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.

 

MISS WORLD PHILIPPINES 2011

This is not really a full-fledged pageant review, but notes on the just-concluded Miss World Philippines.  I had the privilege of attending it live at the PICC thanks to my good friend Lex Librea, and though the taping took about 4 1/2 hours, the show itself is generally a sleek, well-produced affair.  Dingdong Dantes, as usual, was a dashing, flawless host, and his co-hosts Isabel Daza and Carla Abellana were likewise generally smooth (at a few earlier segments, Isabel stood out clad in a provocatively glittery sheer gown).

The show was structured like a pastiche of Bb. Pilipinas and Miss World–after the opening number (with Marc Bautista soulfully singing the Miss World Philippines theme song), the 25 contestants paraded in evening gowns and swimsuits (during the swimsuit segment there is a pre-taped musical sequence featuring GMA-7 star Aljur Abrenica singing an ode to nature) and then the 12 semifinalists were selected.  Like in Miss World, the 12 semifinalists were then cut to the final five without any further rounds (though they changed from swimsuits into evening gowns and given an introduction as they walked in gowns).  Then the five finalists were interviewed by the host (Dingdong Dantes) before the final results are announced, “as is customary…in reverse order” by the pageant director, Cory Quirino.  The winner is then crowned by the reigning Miss World, Alexandria Mills–her nude-colored long-sleeved gown may not make a great impression in photos, but was actually great in person.

In general, I do find the 25 candidates to be strong, and they do look better than the official photos may suggest.  In general, I found the decisions to be fair, though I did hope that they make room for fresh faces like Candidate No. 5, Rogelie Catacutan, and Candidate No. 11, Mercy Malaluan (Lex has noted that Mercy has the potential to become the next Venus Raj, especially with her hair in an updo) in the final five.

Rogelie Catacutan (Photo by Jory Rivera courtesy of OPMB Worldwide)

As it is, the final five is loaded with Bb. Pilipinas veterans: 4th Princess Jaysel Arrosal was a semifinalist in 2008; 3rd Princess Bianca Paz was a candidate in 2009 and competed again in 2011 but was disqualified due to dubiously controversial circumstances; 2nd Princess Martha Chloe McCulley competed in 2011; 1st Princess Helen Nicolette Henson was 2nd runner-up in 2010; and Miss World Philippines Gwendolyn Ruais was a semifinalist in 2010.

Photo by Bruce Casanova courtesy of OPMBWorldwide.com

All members of the final five strutted their evening gowns with style and aplomb.  All except Bianca Paz are notably clad in red (Bianca was in a nude-colored gown instead), with Gwendolyn Ruais winning best dress design for her heavily beaded gown.  In the final Q&A, I thought Nicolette Henson gave the best and most eloquent (though, yes, a tad long) answer about what advice she would give to a person who is thinking about working abroad–she talks about the possibilities and challenges in going abroad, but the person must never forget to go back so he can help his fellow countrymen.  Gwendolyn likewise gave a strong and straightforward answer regarding what she’ll do to the P1 million cash prize if she wins–she states that part will go to the bank for her future, part will be used to celebrate her victory with her supporters, and part will be used to support the charity espoused by the Miss World Philippines organization.  Though Martha Chloe McCulley was only 2nd Princess, she got two big prizes from the sponsors–she’s both Miss SMDC and Miss Kapuso World, where she’ll act as spokesperson for both SM and is under contract by GMA-7; considering she was a former 26K girl in the rival network’s “Deal or No Deal” game show, it’s another case of rival stations pirating talent…

After some photo ops, I helped Lex pick up four evening gowns (he acted in behalf of his two designer friends who could not be present that night), and after that task was done, we proceeded to the Midas Hotel (formerly Sheraton, then more famously as Hyatt) for the victory party.  Had fun hobnobbing with the queens and other various celebrities, relatives, and dignitaries.

All-in-all, in my reckoning it’s a promising start.  Sure, I know that pageant fans and pundits may find the winner’s facial features too strong and angular to their liking, but I think people should keep a keen eye on her, especially in the Top Model fast track.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

MISS UNIVERSE 2011: AT THE HOMESTRETCH (CONCLUSION)

Because of a feed drop by Livestream which they couldn’t rectify when they rebroadcast the Presentation Show, I can only assess the gown performances of the ladies from St. Lucia to Ukraine based on photos and the callback after Miss Vietnam’s presentation.

