut that they didn’t bother to vote.

Her Top Five question was related to the Paris terror attacks.  She was asked since she witnessed the attach first hand what is her suggestion on how to deal with this problem.  She answered that we should look into the underlying motives why these people act the way they acted and try to address their concerns, but she also added a parting note that the people of France should continue to live their lives as happily as they used to–I think she’s alluding to that now-famous Facebook message posted by the husband of one of the victims, Antoine Leiris that has since been renowned as “You will not have my hatred“.  Her answer may seem naive considering the depravity of these radicalized perpetrators, but still the courage to carry on with life rings deep and profound.  Even as she didn’t advance further to the Top Three, she made a big milestone as she’s the first representative from her country to make the Top Five since it won this pageant 62 years ago with the immortal Christiane Martel.

FRA

FRA U

Flora Coquerel, Miss France 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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I feel so proud that I predicted the Top Three correctly.  All three were up on their “A” game that it was a closely fought battle for the crown up until the bitter end.

2ND RUNNER-UP:  U S A – Olivia Jordan.  She was one common thread between Miss World 2013 and this pageant as she competed in both.  Obviously she finished higher in this pageant as in that pageant she was only in the Top 20 in the former.  She has stage presence, a buffed hourglass figure, and an outgoing, likable personality as her greatest attributes.  In her Miss USA stint and in the Presentation Show, she has a penchant for pink or red ballgowns, so it was a refreshing surprise she went for something different in the finals, with a while lace gown with a cape.  I had mentioned as a result she stole the thunder from Thailand’s much raved-about gown of a similar style, and it’s a savvy move that allowed her to advance forward.

For the FInal Five question she was asked about her views on gun control.  She gave an even-handed answer about how she understand the need that everyone needs to protect themselves, but then one must still need to look at the needs of society as a whole, and she is for more regulations, and was about to elaborate further on that until her 30-second time limit has elapsed.  Sure some might say Mz. Australia and France delivered stronger answers, but her answer is strong enough along with overall impact and the fact that the judges were American for her to make the Final Three.

The final question was about why should she be the next Miss Universe.  Admittedly, she rambled a bit and her speech was a bit unfocused, but she touches on points like she wants to inspire women to pursue their dreams, to bring equality between men and women, and empower women to step up.  She gave great points and despite the lack of organization, it’s a strong answer.

USA

USA U

Olivia Jordan, Miss USA 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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Former Miss USA winners Susie Castillo (2003) and Shandi Finnessey (2004) have a pageant-oriented YouTube channel called Pageantology and in their review of this pageant, they criticized the soundbites given to Olivia (talking about having small hands) as they know Olivia is a more accomplished woman that what they were presenting, and for the final answer, they felt Olivia could’ve also be more specific and mentioned the work she has been doing for Children of the Night (if you remember her stint in Miss World 2013, this was her Beauty with a Purpose project), a cause that tries to battle human trafficking.

1ST RUNNER-UP:  COLOMBIA – Ariadna Gutiérrez.  Her resemblance to actress Sofia Vergara was very clear and obvious from the get-go, and Sofia is an A-list celebrity.  It also happens that they both share the same hometown of Baranquilla (could they be related?) though it should be noted Ariadna was born in Sincelejo, Sucre before being raised in Baranquilla (about 244 km away) and represented her birthplace in her national pageant.  Ariadna was clearly competing with all guns blazing and almost no stone unturned, that it was indeed very conceivable among pageant fans and pundits that she would deliver that coveted back-to-back that only Venezuela achieved in 2008-09.

Of course besides the bombshell Sofia Vergara resemblance, Ariadna had the buffed bombshell body to boot, and she clearly knows how to move and cast a spell onstage.  Her strapless champagne sheath gown was also a shimmering vision that undeniably she would earn extremely high marks.  In fact, Perez Hilton noted that he placed Colombia at No. 1 in both swimsuit and evening gown–it was the question-and-answer rounds that the tides had turned.

For the Top Five question, she was asked about how to address the growing issue of drug abuse, and she gave a great answer about incentivizing education in the home to keep kids away from drugs.  Susie Castillo noted she sounded very well spoken in Spanish that the translator didn’t seem to capture well–on top of pre-empting Ariadna before she was able to complete her train of thought.  Perez Hilton noted that Ariadna threw subtle shade at the translator, and actually I’m on Ariadna’s side on this one as the translator should have allowed Ariadna to complete her train of thought before she jumps in.

