MISS EARTH 2017: MISSED OPPORTUNITIES AMIDST THE “NEW TRANSPARENCY” (PART 1)

This year Miss Earth had made some changes that looked very promising and potentially help recover its cachet with the international pageant fandom.  First was the “new transparency” as the former closed-door prejudging round are now staged as three separate grand events covering the three primary criteria for selecting the 16 semifinalists.  Then there is the promoted opening number, where the 86 Miss Earth delegates were dressed in superhero costumes of their choosing, obviously inspired by the resounding success of the Wonder Woman film.  But did these changes and gimmicks deliver the intended results?

The opening number began with a bang feautring those spotlights on three male dancers with the motifs of air, water, and fire behind them and the reigning winner, Ecuador’s Katherine Espin, sashaying to a remix of Dua Lipa‘s “New Rules“.  This then segued to the contestants’ live introduction in their superhero costumes, set to a remix of “Instruction” by Jax Jones featuring Demi Lovato & Stefflon Don.  The introduction was conceptualized with the 85 contestants introducing themselves in their superhero personas, not their real life identities (though a few like Belarus’ Poli Cannabis, introduced with their real names).  Now, I actually love the concept and I love the live energy of the introductions, though the candidates were probably rehearsing their spiels ad nauseam that in the live final their voices generally sounded worn out, rendering their announcement of their superhero personas almost incoherent.  The captions on the telecast were no help as it showed only their real names, not their supposed superhero personas–I wish the production also added those superhero names in the captions, too.

For most viewers, the best thing about this year’s pageant was the host, James Deakin*1, a famous transportation blogger and TV/radio personality.  I agree with that assessment, as James proved to be a smooth, confident, and energetic host who was very clear in setting the rules and guidelines on how the programme would proceed, and bonus points for being very easy on the eyes.  Arguably, we haven’t seen this high caliber of hosting since Bob Barker‘s 20-year Miss Universe stint.  But I do have a quibble with the style he announces the countries’ names–early in the proceedings his announcements came with a growl that made the feminist in me uncomfortable–it’s a tone that you tend to associate with either a monster truck show or a seedy bar contest.  But I’ll give James the benefit of the doubt here, as I know his intention was simply to channel the audience’s enthusiasm and energy with that announcing style.  Also, on a positive note, it also reinforced and reminded me of his passing resemblance to 300 actor Gerard Butler, and that now-immortal line “THIS…IS…SPARTAAAAA!!!!!”  I’m glad later in the evening the growl disappeared and it made him a better host that way.

*1 I only learned of him recently because of his posts on the state of Philippine transportation being shared by my Facebook friends.  I was initially under the impression he’s an American expatriate, but I found out after reading his biography that he’s actually Filipino-British born in Australia but moved to this country in his teenage years.

A selfie before his gig: James Deakin (source: James Deakin’s Instagram)

There are two international artists who provided the live musical entertainment:  Barbadian singer Shontelle and Indonesian violinist Iskandar Widjaja.  After the Top 16 semifinalists were announced and paraded in evening gowns, Shontelle performed her biggest hit, 2010’s “Impossible“.  Yes, she sang live, albeit with a vocal backing track.  She’s good, but well, about 90% of the vocal power she delivered in the recording.  Iskandar performed after the Top Eight hashtag round, providing background music for the Top Eight’s final look.

One major change in this year’s pageant compared to previous years is that they decided to announce the Top 16 for each criteria in the prejudging rounds, and those Top 16 would step forward briefly onstage to be acknowledged for their performances in each category.  There are pros and cons regarding featuring this step–I personally welcome it as we as an audience would have an inkling on who impressed the judges in teh preliminary rounds.  And I have to say, there were some surprises in those shortlists.

Because at least the ladies who did not make the overall Top 16 got their moment in the spotlight when they figured in the shortlists, let’s pay a little tribute to those non-finalists.

The non-finalists who figured in the Top 16 in Figure & Form were Brazil (Yasmin Engelke), Canada (Jacqueline Marsh), Panama (Erika Parker), Poland (Dominika Szymańska), Puerto Rico (Karla Aponte), and Wales (Sophia Bettridge).  I was a bit surprised by Canada’s inclusion, and it goes to show that there are divergent opinions regarding this ladies who medalled in their groups’ respective swimsuit competition like Ecuador (Lessie Giler) and Peru (Karen Rojas) didn’t make this cut.  Of course, sentimentally I wished Panama and Puerto Rico also figured in the other categories but the judges in those two categoreis would beg to differ.

