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…
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:
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.
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.