For the Final Three speech about why she should become Miss Universe, this was for me her most vulnerable, as she only went into generics about possessing the qualities of a Latin woman and a good Miss Universe without specifying what about those qualities would make her an excellent fit.  If we base it solely on the FInal Three speech, I would’ve given Olivia the first runner-up and relegate Ariadna as second runner-up.  But then, well, there is the final look, and Seal serenaded her with his 1995 mega-smash “Kiss From A Rose”, and she undeniably looked spellbinding in her sexy sheath gown, so there is justification from her overall performance that she deserves to outrank Olivia Jordan.  Now, to be announced as the legitimate winner?  Before I proceed, we do need to salute this lady as she clearly gave her all and it was heartbreaking what happened to her–you never feel heartbroken or cry for Sofia Vergara (the usual emotions you tend to feel for Sofia were awe, intimidation, or amusement), but this fracas that happened to Ariadna opens up more tender, sympathetic emotions toward her döppelgänger.

COL

COL U

Ariadna Gutierrez, Miss Colombia 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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Three minutes with the crown…
Sofia Vergara (image courtesy of thedailynewnation.com)

MISS UNIVERSE 2015:  PHILIPPINES – Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.  At the risk of being accused of objectifying this lady, Pia has the potent combination of the four B’s:  “Brains & Beauty / Boobs & Booty” (a pretty catchy couplet, that I’m surprised no one seemed to have used it in this combo before).  The first two were already a given, but I didn’t notice the latter part of the couplet until the Presentation Show when she appeared in swimsuit–Gold’s Gym trainor John Quay truly whipped Pia to the best shape she has ever been, but what most prominently caught my eye was her jiggling bosoms during this round, and I loved it!  She is the winner of the BB Sweeptakes award for this pageant.  The last time we have an exciting BB sweepstakes winner was in the era of Miss Universe 2000 with Canada’s Kim Yee and the legendary Miss Universe 2002 combo of Germany’s Natascha Börger and Cyprus’s Demetra Eleftheriou.  I know lately pop culture is fixated on booty, but I love it when boobs are brought back in the forefront like in this case.  I have a feeling Emmitt Smith was spellbound by them that Pia was his number one choice from the swimsuit round onwards.  Niecy Nash might have gone, “You go, girl!” when she saw The Jiggle and was also her number one choice from the very beginning.  Perez and Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo might have been a bit more critical as obviously Colombia, Venezuela, Australia, Dominican Republic, and Curacao had the buffed, long-legged ideal (although I would also include Brazil in that list, but the judges overlooked her), but still marked her up because of stage presence, and in Olivia Culpo’s case, it might have brought back memories of her cleavage heaving evening gown back in 2012.

If I were to base my “fearful” forecast solely on the performance on the Presentation Show, I would have only placed Pia in the Top Ten and not Top Three–but I knew the energy of the crowd on finals night, plus the anticipated change in gown to the Albert Andrada creation would propel her higher.  Now, take note, at the time I posted the forecast, I didn’t know how the Albert Andrada gown would look like, but I was a bit underwhelmed with the red Oliver Tolentino creation during the Presentation Show–sure it turned out to be the best option available and there was a dramatic story before that red gown was secured*, but I was simply hoping that the Albert Andrada gown would deliver on the hype.  I saw a preview photo a few hours before the pageant finals was underway, and I still reserved my judgment–it was a piece of the bottom portion of the gown, and under dim lighting it looked like it was made of velvet, so I was wondering if it will shimmer onstage.  To my delight, it was actually made of shimmering blue silk gazar that shone brightly onstage and Pia delivered the elegant presence that the gown conveyed.  She then showcased the back, and there were lovely geometric patterned beading, and on top of that, she showcased that she also possessed a good booty, so she covered both bases very well.  In my reckoning, she was Number one starting from the Top Ten evening gown onwards, and I know Perez and Olivia Culpo started joining the bandwagon from this round onwards.

* Albert Andrada missed his original flight from the Philippines to the US due to the notorious Manila holiday traffic (aggravated by ongoing airport road construction) and the available gown options were deemed ill-fitting and dismal.  So Jonas Gaffud & company made a call to Beverly Hills-based Filipino designer Oliver Tolentino, and although he was out on vacation in Aspen, he was able to send  out a gown that worked under the circumstances.

For the Final Five question, she was asked about her opinion on the US reviving its military presence in our country.  She gave a very well said answer citing our long friendly historical ties since their colonization of our shores, and with that she sees no problem with that.  I know she would draw flak from left-leaning and self-proclaimed nationalist circles for that answer, but one must note that she was competing on US soil, so it should be understandable why she would be presenting an unconditional pro-US message.  But, I think to bring her A-level answer to the Janine Tugonon-level A+ level and to partly address the concerns of the leftists and nationalists, she could’ve added the conditional phrase, “Like the way good friends respect each other, and as long as mutual respect is observed…” she can then finish with the phrase from her original answer, “I don’t see any problem with that at all.”