ST. LUCIA– Joy-Ann Biscette.  She has the exotic facial features that have the potential to turn major heads if she knows how to create a distinctive persona.  Unfortunately, she only blended with the crowd throughout her Brazil stint, and during the Presentation Show she wore one of the worst frocks of the night, a frumpy yellow gown.  She didn’t make a fierce impression in swimsuit as I noticed how small her frame is relative to her head.

SWEDEN– Ronnia Fornstedt.  As hers were the first pictures that appeared online as the Miss Universe activities began, she initially made a big splash with pageant fans and pundits.  She’s then overshadowed as other favorites came in, but she’s still strong.  I don’t know how well she worked her pink sequined evening gown onstage, but the gown looked good.  She is the winner of Miss Photogenic (polled by a group of judges instead of public vote after a long time, just as it ought to be).  A Trump Ticket may be in order for her.

Winning Miss Photogenic

SWITZERLAND– Kerstin Cook.  There were pageant fans and pundits who like her and believe her to be in serious contention, but to my eyes she’s just another pretty face in the crowd.  She’s solid, but not really memorable, during the Presentation Show.

TANZANIA– Nelly Kamwelu.  She already had an international pageant experience winning the Miss Southern Africa International earlier this year.  But even with that on her belt, in my opinion she is one of the weaker delegates out there.  I find her face rather unattractive, and her figure is not trim and fit, as reflected in the Presentation Show.

THAILAND– Chanyasorn Sakornchan.  Facewise, she couldn’t compare to her predecessor, Fonthip Watcharatrakul.  But she has enough skills to generate some charisma and make a positive impression.  In photos, the blue one-shouldered midriff-baring sequined number she sported during the Presentation Show seemed like a hot mess, but if I gauge her swimsuit catwalk and if she did a similar catwalk in it, she may have worked that dress well.  She’s another above average contender from Asia, but she is likely to be drowned out by the three Asians-Most-Likely (China, Malaysia,  and the Philippines).

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO – Gabrielle Walcott.  This Miss World 2008 2nd runner-up suffered a bit from the Zizi Lee Syndrome—losing luster three years after causing a sensation and placing high at Miss World.  She’s still attractive, and her personality, communication skills, and intelligence are still very much intact, but she seemed to have aged significantly and that is hindering her from maximizing impact.  Wrong choice of makeup during the Presentation Show (bright red lips instead of a more natural shade) detract from her otherwise strong performance.  The way her face was made up make her look like a relative to Mayra Aldana and Chloe Beth Morgan.  A Trump Ticket would be needed for her to advance.

Gabrielle at Miss World 2008, with India's Parvathy Omanakuttan (1st runner-up) and Russia's Ksenia Sukhinova (winner). (Photo courtesy of Miss World Organization)

Zizi Lee at Miss Universe 2004

TURKEY– Melisa Aslı Pamuk.  It’s a good thing thatTurkeydecided to field its winner to compete her instead of a runner-up.  Her face is gorgeous, and the fact that she actually resides in the Netherlands makes me dream that she could be the new Azra Akın (Miss World 2002).  Well, she does have solid communication skills and likability as displayed in her web interview, but she doesn’t possess Azra’s legendary effervescence.  I think her strapless red gown during the Presentation Show had a nice silhouette and she looked beautiful in it.  But I have an issue with her swimsuit presentation as her belly looked like she ate something heavy—if she has modeling aspirations, she will not be able to book her go-sees this way.  Still, I would rate her as a worthwhile contender and stronger than your typical Turkish Miss Universe contestant.

Azra Akın (Photo courtesy of Miss World Organization)

TURKS & CAICOS – Easher Parker.  She’s one of the better representatives sent by this country to this pageant, though she’s no Carmelita Ariza (the semifinalist from 1987).  Her Presentation Show performance was solid, and she made the most of what she had.

