MISS UNIVERSE 2011: DIZZY MACHIAVELLIAN SAMBA (PART 2)

Let us now discuss the delegates.  It has been a ritual in recent years for the non-finalists to do a “swimsuit dance” during the swimsuit round, where they perform their moves onstage.  But this year there were a couple of changes: first, they were not clad in swimsuits this time, but in the carnival outfits they wore for their Fadil Berisha glamshots; second, instead of dancing onstage, they were dancing at the audience aisles instead.  The swimsuit dance feels even more of an indignity this year than in editions past, in my opinion.  I suppose this is the limitation of the relatively small stage they decided to use for this edition.

Miss Botswana, Larona Kgabo

Another change in this edition is the announcement of special awards–instead of being presented live onstage as in recent editions, it’s now simply noted in a pre-taped segment (from the end of the Presentation Show, in this case).  I have already cited the award winners in my homestretch review, so I can only note two standout non-finalists during the broadcast, one of them with dubious distinciton:

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Dalia Fernandez.  She was prominently featured in a sponsored segment by makeup and hair sponsor Chi, about jazzing up her very straight hair.  I actually preferred the straight hair better than the poofed up wavy results, though the wavy option was not bad at all.

ST. LUCIA – Joy-Ann Biscette.  In recent editions, during the evening gown round the non-finalists would walk around the stage before the finalists are presented.  You cannot miss this lady’s tackily frumpy yellow frock from a mile away, and to add to the humiliation factor she was caught tripping and bumping into the delegate in front of her (I presume it’s Miss Sweden).

Before I discuss the Top 16, please indulge me as I rant about the gross injustice that took place in this year’s pageant.  Of course, I’m referring to the exclusion of Miss Malaysia, Deborah Priya Henry, in the Top 16.  Though conspiracy theories run through my head that there were puppet-masters who may have briefed the preliminary panel to not rate Deborah that high, as she is a major threat to their agenda (what their agenda is–you’ll find out as I discuss the Final Five), there is that possibility (I’ll be giving the preliminary panel the benefit of the doubt here) that perhaps her facial features and trim figure are really simply not to their liking (they may just say that other ladies were better), that they offset her theoretically superb interview and her perfectly sensational Presentation Show performance.  It possibly could have been a close-but-no-cigar proposition amongst the preliminary panel.

Now, I can understand clearly why after she missed making the cut with the preliminary panel that the Miss Universe Organization did not come to her rescue and offer her a Trump Ticket–first, of course, is the perceived threat over a “favored” delegate (again I will tell you who my main suspect is when I discuss the Final Five), and then there is the Miss World 2007 semifinalist factor–the Miss Universe Organization probably caught wind of her previous background and wanted to stop the streak this time.  As a result, poor Deborah was shut out.

Deborah Henry at Miss World, with Mz. Puerto RIco (Jennifer Guevarra), Grenada (Vivian Burkhardt), and Austria (Christine Reiler) (Photo courtesy of Miss World Organization)

Anyway, it seems Deborah took the results stoically, as after the pageant she simply moved on and went on an enjoyable vacation in Rio de Janeiro (take note that there are stories of some delegates wondering if they’ll be going to Rio during the pageant–and that city is what most people have in mind when they think of Brazil; as we all know, they were all confined within the limits of São Paulo state).  Check her public Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Deborah-Priya-Henry/159843334068476.  Despite the outcome, there will always be a space for Deborah in my heart and I know thousands of avid Miss Universe pageant fans all around the world have a very high regard for this classy lady.

Image of Christ the Redeemer as taken by Deborah Henry as posted on her Twitter account. (Photo courtesy of Deborah Henry)

Enough of my rant… now, let’s go to the Top 16.  Now, this is the first time that it is actually difficult to pinpoint the preliminary panel choices vs. the recipients of Trump Tickets.  All members of the Top 16 have performed justifiably strongly all throughout their stay in Brazil, and have strong to superb Presentation Show performances.  If Shandi didn’t point out that she won the popular vote, I would’ve assumed Miss Portugal was either a Trump Ticket recipient or she indeed won favor with the Preliminary Panel (the former was the likelier scenario).  I got 12 of the Top 16 right, and the four I didn’t pick were all part of my bubbling under list, so I’m pleased with my performance as I only simply measure how many made this cut, without factoring in their placements (it doesn’t matter that much to me).