Form & Figure Top 16 short-listers: Top (L-R): Brazil, Canada, Panama; Bottom (L-R_: Poland, Puerto Rico, Wales

At least Ecuador had the consolation of making the cut in the no-makeup Face & Poise round alongside  Bolivia (Giancarla Fernandez), Costa Rica (Fernanda Rodriguez), Honduras (Valeria Cardona), Israel (Elian Qupty), Serbia (Marija Nikić), and Ukraine (Diana Mironenko).  I agree that all the ladies in this list have comely faces but I wish there were room for the likes of Korea (Hannah Lee), England (Charlotte Brooke), Moldova (Veronika Bozovoi), Rwanda (Uwase Hirma Honorine) and the above-mentioned Panama and Puerto Rico.  I’m glad at least Israel got shortlisted here, as it served as consolation for her disastrous interview performance.

Six of the seven Beauty and Poise shortlist: Top (L-R): Bolivia, Ecuador, and Honduras; Bottom (L-R): Israel, Serbia, and Ukraine

Speaking of Interview (officially, Intelligence & Environmental Awareness), making the shortlist without advancing to the overall Top 16 were Belize (Iris Salguero), Costa Rica, Denmark (Sabrina Jovanovic), England, India (Shaan Sunas Kumar), and Indonesia (Michelle Alriani).  Most of the Group 2 ladies who spoke English were not recorded for the interview round, but it turns out the majority of the top interview performers come from this group, like Belize and England.  The other ladies noted here were truly worthy to be shortlisted based on what we have seen.  However, I was also impressed with Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands (Kaylee Carlberg), China (Mei Zhan), and Mongolia (Tugs-Amgalan Batjargal).

You can partly figure out who would ultimately make the overall Top 16 by basing it on who figured in at least two of the three prejudging categories.  However, one lady somehow failed to advance despite making the shortlist in two categories and she is:

COSTA RICA – Fernanda Rodriguez.  She made the shortlist in Face & Poise and Intelligence & Environmental Awareness.  It seems she was severely marked down for her figure–this pageant isn’t willing to give a Siera Bearchell card, it seems.  Most likely she was bubbling under the overall Top 14==as you’ll discover there is a continental allocation in play in selecting the overall Top 16, and one continent didn’t have any lady who made any these shortlists….

COMING UP:  THE TOP 16

MISS GRAND INTERNATIONAL 2017: A “GRAND” RETURN TO FORM (CONCLUSION)

 

The Final Five do have compelling qualities that made them worthy of belonging here, and yes, based on Top Ten speeches, four out of five of them gave the strongest Top Ten speeches besides bringing up the glamour in their evening gowns.  The final question asked to all of them is: “If you have to issue a law to punish criminals of war and violence, how would you punish these people and why?”

4TH RUNNER-UP:  CZECH REPUBLIC – Nikola Uhlirová.  I was distracted by her slightly over-the-top presentation during the preliminary conpetition that I underrated her as a “Bubbling Under” choice instead of a top contender.  But she possesses this ingenue charm that gets her high marks with Nawat and the judges, which is why even with a Top 10 speech that is relatively generic compared to the speeches delivered by Indonesia and Vietnam, she was given preference:  “Violence is the one thing in this world we don’t really need, and the world would be a better place if there were peace than war, gangs, druggies, and tyrants.  I think I’m a powerful, hardworking, independent person with a strong mind, and I would like to promote message of ‘Stop the War and Violence’ around the world.  Life is not a competition.  We should enjoy this life with people who we love.  Miss Grand International must show she’s not only beautiful but she has also a beautiful soul, and I know I can also inspire other people and give them hope.  As for children, I want to see happy children because in the world full of negativity, violence, and destructions [sic], it is difficult to see all amazing things around us.”  For the final question, her answer went like this:  “I guess I cannot punish these people, but… together we can do it, together we can stop the war and violence.  Together.”  This vague declamation is clearly the weakest of the lot so her finish is totally justified.

3RD RUNNER-UP:  PUERTO RICO – Brenda Azaria Jimenez.  She is even more polished here than in her Miss Universe stint in Manila last January, and with that she made a smashing impression and with her strong communication skills, went as far as the Top Five.  This is what she delivered for the Top 10 speech:  “War.  Three letters that have impact to overpower beauty of life.  In these days, the war having dominance of power, the importance of implementing respect on the harshness of being the victors.  Today, I speak not only for the war of guns, I speak for the war we can face in our daily lives.  With the voice of my people that had passed huge adversity–Hurricane Maria went into my country with a fight–like in a war, we have people scared, afraid, devastated, without a home to live in.  We may be scared, we may fall, but nothing will break us if we are together.  With this voice I stand here with strength, making my people a promise that nothing will break us–behind all that suffering, I stand here with side of my sister-queen sisters [sic] to make a statement of difference, courage, and love, to wake up everyday thanking God for giving me the strength to make the fear disappear and become the troop of life [sic].  Together, we can fight for freedom, fight for love, fight for our children, fight for who we are.  This is me calling you for us to rebuild our world in peace.  Let’s make a better world with our hands together and stop the war and violence.”  For the final question, her answer is: “The law I will create is by obligation they will have to do charity work, work for the society for I am an ambassador for ‘Stop the War and Violence’ and I will not punish these people with more violence.  So with one person we could make changes so those people are gonna work for the society to make a new one and a better one.

2ND RUNNER-UP:  PHILIPPINES – Elizabeth Durado Clenci.  I have to say prior to the finals that I thought the charisma of her fellow pageant ga-ga- Southeast Asian rivals from Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam could edge her out of the Top Five, even if she has a distinctively impeccable sense of style.  But it turns out she has a couple of major aces that ultimately made her the top performing Southeast Asian–intelligence and superb gift of gab (peppered by that lovely Australian accent).  Just marvel at her superbly composed Top 10 speech:  “Peace.  A topic far more significant than any other and one that holds dearly to my heart.  We all know the horrors of war and the many that fight it, I question why there are so few willing to fight for peace.  Today I stand knowing it is my responsibility to fight for peace and to strive for peace in this world, through love, compassion, understanding and education.  Tonight I stand here with all of these women behind me, spreading a message of peace.  I’m here to remind you all, as a Philippine peace ambassador, that this is your responsibility, too.  This is our responsibility–today, tomorrow, and for the generations to come.”  For the final question, she began with this opening:  “They say a nation is not judged by the criminals and the crimes that they commit, but how the nation punishes them.”  She then continued, “If I were to create a low, it would be in line with jailment [sic] is to implement rehabilitation, mental rehabilitation, because character is such a complex phenomenon that we cannot judge a character based on the crimes they had commit.  If we punish somebody as equally as the crime they have commited, then what does that say about us? So I would implement mental rehabilitation.”  A brief case of nerves to gather her thoughts probably weakened an otherwise great answer, but there is still cleverness to behold–she seems to be addressing the current debate about our government’s drug war, but instead of directly denouncing it like what Mariel de Leon did, she gave her position and posed a question that we Filipinos (especially those 16 million people who voted our current president in) ought to ponder.  I’m totally with Elizabeth on this.

1ST RUNNER-UP:  VENEZUELA – Tulia Aleman.  Her Ly Jonaitis-style glamour is way undeniable that it’s a cinch she’ll make the Top Five.  She made a smashing impact in the new gown she sported, a white gown with dramatic sleeves and black lace embroidery. It helps that Miss Grand International 2014 from Cuba, Lees Garcia, is around as she served as the de facto translator for the judges, both onstage during the final Q&A, and off-camera and off-mic after Tulia delivered her Top 10 speech in Spanish.  After transcribing her Spanish speech the best that I could and running the raw transcription to Google Translate, this is what I think her Top 10 message was:  “Today, we live in difficult situations where countries are at war and bringing forth poverty and hunger. Where children are exploited and their rights are violated.  Where the tolerance to the diversity of gender, skin color, religion, even languages are for naught. Unfortunately my country is not exempt from these realities. On the day I was crowned Miss Grand Venezuela that same day violence fell upon and took away the life of someone I loved dearly, my father. That moment of pain I had to choose between two paths: cry and seek revenge, or forgive, have faith and love? I decided the latter and face my tears. I will smile and make other people smile. It is in the essence of living and being human to live with education, values and feelings. And the world should unite together as one in peace.”  My jaw dropped when applying the translation tool it turns out she had relayed a personal tragedy and how she decided to bring forth living in hope despite what happened.  Here is her answer to the final question:  “I am a person that believes in God.  I believe that the law of God is the most important one.  But the way that I will stop the war is by implementing love, respect, and values.”  Lees did an excellent translation that got the essence of her answer across, but she missed out on the word “misericordia” in the first sentence which means mercy, and “niños” in her last sentence which means she wants to instill love, respect, and values for the children.  Her answer does have a great message of mercy and compassion, but peraps it’s a tad too soft especially when justice is needed to be served, and that is why instead of winning, her 1st runner-up finish is justified.