UKRAINE– Olesya Stefanko.  She exudes the vibe of a modern-day Brooke Shields with a touch of Vanessa Paradis thrown in.  Though I thought during the pageant activities that she seemed overshadowed by Miss Russia, during the Presentation Show she was luminous.  I didn’t see her individual gown performance, but the way she flounced her billowy white gown during the callback made me infer she performed sensationally in it, and she was awesome during the swimsuit round.

Brooke Shields in the Calvin Klein ad (and nothing else, according to the notorious TV tag line)
Vanessa Paradis (photo sourced from celebgal.net)

URUGUAY– Fernanda Semino.  When I looked at her from afar during the Presentation Show, she resembles Alyssa Campanella for some odd reason—I think she shares the same shade of red hair as Alyssa in my eyes.  She’s actually a worthwhile contender, performing solidly in both rounds of the Presentation Show.

U S A – Alyssa Campanella.  Rare is a Miss USA delegate that pageant fans and pundits actually root for to win Miss Universe.  I think the last two instances this happened were in 1983 (with Julie Hayek) and 1996 (with Ali Landry).  All pageant fans and pundits have been rooting for this charming and gorgeous former Miss Teen USA 1st runner-up to triumph on the road to Miss Universe, starting from her two less-than-successful Miss New Jersey USA stints, then her eventual victory as Miss California USA, and finally nailing the whole shebang as Miss USA.

At Miss Teen USA 2007 (with the notorious Caitlyn Upton, far left).
At Miss California USA (photo sourced from zimbio.com)
At Miss USA

There were already murmurs of concern amongst pageant fans and pundits that Alyssa seemed rather skinny even during her Miss USA victory.  But it is still believed she has the qualities to become USA’s 8th Miss Universe, as she is a stage dynamo and is a bright communicator.  We willingly overlooked concerns over her skinny frame until it is revealed in stark relief during the Presentation Show.

At the Governor's Palace Gala Dinner

Several pageant fans and pundits panned the short-sleeved gold-embroidered blue gown but in my opinion she actually pulled it off rather well.  But her gaunt frame is already such an uncomfortable sight that could not be distracted by her still-awesome stage skills.  Then came the swimsuit round, where jaws dropped in shock at her stick frame.  It didn’t help that she seemed to have an uneven spray tan that made her look rather splotchy.  My heart broke as I sincerely wanted her to win it all.

She tried to assuage those anorexia concerns in Facebook by stating she actually eats six times a day.  I think this would be possible only if: a) she suffers from bulimia; b) she is suffering from a rare metabolic disorder; or c) she is recovering from Churg-Strauss syndrome, the disease that almost felled Everything But the Girl member Ben Watt.  I still want to keep the faith and want this lovely girl to succeed, but I’m not comfortable with the message she’s sending with her current body frame.

U S VIRGIN ISLANDS– Alexandrya Evans.  Her best quality is her communication skills, as displayed in her web interview.  Other aspects are below par, especially her figure (too thick for pageant standards).

VENEZUELA– Vanessa Gonçalves.  As Osmel Sousa displayed her progress prior to her arrival in Brazil, many pageant  fans and pundits felt sick to the stomach with the way she looked obviously manufactured, that she’s like a fem-bot.  Some have even coined a term for her: “Frankenzuela”.  So it’s such a turn-off that during a press call while being asked about plastic surgery, she denied through her obviously botoxed face that she had anything beyond a boob job at age 19.  Her supposed Brazilian heritage also seemed tenuous at best as reports in Brazil state that locals found her Portuguese incomprehensible (they say Bolivia and Costa Rica did a better job speaking the language).

Transition... (photo courtesy of estacionreal.com)
Fembots...I just can't resist (photo courtesy of New Line Cinema)

I found it amusing how a fan-constructed YouTube video speculating how her web interview would end up like actually turned out to be very similar to the actual thing.  The key differences though are that Vanessa sounded rather pleasant when she speaks and she has hand gestures to make up for her frozen facial expressions.  I also thought that the makeover Osmel gave her made her look like Trump’s ex-wife Marla Maples, which I don’t think is a good thing considering the relatively acrimonious divorce.