She sealed the deal with her Final Three speech, as she showed she did her homework and was aware of the specific causes the Miss Universe Organization espoused (HIV/AIDS), added the current tagline for the pageant, and her momentary correction from “world” to “universe” was charming enough to showcase her presence of mind.  Let’s repeat what she said verbatim:  “To be a Miss Universe is both an honor and responsibility. If I were to be Miss Universe, I will use my voice to influence the youth and I would raise awareness to certain causes like HIV awareness that is timely and relevant to my country which is the Philippines. I want to show the world, the universe rather, that I am confidently beautiful with a heart. Thank you.”

PHI

PHI U

Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, Miss Philippines 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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In my heart of hearts, I was totally convinced Pia would bring forth our third Miss Universe crown if we judge from her performance throughout the finals night, though I was not counting my chickens before they were hatched at that moment.  So I was shocked when Steve Harvey announced Colombia as the winner, just like the Filipino audience at Axis theatre.  During the three minutes that Ariadna was crowned by Paulina Vega and did an initial walk, I underwent the five stages of grief.  I quickly went from denial to anger, skipped on bargaining and momentarily went into depression before going into the acceptance stage–perhaps it’s like Miss Universe 2012 all over again with Janine clearly being superior to Olivia Culpo but still the judges favored the latter, and maybe this set of judges just like the hotcha Sofia Vergara sexiness of Ariadna to trump out the sterling performance Pia delivered throughout (as it turns out, not the case).  Then, Steve stepped in again and the shocking correction heard around the world rang out.  It was the most shocking and dramatic coronation moment in a major pageant ever, and also the most awkward as I can understand Ariadna would not willingly relinquish her crown and sash to the rightful winner–good thing Paulina Vega graciously stepped in to remove the crown and sash from Ariadna to place it on Pia.  I have to salute Paulina for being gracious enough to give Pia a parting kiss after giving her the crown.

All this fracas made me realize that Pia’s road to ultimate glory was a very difficult, challenging one.  First were the dramatic three attempts before she clinched the Miss Universe Philippines title–it was well documented everywhere that she was the favorite to win in her first two tries that it was frustrating that it was denied her during those times.  Little did we know that after she garnered the drama will continue, as we have the now-famous Preliminary Show gown drama, and how she was not initially declared the winner by mistake.  When she did her final walk and Seal sang the classic dance hit “Crazy”, little did I know his song would also apply to Pia’s entire journey to the crown.  We have to hand it to Pia for handling herself with grace through it all, and now that glory is achieved, it will be smooth sailing for her from now on, though I don’t foresee visits to Latin American nations in the immediate time being…

The judges’ choice all along: Pia with judges Perez Hilton, Niecy Nash, Olivia Culpo and Emmitt Smith.

As a parting note, I’d like to share two of my favorite internet memes that came as a result of this.  First, the local gay club O Bar presented a parody show a few days later featuring their stable of drag queens, and added a musical element–when “Steve Harvey” came to correct his announcement, it was interspersed with Justin Bieber’s hit “Sorry”, and “Colombia” responded with a remake of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?”, and as “Miss Philippines” stepped forward to claim her crown, she mouthed Adele’s unstoppable mega-hit “Hello”.  There’s even a drag queen portraying “Miss Bulgaria” with her immortal gesture.  Check it out.

Then there is this lovely fan-art that superimposed a drawing of Pia with the Miss Universe logo.  It feels so apt, especially how Pia’s gown and styling so fits perfectly with the logo.

All images courtesy of Miss Universe Organization unless otherwise indicated.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

MISS UNIVERSE 2015: THE “CRAZY” ROAD TO THE CROWN (PART 2)

I got nine of the Top 15 correct.  It might not seem as much, but it was an extremely competitive year, and I thought that the performances delivered by Vietnam, India, Peru, Georgia, Italy, and Sweden were top-notch that they would go through, but the six ladies I didn’t get were in my “Bubbling Under” list anyway, so all of them were in my radar and have merits to justify their placements in this hallowed group.  Without further ado, let us start with:

INDONESIA – Anindya Putri.  I would’ve preferred India and Vietnam to advance over this lady, but I think the key reason why she edged those ladies out is that she was strong in personality and interview (a quality shared by her predecessor).  In her video soundbite shoe noted she’s a Muslim yet she was willing to sport a two-piece swimsuit, and then there’s the fact that she can rock an electric guitar and be a rocker.  Cool and modern, isn’t she?  However, if you pit her figure against the rest of the Top 15, she is clearly the weakest link and there is no way she could advance further.