MISS GRAND INTERNATIONAL 2017:  PERU – Maria Jose Lora.  Yes, her features may register unflattering angles from time to time, but her charisma, and that trim, buffed, and sexy figure are too undeniable, and she clinched the deal with her sexy form-fitting nude sheath gown.  She also has a great command of English and gives strong messages, too.  For instance, her Top 10 speech:  “Peace is indeed the most important topic in the world.  Unfortunately, it is not the most talked-about.  I am here today to raise my voice on behalf of all of those people that cannot be heard.  For every child crying, wondering why their little brother or sister is not around anymore, for every parent that has gone through the hardest thing that a parent can go through–bury their child–why is it so difficult for humankind to live in peace?  Tolerance, compassion, and respect should be the key foundations on how we live our lives.  President JFK once said, ‘Our time in this world is limited.  We must use it wisely to transform what we wish to transform.’  If I have the honor to be Miss Grand International, I will use my voice to spread the message of peace, and strive to reach all the powerful minds in our world that instead of using their power to create they use it to destroy.  If people can learn how to hate, we must teach them how to love.”  In my opinion only Philippines delivered a better Top 10 speech as there is a tad too much drama in tis speech.  For the final question, her answer went like this:  “If I have to issue a law tat punishes people that make the war and violence, I will take them to the refugee camps so they can feel the pain, the suffering, the devastation the families g0 through because of war and violence.  I will take them for a certain amount of time to live in refugee camps–that would be my law for the people that create war and violence.”  What clinched the deal is she at least offered an option that is actionable and has an element that justice is needed to be served, though admittedly it is naive that many criminals would respond to lessons in empathy and compassion, but it’s the strongest of the five.

All-in-all, Miss Grand International redeemed itself this year and delivered a polished pageant.  Yes, the world peace sentimentality can be too overwrought, but well, nothing’s going to be perfect anyway.  Let’s see if Nawat can keep up with this standard (or of course, improve upon it) and if a few years down the line, they would open up to more diverse notions of beauty.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

Welcome to the sorority! The five Miss Grand International winners thus far: Claire Elizabeth Parker from Australia (2015), Ariska Putri Pertiwi from Indonesia (2016), Maria Jose Lora from Peru (2017), Lees Garcia from Cuba (2014) and Jennifer Chaparro from Puerto Rico (2013)

MISS GRAND INTERNATIONAL 2017: A “GRAND” RETURN TO FORM (PART 3)

In hindsight, all ladies in this Top Ten are fully justified in their placements.  I underrated two European contenders who made this far and placed them in my “Bubbling Under” list mainly because I found their stage catwalks a bit too over-the-top.  But then, I need to remind myself this is the pageant that made Macedonia’s Dunavka Trifunovska an internet legend, so going a tad over-the-top is encouraged, though finesse is now the prevailing directive.

UKRAINE – Snizhana Tanchuk.  Her waist-length brunette locks, trim figure, and pretty face has its strong adherents, and this is how she edged out some other competitive contenders like Costa Rica, Brazil, Paraguay, and India.  She sported a dreamy pink sequined gown with train, and she did look like a modern glam princess in it.  Now, for me, why I put her in 10th place is because I found her Top 10 speech too overdramatic and rambling, even if she has otherwise a solid message:  “On our planet there are seven billion people.   And there’s nothing more terrible than war.  War threatens the most important good people have–its life.   We are people, let’s not forget about it.  World goes crazy.  People stop hearing each other.  All the time conflicts and wars.  What are we fighting for?!  When will this end?!  Why do people want blood?! [pronounced bled]  We must unite to stand on end, to stop an evil coming to our hearts.  You will ask me, ‘What we can do for peace?’  Prosperity and friendship, that’s what we need for happiness.  In my country, the for the year it’s war.  For Ukraine, it’s a terrible time.  There is no passing day when I do not think how to stop the violence.  And now, I want to say not like a contestant in an international beauty pageant but as a future mother: ‘Stop the war! Stop the violence!’  I want our children born under a peaceful sky and never hear a word like ‘war’.  You will ask me what we can do for love in the whole world and I will answer, ‘We have to love this world more.  We have to respect each other more.‘”

SOUTH SUDAN – Eyga Mojus.  Her elegant bearing made her deliver on her status as the “black-lady-most-likely” and not only is she the only woman of color in the Top 20, she went all the way to the Top Ten, where she made a standout impression with the white evening gown she wore in the preliminaries.  She had a potential to deliver a great speech as being a refugee now residing in the US, she has excellent English-speaking skills.  However, her otherwise moving speech was felled by nerves which led to a couple of lapses in her train of thought.  Here’s how her speech exactly went:  “By the age of 12, I was a refugee of the longest civil war on record that lasted 22 years between Sudan and South Sudan.  Because of the war in my country, I was not able to attend school.  In fact, before migrating to America I didn’t know how to read or write in any language.  I only know how to speak Arabic.  I believe education to be provided for every human being.[pause]  I advocate for children to learn and to educate themselves because I, myself, did not have the opportunity to do so until I was 12 years old.  I believe the only way to stop the ongoing war in this world–not just in my country, but around the world–is to provide education for everyone regardless of our skin tone, complexion, age, gender…[pause]  It provides a perfect economic system in the world, it provides a pathway out of poverty.

THAILAND – Premika Pamela.  This lady changed from her shimmering pink evening gown from the preliminary to a nude long-sleeved gown with black embroidery.  She’s generally faultless onstage during the finals, but did not really make as standout an impact as she did in earlier activities;  In some ways, her Top 10 speech reflected that as she started out really strong but her finish didn’t tie together the strong thoughts she set forth in the main body of her speech: “We think too much and feel too little.  Our cleverness has made us hard and uncaring.  But this is not the nature of mankind.  Humanity was born and raised on a foundation of love and hope.  We don’t want to hate or despise one another.  We want to show kindness and gentleness to each other but we have lost our way.  We focus on ending war and violence yet we forgot how it means to feel.  Social media has brought us closer together and the very nature of these inventions cries out [sic] for universal brotherhood–a united humanity.  More than power, we need gentleness.  More than wealth, we need humanity.  Without these qualities there will be no change.  So let us all unite for the common purpose of ending war and violence once and for all.

INDONESIA – Dea Goesti Rizkita Koswara.  I have to say what a far cry this country’s attitude towards pageants has gone in over 20 years.  After years of trepidation about furors over modesty by Islamic clerics, now it’s no big deal for contestants from this country to wear bikinis, or for the evening gown, wear a provocative skin-baring black gown like what this lady wore.  Not to mention, this country is now one of the countries with a huge pageant fanbase.  I have to salute the creativity of her Top 10 speech especially with the effective use of metaphor, as follows:  “Tonight, I want to tell you the story about white paper.  The story begins as I visited Moluccas, one of province in my country couples months ago [sic].  A massive conflict happened in this province in 1999 due to religion propaganda [sic].  Thousand people killed! [sic]  Thousand houses burned!  And a lot children saw their parents killed in the front their eyes.  But the current condition is so much better than before.  I can feel peace within them.  When I asked them what makes Moluccas condition much better than before, and the answer is only one: how the parents can educate their children about tolerance.  And my favorite psychology figure John Locke mentioned about tabula rasa.  Tabula rasa explained how all the children born to this world are like white paper, so the color of their paper depend upon the family and depend on society [pronounced so-see-eh-tee].  So ladies and gentlemen, I believe we can prevent war and I highly encourage you to have peace in mind [sic] and to start rebuild tolerance from your family.  To stop the war, let’s color and educate our new generation about how to love, care, share, and respect each other so they will be grow up strong, united generation that will not be that easy to break up [sic].  The white paper must be grow up [sic] and color the world with unity and harmony in diversity.

VIETNAM – Nguyen Tran Huyen My.  The host contestant is a proven commodity onstage, and she made a standout impression by changing into a dramatic fire-engine red evening gown.  Her speech was memorable for citing specific aspects of her country, as follows:  “War.  Such a short word.  But has massively destructive consequences.  Growing up in a country that has been through many wars, I deeply understand the aftermath they left behind–mothers losing kids, wives becoming widows, people still dying because of leftover bombs, millions of soldiers’ bodies not having been found, and most seriously the illnesses caused by Agent Orange until today.  In every war, all parties want to be the winner but at the end of the day, it’s just a losing game for everyone.  Is it worth it?  War is created by us, so it can be stopped also by us.  All we need to do is to open our hearts, spread the message of love, peace, and kindness [though she pronounced the last word as if it sounded like “carnage”] to one another.  Our great leader, Ho Chi Minh, once said, ‘Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.‘”

COMING UP:  THE TOP FIVE.