Marla Maples (photo sourced from fashion.rightcelebrity.com)

But Venezuela definitely could not be denied.  Besides the feathery blonde-streaked hairdo she sported throughout, Vanessa delivered sensationally during the Presentation Show.  She was fierce in a nude and sheer (with floral accents strategically placed all over) one-sleeved number, and her figure during the swimsuit round was indeed one of the best, if not the best, and she strutted fiercely to showcase that hot figure.  I suppose this is like the Claudia Moreno factor—despite objections with the person’s lack of facial beauty (or in this case, the fact that it’s artificial), ferocious stage moves would help you go very, very far.

Claudia Moreno at Miss Universe 2000.

VIETNAM– Vũ Thị Hoàng My.  I have to be honest that I’m not that into her the way other pageant fans and pundits were raving about her.  I suppose it’s like how Brazilians may not appreciate the gorgeousness of Miss Earth 2009 Larissa Ramos, or how a Nordic pageant pundit may have a low regard for blondes that other pageant pundits adored with a passion.  Anyway, she actually won me over as she did sparkle during the Presentation Show in her red lace-and-satin number during the evening gown round and strutting strongly with a trim figure during the swimsuit round.  If there will be an extra slot for a fourth Asian, she’s the one who is most likely to get it.

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

Now that all 89 delegates are accounted for, let me now trot out my leaderboard and present it to you:

TOP CONTENDERS: AUSTRALIA, CHINA, MALAYSIA, VENEZUELA

SHOO-INS: FRANCE, GREECE, NICARAGUA, PHILIPPINES, PUERTO RICO, U S A

LIKELIEST:  ALBANIA, ANGOLA, ARUBA, BRAZIL, CHILE, COLOMBIA, COSTA RICA, CYPRUS, ESTONIA, FINLAND, HAITI, KOSOVO, MEXICO, NETHERLANDS, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, PORTUGAL, SWEDEN, UKRAINE, VIETNAM

TRUMP FACTOR: CROATIA, CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARY, INDIA, ISRAEL, ITALY, RUSSIA, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

VOTE FACTOR: INDONESIA, THAILAND

EXCELLENT:  ARGENTINA, BAHAMAS, BOLIVIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, GHANA, HONDURAS, JAPAN, KOREA, LEBANON, MAURITIUS, MONTENEGRO, SERBIA, SOUTH AFRICA, SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, TURKEY, URUGUAY

VERY STRONG:  CANADA, CAYMAN ISLANDS, CURACAO, DENMARK, EGYPT, GERMANY, GREAT BRITAIN, POLAND, SINGAPORE, SLOVAK REPUBLIC, ST. LUCIA, TURKS & CAICOS

STRONG: GUATEMALA,ROMANIA,SLOVENIA

VERY GOOD: BELGIUM, GUYANA, SRI LANKA, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

GOOD: BOTSWANA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS, GEORGIA, GUAM, JAMAICA, NEW ZEALAND, NIGERIA, TANZANIA

FAIR: EL SALVADOR, IRELAND, KAZAKHSTAN

If justice were to prevail, I want to see at least three Asians, two Central Americans and two black ladies representing countries beginning with the letter “A” in the finals.  So here is my “Fearful Forecast”:

TOP FIVE: AUSTRALIA, CHINA, MALAYSIA, PHILIPPINES, VENEZUELA

TOP TEN: FRANCE, GREECE, NICARAGUA, PUERTO RICO, U S A

TOP 16: ANGOLA, ARUBA, BRAZIL, COSTA RICA, NETHERLANDS, UKRAINE

BUBBLING UNDER: ALBANIA, CHILE, COLOMBIA, CROATIA, CYPRUS, CZECH REPUBLIC, ESTONIA, FINLAND, HAITI, HUNGARY, INDIA, INDONESIA, ISRAEL, ITALY, KOSOVO, MEXICO, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, PORTUGAL, RUSSIA, SWEDEN, THAILAND, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, VIETNAM

STRIKING DISTANCE: ARGENTINA, BAHAMAS, BOLIVIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, GHANA, HONDURAS, JAPAN, KOREA, LEBANON, MAURITIUS, MONTENEGRO, SERBIA, SOUTH AFRICA, SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, TURKEY, URUGUAY

I have this gnawing feeling that there will be surprises in store for the finals, though I do hope the final outcome would be something that we would all serenely find aceeptable.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH