ROMANIA – Andrada Vilciu. She’s plain and unpolished. Also sparsely photographed (it’s difficult to find a group photo of her, and it’s like finding a needle in a haystack just to find a solo photo of her in China).
RUSSIA – Elena Chepilchenko. She makes a distinctive presence with her brunette pre-Raphaelite tresses. Though I do find her pretty enough, I’ve seen much prettier Russians than her but I have this gnawing feeling that with the right mood the mercurial Chinese judges may bestow blessings her way.
SINGAPORE – Stella Kae Sze Yun. Here is another lady who finding a solo photo during her China stint is elusive. Like Malaysia, a typical representative from this country in this pageant would be among the weakest links in a usually formidable Asian contingent. This is year is no exception.
SLOVAKIA – Dušana Lukáčová. I find her features interesting and intriguing. She reminds me of actress Rebecca Gayheart. I regard her as a worthwhile semifinals possibility.
SOUTH AFRICA – Natasha Kashimoto. If this were Miss Universe or Miss World (or maybe even Miss Earth), we would be regarding her as a serious semifinals contender as she has a complete, polished presence. Miss Guadeloupe may be prettier and Miss Trinidad & Tobago more outgoing and dynamic, but this lady for me is the best black delegate in this batch. Will the mercurial Chinese judges make room for a black girl this time?
SPAIN – Sarah Lopez Bujia. This country could be considered a major powerhouse in this pageant. Over the past 30 years, this country only missed the cut five times. Will this lady sustain the streak or be one of the rare exceptions? Surprisingly I’m divided as although she’s attractive, I’m not that into her looks. Still, she is a worthwhile and serious semifinals contender.
SWEDEN – Denice Andreé. This country has fielded some gorgeous lookers like Cecilia Ragnarsson last year and Emelie Lundquist nine years ago, but for some odd reason, they missed the final cut. I hope that this gorgeous stunner could buck the trend and make the final cut or maybe even win it all. If we base it on looks alone she ought to indeed be a front-runner.
TAHITI – Hitiana Monnier. She’s good looking but not a standout. An uphill battle for the semifinals.
TANZANIA – Nelly Kamwelu. Just because she has experience at Miss Universe and won a minor Pan-African pageant means that she is in serious contention for the semifinals. She’s simply too plain for comfort to make the right impression.
THAILAND – Kantapat Peeradachainarin. There are some pageant fans and pundits who believe this lady could sustain the 1st runner-up finish of Piyaporn Deejing last year. There are photos where she seemed more mature than most contenders and it seems she’ll be edged out by the likes of Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines, and Vietnam.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO – Renee Bhagwandeen. She may not be that attractive lookswise, but she seems to know how to make a splash wherever she appears. Since this contest is often a game of stage presence, would she make a strong enough impression to win over the mercurial Chinese panel? Anyway, it has been 40 years since this country last competed in this pageant–it’s such a nice welcome back.
TURKEY – Elif Korkmaz. We’ve seen better Turks represented in this pageant. She looks plain and not-so-polished.
UKRAINE – Oleksandra Kyrsha. There are angles where she resembles Miss Universe 1992 Michelle McLean. But then again, Michelle McLean’s features are not the sort that typically would be appreciated in this pageant.
U S A – Kristen Little. Well, you can’t fault her for doing the best she could and making the most she could out of what she has. Still, the likeliest scenario is that she’ll miss the final cut–for the last 20 years it has made the final cut only once.
VENEZUELA – Jessica Barboza. Just like her stint at Miss Earth, this lady is consistently at the top of her game, and she is clearly among the front-runners, even if there are some virulent detractors amongst the pageant fans and pundits. Could she pull off a back-to-back a la the combo of Dayana Mendoza and Stefania Fernandez back at Miss Universe? One factor that could make that a possibility is that she has a resemblance to Miss International 2003, Goizeder Azua. But the issue is–would the Chinese powers-that-be allow that to happen? And there are some strong beauties who could usurp that outcome, too. Let’s all see how it all goes on November 6.
VIETNAM – Trương Tri Trúc Diễm. This Miss Earth 2007 contestant has the potential to make up for the apparent injustice hoisted upon her when she missed the final cut of that pageant. She is one of the favorites to take it all, and is currently caught in a fierce three-way battle for the popular internet vote–which reportedly would guarantee the winner a slot in the semifinals–with Mz. China and Philippines. She is great looking and seems to be making a great impression.
ZIMBABWE – Lisa Morgan. This is the first time ever that this country competed in this pageant. She’s probably a middling candidate at best, but still it’s a welcome treat that this beleaguered country got to see action in this pageant. She seemed to make a memorable impression with her African dance.
Now that all 67 delegates are accounted for, let me trot out my leaderboard to show you how I think they all stack up:
TOP CONTENDERS: CHINA, PANAMA, PHILIPPINES, SWEDEN, VENEZUELA, VIETNAM
LIKELIEST: AUSTRALIA, BELARUS, BOLIVIA, BRAZIL, COLOMBIA, COSTA RICA, FRANCE, GUAM, HONG KONG, HUNGARY, INDIA, INDONESIA, LEBANON, MONGOLIA, NEW ZEALAND, PARAGUAY, PUERTO RICO, RUSSIA, SLOVAKIA, SPAIN
EXCELLENT: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, ESTONIA, FINLAND, GUADELOUPE, GUATEMALA, LATVIA, MEXICO, NETHERLANDS, PERU, SOUTH AFRICA, THAILAND
GOODWILL FACTOR: JAPAN, KOREA
VERY STRONG: CUBA, EL SALVADOR, KYRGYZSTAN, MACAU, NEPAL, POLAND, TAHITI, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, UKRAINE
STRONG: BELIZE, GEORGIA, HONDURAS, PORTUGAL, U S A, ZIMBABWE
VERY GOOD: DENMARK, MALAYSIA, SINGAPORE, TANZANIA
GOOD: BELGIUM, HAWAII, TURKEY
FAIR: ARUBA, CHINESE TAIPEI, GERMANY, ITALY, ROMANIA
So, here’s my “Fearful” Forecast:
TOP THREE: CHINA, PANAMA, VENEZUELA
SEMIFINALISTS: BOLIVIA, COLOMBIA, FRANCE, INDONESIA, JAPAN, KOREA, MONGOLIA, PHILIPPINES, PUERTO RICO, SPAIN, SWEDEN, VIETNAM
BUBBLING UNDER: AUSTRALIA, BELARUS, BRAZIL, COSTA RICA, GUAM, HONG KONG, HUNGARY, INDIA, LEBANON, NEW ZEALAND, RUSSIA, SLOVAKIA
STRIKING DISTANCE: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, ESTONIA, FINLAND, GUADELOUPE, GUATEMALA, LATVIA, MEXICO, NETHERLANDS, PERU, SOUTH AFRICA, THAILAND
Since 2004 I know the final results would feature some out-of-left-field surprises, with one or both runners-up ending up as headscratchers. With a strong top-tier field this time, I hope this would be an exception to that recent rule.