MISS UNIVERSE 2011: AT THE HOMESTRETCH (PART 1)

Considering this is the 60th edition of the Miss Universe pageant, one might assume that such an auspicious milestone deserves an auspicious treatment.  If they were able to gather over 30 past winners of the Miss USA pageant to earmark that occasion, what is in store for this pageant?  So far, there is the fact that there is a record number of 89 delegates competing, and that it is held in one of the largest metropolises in Latin America, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I have to also note that the events organized so far for the delegates are a quantum improvement over the events last year—no lemonade selling in bikinis, and no chicken wings eating contest in store.  Instead, we see them visiting the mayor of the city and the governor of the province, dressed to the nines while attending a horse race, and watching a Brazilian production of the international hit musical “Mamma Mia!”  Some pageant fans and pundits complain that there should have been more events to mark the auspicious occasion, such as the formal national gift auction (instead the gifts are given away to an orphanage) and a formal national costume parade (which was scrapped), and a recent fashion show held at a gay club should have displayed more fashionable outfits than the casual wear modeled that evening (it seemed more like a dress rehearsal for a fashion show with the delegates in street clothes).  Well, I may agree that there should be more bang in the events, the fact that it was an improvement over last year already pleases me to no end.  Still I have a major beef about the webcast of the Presentation Show over Livestream—the evening gown presentation portion feed for the last 14 delegates suddenly got cut off and only resumed (semi-choppily) with Miss Uruguay’s presentation.

Now, what about the record 89 delegates?  Well, there are indeed some stellar stunners that merit tremendous buzz and hype, and some extremely competitive contenders nipping at their heels.  However, in the eternal argument of “quantity vs. quality”, the collective quality in my opinion dipped with the presence of obvious bottom-feeders (the weakest delegates in batch 2010 would’ve been regarded as a creditable middle-of-the-road contender in this group), plus the fact that the stellar stunners have some key issues that may hamper their chances of clinching the title.  There is a side of me that wished that this batch switched places with the previous batch, because batch 2010 deserved way more respectful treatment than they have received in Las Vegas.

An interesting note is that two of the international delegates actually started out competing at the 2009 Miss USA pageant, one actually even going as far as the semifinals of that pageant.  Goes to show how people are no longer confined in one territory in this globalized day and age.

Without further ado, here is my take on the 89 delegates of Miss Universe 2011, starting with:

ALBANIA– Xhesika Berberi.  Albanian language lesson: her first name is pronounced exactly like the way English speakers pronounce “Jessica”.  She may not be like the “hotness that (was)” (to paraphrase last year’s host and Poison singer Brett Michaels) Angela Martini last year, but she does possess the looks and personality to be in serious contention for the semifinals.

ANGOLA– Leila Lopes.  Ever since she was crowned, several pageant fans and pundits felt she has the potential of outshining 2007’s Micaela Reis.  She still physically delivers on the hype when she arrived in Brazil, but I wondered a bit—during her national pageant she was representing the Angolan community in the UK, but her video interview shows her command of English is not that strong.  In fact, she doesn’t seem to possess the vivaciousness characteristic of most delegates from her country.  Moreover, her performance during the Presentation Show was found wanting in my book—for starters, her gown presentation was marred by her tripping as she descended down the short steps onstage (despite looking resplendently gorgeous in her glittery sequined gown), and for both rounds she seemed to lack fierceness and verve in her catwalk.  Though I’m concerned that based on sheer merit her placement is far from assured, perhaps there will be consideration taken that she’s still the best and most gorgeous African contestant in this batch so a slot should be assured for her for that reason alone.

ARGENTINA– Natalia Rodriguez.  Her striking formal photos prior to her arrival in Sao Paulo seemed to indicate that she could be in serious contention for the finals.  But more candid shots seemed to have dimmed her luster, though she remains one of the strongest representatives fielded by this country in recent years.

ARUBA – GillainBerry.  Pageant fans and pundits were concerned that she might end up looking too drag queen-y for comfort, especially with pre-arrival photos of her with excessive make-up.  But as soon as she arrived in Sao Paulo, she exudes the gracefully elegant and dignified vibe of an ebony princess.  She is also a strong, straightforward communicator judging from her video interview.  That distinctively regal and exotic persona extended towards her performance in the Presentation Show—despite a brief wobble at the beginning of her evening gown presentation, no one can deny her impeccably elegant presence in her shimmeringly splendid white gown.

courtesy of Miss Universe Organization LP LLLP

AUSTRALIA– Scherri-Lee Biggs.  She has that fresh-scrubbed beauty that makes many people (including myself) recall Miss Universe 2004 Jennifer Hawkins.  Though some fans and pundits were disappointed with a few of her casual candid photos along with her not-so-remarkable video interview, during the Presentation Show her status as a possible crown contender was reinforced, being consistently top-notch clad in a pink sequined chiffon gown and showcasing an extremely fit yet feminine athletic figure.  Making the Top Five and perhaps winning it all is within reach.

courtesy of Miss Universe Organization LP LLLP

Jennifer Hawkins

 

BAHAMAS– Anastagia Pierre.  She has the gorgeous good looks and the excellent communication skills to be a serious semifinals contender.  But I was baffled how she missed the cut during her Miss USA 2009 stint (representing Florida) and Ghana’s Erika Nego (representing Minnesota) made the cut in her place.  I figured it out after watching the Presentation Show—she has the tendency to be overbaked onstage with her affected  gestures; those gestures are a bit too over-the-top that it would conceivably turn off the panel of judges.  She obviously didn’t learn from her Miss USA lessons.

BELGIUM– Justine de Jonckheere.  Well, she actually made a good impression in her video interview with her vivacious personality and her figure is buffed enough to be considered worthwhile.  But otherwise, she’s never in serious consideration for the finals—her sheer lacy blue evening gown is such a hot fashion mess that it’s one of the worst ones during the Presentation Show.

BOLIVIA– Olivia Pinheiro.  Yes, her facial features may appear a bit too strong for comfort, and there is that little controversy about her age, but we have to concede she knows how to put her best foot forward when it counts, performing at an above-average level during the Presentation Show.

BOTSWANA– Larona Kgabo.  Everything about her is raw, from her frequent deer-in-the-headlights look, to communication skills, to her evening gown, to her swimsuit figure, and to her catwalk.  She’s in the lower rungs of this batch.

BRAZIL– Priscila Machado.  Yes, we’ve seen better looking stunners from this country (and I’m not talking about those supermodels like Gisele Bundchen or Adriana Lima).  Reportedly she was booed when she was crowned in her national pageant, and there is the controversy about those vulgarly naked modeling photos of her that popped up.  Plus there are those rumors or reports that she’s not really that much of a welcoming host as she should have been.  But still, she is undeniably good-looking (she reminds me of former American Idol judge Kara Dioguardi), and she’s proven to be a dynamo onstage as shown during the Presentation Show.  If I based her prospects solely on her Presentation Show performance, she’s a definite shoo-in for the Top 16.

courtesy of Miss Universe Organization LP LLLP

Kara Dioguardi. Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images/ FOX

It’s a bit odd how she got the loudest applause during the Presentation Show considering the negative buzz surrounding her prior to that.  It makes me think that a conspiracy theory is afloat especially reading about the lack of available tickets for sale to the public for the Credicard Hall events (such as the Presentation Show and finals), and that the majority of seats were supposedly reserved for the Brazilian TV network Rede Bandeirantes: the TV network hired an audience to patriotically cheer the homegirl on, to create that impression of home country support.

BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS– Sheroma Hodge.  In real-world terms she’s reasonably attractive, but in competition standards she’s in the same boat as Miss Botswana.

CANADA– Chelsae Durocher.  She actually has the good looks, the trim figure, and the personality to be at least in contention for the Top 16.  But all throughout her stint she seemed to only be just another pretty face in the crowd.  Then came the Presentation Show and she sported an ill-fitting long-sleeved red ballgown during the evening gown round that was an unqualified disaster.  Her unremarkable stage presence could not redeem that, so unfortunately she has to kiss her Top 16 chances goodbye and she’s unlikely going to be handed that (in)famous Trump Ticket.

courtesy of Miss Universe Organization LP LLLP

CAYMAN ISLANDS– Cristin Alexander.  She has two great qualities going for her—strong communication skills and an extremely buffed body.  But would those qualities help offset her other less-than-remarkable aspects?

CHILE– Vanessa Ceruti.  She’s not highly buzzed about, but I would not count this lady’s Top 16 prospects as of yet.  This blonde is highly attractive, has a competition-level slim and trim figure, and she’s a strong communicator judging from her video interview.  She can become a pleasant surprise for the Top 16.

CHINA– Luo Zilin. From the time she was crowned in her national pageant, pageant fans and pundits from all over salivated about her prospects of winning the pageant.  There were a few who were then disappointed at some early photos as she didn’t appear as stellar as they believed her to be.  Then came the video interview and it was regarded by several pageant fans and pundits as one of the weakest in this batch.  Finally came the controversy with a photo of her and her pageant director Yue Sai-Kan posing with Brazilian celebrity and businessman Alvaro Garnero, who was tapped initially to be one of the preliminary judges, creating the impression of a conspiracy to ensure her victory.  Despite that negative buzz, I still feel she is still in serious contention for the Final Five as her sensational performance during the Presentation Show would attest (she knows how to work her statuesque height and slender figure without making people think about anorexic models).  And though much negativity has been said about her video interview, one must look closely and realize she still has that likably bubbly charm that surfaces throughout, that her weak answers are forgivable.

courtesy of Miss Universe Organization LP LLLP

It made me think that Luo Zilin is actually following a recent famous archetype—I’m starting to be convinced that she’s going to be this year’s version of our very own Venus Raj.  Both she and Venus are proven stage dynamos with distinctive personas.  And both are not strong in the communications department, though they have oodles of likeable charm to make up for it (though I have to note that Zilin made Venus sound like a rocket scientist…).  I can’t wait for what she’ll answer in the final Q&A, as it’s almost a guarantee that she’ll be in the Final Five.

Is she the new Venus Raj?
Venus strutting her stuff onstage during last year's finals.

All photos courtesy of Miss Universe Organization, L.P. LLLP unless otherwise indicated.

COMING UP:  COLOMBIA to GEORGIA

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