INA

INA U

Miss Universe 2015

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Rocker chick

SOUTH AFRICA – Refilwe Mthimunye.   I’m glad they featured representation from the black African contingent this time, and I know they had two great options to choose from–Tanzania and this lady.  This lady got the edge, and I’m pleased she properly represents that less-regarded contingent.  There is another, more formidable, dark-complexioned contender, not to  mention the other formidable contenders out there, so she could not advance beyond this level, but still making this far is something worth celebrating.

RSA

RSA U

Refilwe Mthimunye, Miss South Africa 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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MEXICO – Wendy Esparza.  Prior to her arrival in Las Vegas, she seemed to be a formidable contender who was expected to keep up with the front-runners out there.  However, she doesn’t seem to sparkle at Las Vegas, and many reported she wasn’t at peak form.  Still, you can’t discount the strong fan base in Las Vegas, plus the fact they need to make up for the offenses committed by the pageant’s previous owner, that despite her lackluster performance she was still granted a slot.  But because of her obvious lack of motivation, she delivered her country’s weakest placement in a Vegas edition (remember:  wins in 1991 and 2010, a finalist finish in 1996, and a Top 10 finish in 2012).

MEX

MEX U

Wendy Esparza, Miss Mexico 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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BELGIUM – Annelies Törös.  She’s one of the pleasant surprises, but totally worthy of belonging in this hallowed group.  This deadringer to a young Vanessa Paradis (sans trademark gap tooth) competed with drive and fire during the Presentation Show–and you don’t typically see that quality in most European contestants, much less contestants from this country, and she delivered the goods with her buffed figure, her come-hither Lolita persona, and strong stage presentation skills.  She likewise put up a good fight during the Top 15 swimsuit round, but, well, the judges were a tad more impressed with a few others–she probably only missed it by small margin.

BEL

BEL U

Miss Universe 2015

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BRAZIL – Marthina Brandt.  This blonde was expected to advance to the Top Ten at the very least, and be in a nine- or ten-way battle for the coveted Top Five slots.  So it was a shocker to many (including myself) that she failed to advance beyond the Top 15.  All pageant fans and observers felt she has one of the best bodies in this competition, so she should’ve been a Top Ten shoo-in.  So what gives?  Some observers may point out her standing might have been hurt when she was called first in the Top 15 as the judges may have forgotten about her or scored the others at a higher scale when they subsequently appeared.  I also observed during her Presentation Show performance that as stunning as she was, her catwalk seems masculine for some odd reason–this was especially apparent when she was in evening gown.  I think that was another factor why the final night judges were not as wowed as they like their contestants to move more feminine.  But the real overriding factor was probably that they have to make way for one contestant with a more compelling human-interest story.

BRA

BRA U

Marthina Brandt, Miss Brazil 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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With the exception of one, the ladies who made the Top Ten were a worthy, fiercely competitive bunch.  In another year, any one of them would’ve been a Top Five shoo-in.  I got eight out of ten correct, as I was expecting Vietnam and Brazil to be in this lofty group, but, well, Vietnam missed the cut altogether and Brazil just missed the Top Ten to make way for…

JAPAN – Ariana Miyamoto.  I know the human-interest story of her being bi-racial in a society that prizes conformity and homogeneity is a compelling story that could be her ticket to make the final cut, even if I was more impressed with other performances.  I wasn’t that surprised she made the Top 15, and she does have merits to belong there.  But to advance further to the Top Ten, especially at Brazil’s expense?  All I can say is that obviously Emmitt Smith, Niecy Nash and as he attested in his podcast, Perez Hilton, were won over with the human interest angle that they definitely want her to go to the Top Ten.  But compared to the fiercer contenders out there, she was outclassed in the evening gown round.

I have to note that she changed her styling from the Presentation Show to the finals.  Remember that most of her appearances, she was sporting this stylish bob–for the finals, she decided to put her hair up in a bun (almost similar to when she competed in her national finals, but at that time it was more of a ponytail than a bun as she had longer hair).  I know her low-cut golden gown was roundly panned by Nick Verreos but in my opinion it is an interesting sight and she carried it well, but yes, I’m glad she didn’t make the Final Five, and most likely in relation to the rest she took up the rear.