The Top 16 in swimsuits

The “Dizzy” portion of my title comes from the fact that I was trying to score the performances of the Top 16 and Top 10 based on their presentations, and the outcome turning out to be significantly different from the way I scored them.  Worsening matters is that during the swimsuit round, it was actually a very close race with no clear frontrunners (and the ones I assumed to be frontrunners failed to advance to the next round).  It only dawned on me a bit later after the rounds were completed that different criteria were now used to judge the delegates.  Without further ado here’s my take on the Top 16:

U S A – Alyssa Campanella.  To her credit, she didn’t look as frighteningly skeletal and poorly tanned as she did during the Presentation Show.  I feel sad that this formerly regarded front-runner for the crown endured a sudden fall from grace after her Presentation Show appearance, and I can understand why she failed to advance beyond the Top 16–the celebrity panel preferred healthier body images than what she presented.

COLOMBIA – Catalina Robayo.  Not to detract from this lady’s intrinsic merits, but if I were to replace any of the Top 16 with Deborah Henry it would be this lady.  It’s nice that she broke the even-numbered-year trend that often befalls this nation.  I have this gnawing feeling she won favor with the preliminary panel (well, she did deliver onstage and judging from her web interview she probably won them over with her vivaciousness and sense of humor) because considering the reprimand she received over the “Basic Instinct” incident I doubt that the Miss Universe Organization would hand her a Trump Ticket.

NETHERLANDS – Kelly Weekers.  Finally after 19 years, this country advanced to the next round.  This gorgeous blonde was actually solid during this round, but admittedly did not register as strong a presence as the other contenders out there, especially in a close competition such as this.

KOSOVO – Afërdita Dreshaj.  This was an erstwhile front-runner who fell a bit out of favor with pageant fans and pundits as time wore on. It could be speculated she was a Trump Ticket recipient if we base it from her obviously weak gown performance.  She did deliver well during the Top 16 swimsuit round, but perhaps the judges found her slender frame a bit too thin (though more natural-looking than Alyssa’s frame) for comfort.

PUERTO RICO – Viviana Ortiz.  During the viewing party at my office pantry, one of my colleagues commented when he looked at her that she resembles a horse.  This instantly brought me back to 2004 and recalled Costa Rica’s Nancy Soto, who also invited equine comparisons.  And lo and behold, amongst the list of hobbies in Viviana’s profile when she was announced as part of the Top 16 was horseback riding.  She was a fiery spitfire onstage with her lively catwalk and her buffed figure.  I bet she only missed the cut because the celebrity panel was not into her equine features.  Too bad we missed seeing her awesomely intricately embroidered white evening gown.

Nancy Soto (Miss Costa Rica 2004)

VENEZUELA – Vanessa Gonçalves.  To be frank, I thought with that supremely buffed body and superbly fierce catwalk, I thought she will advance to the Top 10 instead of Brazil.  She also got the highest fan-meter score during this round.  But I have this feeling that the celebrity panel saw through all the botox and plastic surgery and were turned off by it, so she didn’t advance.  There was a part of me that was happy she didn’t go as far as I was turned off by the blatant denial she made when she was asked about plastic surgery during the press call, along with the fact that she was so obviously transformed that she barely looked human.  Her griping (along with Osmel Souza) after the pageant just made me dislike her even more, despite my begrudging respect for her stage skills.

Photos courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization, L.P., LLLP, unless otherwise indicated.

COMING UP: The Top 10.

MISS UNIVERSE 2011: DIZZY MACHIAVELLIAN SAMBA (PART 1)

São Paulo, Brazil was the venue to commemorate the 60th edition of the Miss Universe Pageant.  It was promised that this edition would be infused with a samba flavor that befits the host city.  Well, based on the telecast of the finals, there is indeed a samba flavor to the proceedings–we were graced with the laid-back bossa nova rhythms played during the introduction and the evening gown segment, then in-between were the frenetic rhythms of the batucada.  The key difference is that while normally you get an exhilarating rush of freedom and joy when you dance to the samba rhythms, this type of samba seems to make you feel like you were manipulated in the end.  I sensed some puppet-masters at play that made me feel that the delegates were treated like marionettes as they danced to the samba music.

To the strains of that bossa nova chestnut popularized by Sergio Mendes, “Mas que Nada”, the 89 Miss Universe delegates introduced themselves live in their Sherri Hill dresses.  Normally I would welcome the live introductions (we miss seeing those lively greetings back in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s), but for some reason the pace of the introductions seemed to feel sluggish.  The fact that they weren’t in their national costumes aggravated matters (the national costume segment was reduced to a brief two-minute feature with a countdown of the 10 best costumes), along with some obvious missed camera cues in this segment.

The proceedings were hosted by Bravo TV executive (and host of “Watch What Happens”) Andy Cohen and NBC Today Show news anchor Natalie Morales.  Finally Andy Cohen is gaffe-free (I could not forget his mangling of the reigning Miss Universe’s name–calling her “Eczema” Navarrete instead of Ximena–back at his stint at the Miss USA pageant earlier this year).  Natalie was vibrant and she engaged the live audience with her Portuguese banter.  She was otherwise wonderful and almost perfect, but she made one major gaffe at the final portion of the show as she announced the 4th runner-up–she called her “Zee-lin Loo-ah”.  Um, there is a reason why Luo Zilin uses the English name “Roseline”–to prevent such mispronunciations like that one…

Andy Cohen & Natalie Morales (screenshot from broadcast sourced from nycnewswomen.blogspot.com)

What about the two commentators Miss Universe 2004 1st runner-up Shandi Finnessey and host of Bravo’s “How Do I Look?” Jeannie Mai?  Though they did provide crucial information on who won the popular vote, and offered opinions, they came off as rather vapid (Shandi in particular made some gaffes by referring to Miss Venezuela as the “hometown girl”, among other things).  Their quotes during the swimsuit competition were immortalized in this Entertainment Weekly website article:

http://popwatch.ew.com/2011/09/13/2011-miss-universe-winner-angola/

Shandi Finnessey and Jeannie Mai (image sourced from jlublog.com)

What about the fan scores?  In lieu of displaying the judges’ scores, they installed a fan-meter instead based on online votes by pageant fans logged into the NBC website.  In my opinion, this fan-meter is a superfluous distraction, especially since it has no bearing whatsoever with the results.  Still, there is an element of fun that I observed since I first watched the pageant in a viewing party held in my office (yes, the company that I now work for is very cool like that), as we had a rollicking noisy time watching the fan meter going up and down and hoping that Miss Philippines scores high (yes, she did) and that other finalists score low.  Anyway, because the judges’ scores were absent it did make the announcement of the finalists more suspenseful, and have to admit the camera work added to the nail-biting anticipation.

Anyone expecting a major commemoration of the 60th anniversary of this pageant would be in for a major disappointment–it was only briefly acknowledged via a brief montage of crowning moments.  No reunion of former queens took place in Brazil (though Sushmita Sen and Lupita Jones were present as pageant directors)–instead we only learned of a reunion of 10 of them at an official viewing party in Los Angeles about a day or two later.

Reunion of queens, from L-R: Corinna Tsopei (1964), Armi Kuusela (1952), Sylvia Hitchcock (1967), Janelle Commissiong (1977), Margaret Gardiner (1978), designer Nick Verreos, Mona Grudt (1990), Michelle McLean (1992), Chelsi Smith (1995), Brook Lee (1997), and Justine Pasek (2002) (photo courtesy of Nick Verreos at nickverreos.blogspot.com)

Now, about the musical numbers–yes, it’s a good thing that they feature Brazilian music all throughout, like the aforementioned “Mas que Nada” in the introduction, and showcasing Brazilian artists Claudia Leitte and Bebel Gilberto during the swimsuit and evening gown segments respectively.  But how did the live performers fare?

Well, yes, Claudia Leitte danced up a storm in a sequined black strapless leotard performing her song “Locomotion (Batucada)”, but I find the song itself rather aggressively bad–mixing the industrial-style pop with the batucada samba rhythms was very unwieldy.  Marring the performance was the fact she’s obviously lip-synching (check the fact she failed to mime the rap sequence during the first part of her song).  Well, at least there are the hunky back-up dancers to distract from the mess–best looking set of male back-up dancers I’ve seen since Sibel Tüzün’s 2006 performance at the Eurovision Song Contest.

What about Bebel Gilberto?  I am aware she’s an acclaimed artist, so I was expecting something cool and hip like John Legend’s performance during the evening gown round last year.  But I was underwhelmed by her performance of “Close Your Eyes”–though yes, there are the eye-candy male back-up dancers, and I have to salute the fact she’s singing the song live, she sounded rather pitchy and she looked matronly in her sequined black minidress.  The whole performance looked like a cheesy 1970s variety show number.  I can’t help but go back to three years ago when Lady Gaga was in her nascent, lower-budget incarnation as she can teach these Brazilian ladies a thing or two about delivering a performance even back then…

COMING UP: Delegates, and the Top 16.