JPN

JPN U

Ariana Miyamoto, Miss Japan 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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CURACAO – Kanisha Sluis.  She’s another big pleasant surprise for me, and I’m actually pleased she made the final cut.  She does have the looks, the buffed figure, and the statuesque height (6’1″) to make major impact.  The reason why I only placed her in the “Bubbling Under” list was because of her evening gown.  With Vietnam out of the way in the Top 15, she capitalized on her height, figure, and beauty to be a clear Top Ten shoo-in.  But then came the evening gown.  Okay, her red long-sleeved gown hugged her figure well and the fringes did create some interest, but the styling just reads old-fashioned.  Putting her hair in a beehive bun, even if it was more refined in the finals than in the Presentation Show, just made her look matronly instead of the gorgeous young woman that she is.   And because of that gown and styling she was out of contention for the Top Five.

CUR

CUR U

Kanisha Sluis, Miss Curacao 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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VENEZUELA – Mariana Jiménez.  During the Presentation Show, I was extremely impressed with her swimsuit performance–for me she has the best figure of all of them and the best swimsuit presentation.  I had visions of the swimsuit performance of her countrywoman Miss International 2015 Edymar Martinez.  She was again impressive during the finals in the swimsuit round.  Now, the issue was with the Top Ten evening gown–again, Nick Verreos hated her long-sleeved white evening gown, though personally I think it’s okay, although not really a wow, but with such a cutthroat level of competition failing to create a wow impact spells the difference between making or missing out of the Final Five.

VEN

VEN U

Miss Universe 2015

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THAILAND –  Aniporn Chalermburanawong.  I didn’t find her conventionally pretty, but she has competitive drive and charisma in spades, not to mention strong stage presence, sterling catwalk skills, trim figure, and a vibrant personality.  I presumed three Asians would be shoo-ins for the Top Ten this year and though yes, this year there were three Asians, I presumed that third Asian would Vietnam, not Japan, and thought Vietnam would edge this lady out in the final clinches.  Sealing the deal and assuring her spot during the Presentation Show was her shimmering white gown with trailing cape.  It was indeed one of the gown highlights for this year’s pageant, drawing raves from Nick Verreos and pageant fans and pundits everywhere.  But then during the finals, Miss USA (Olivia Jordan) decided to steal her thunder by wearing a gown with a similar design (though of a lacier variety), and the judges being American, would of course favor the hometown girl over this one even as this lady delivered a sterling performance.  Still, she should remain proud of her performance and she put up a superb fight.

Of course we should also note how unlike in previous years, they decided to take an unconventional route for her national costume–instead of the royal court-inspired designs or historical motifs, they went camp this year and used a tuk-tuk (a motorcycle with coach) for inspiration.  With online fan votes deciding the winning costume, her costume won.  In a piquant touch, her homecoming from the pageant featured a motorcade with her in a tuk-tuk.

THA

THA U

Aniporn Chalermburanawong, Miss Thailand 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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Homecoming in a tuk-tuk. (Image sourced from pageantsnews.com)

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Clarissa Molina.  I find her indeed a front-running contender as she has pretty good looks, statuesque height, and an enviable lean buffed figure.  She delivered a sterling performance in the Presentation Show and I expected she would put up a great fight for the Final Five.  She actually did just that during the finals night–truly sterling in swimsuit, and I love her white Grecian evening gown.  She added some flourishes in her presentation to boot, as she did some twirls during the swimsuit round and for evening gown revived the “Dayana Dervish”.  I know the Miss Universe Organization issued a directive discouraging everyone from doing that (along with the “Taliana Twirl” and the “Riyo Mori Gucci Flash”), but in my reckoning, it’s nice to see these things especially if it’s done well.  Perhaps that was the ultimate reason she was prevented from making the Top Five, but well, I still salute her for a job well-done and for putting up a great fight.

I’m slightly divided about her personality based on the reports I have gathered.  If I were to believe the Puerto Rican press, she was the main “bully” who almost caused Miss British Virgin Islands to withdraw, and this is so ironic as part of her story is that she’s a bullying victim.  But then, after the coronation brouhaha, she was one of two Latinas who bucked the trend and expressed her support to the real winner.  For many Filipino pageant fans, they would embrace her for that gesture.

DOM

DOM U

Clarissa Molina, Miss Dominican Republic 2015 debuts her National Costume on stage at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Wednesday, December 16, 2015. The 2015 Miss Universe contestants are touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the DIC Crown in Las Vegas. Tune in to the FOX telecast at 7:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Sunday, Dec. 20, from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to see who will become Miss Universe 2015. HO/The Miss Universe Organization

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COMING UP:  THE TOP FIVE