Today is the end of the year.  As I had expected, the world didn’t end during my brother’s birthday (yes, it falls on 21 December).  Life went on for most folks in this planet.

I have to say I’m grateful about this year as on the career and personal front things were generally stable, and slowly and surely I could see the light on the end of the tunnel regarding my own financial issues.  Though a couple of members of my immediate family had endured trials during the year, for one it seems to eventually end up for the good while we all continue to try to help the other one get by.

I foresee challenges ahead in my career as there were changes made in the way my department is structured that could affect the way my performance is measured.  I hope I can keep up and measure up even with the new standards that are likely going to be in place next year.

In the health front, I have to admit I vacillate between the “eat, drink, and be merry as tomorrow we die” philosophy and obeying my mother’s concerns and take my medications to help extend my life and be conscious of what I eat (and find time to exercise, which admittedly I’m too lazy to do).  I’m not sure where I will swing next year but at this moment I will try to take the healthier route, as at this point there are things I still want to do with my life, especially with this blog.

I like to learn how to entertain ads like the way most bloggers do, and reach a broader audience with what I write.  Something like how my colleague Norman Tinio does it.  I’ll ask a few pointers from him, as I still don’t know how to tweak my WordPress settings yet…

Besides Norman, there are two role models that I would be emulating when I finally push through with making this blog bigger, especially if I add original video content (though I tend to be averse to putting my mug and speaking out there, especially if you see some of my relatively awkward videos that I did for Mabuhay Beauties).

The first role model is Michael Slezak.  I have been following his American Idol video reviews when he was still writing for Entertainment Weekly and his weekly “Idolatry” videos are stuff that I follow religiously.  He moved on to the website TVLine.com, and he does the video series “Reality Check” (for X Factor and The Voice) and “Idology” (formerly named “Idoloonies”).  With the video editing of Michael Averett, I am immensely  entertained at some of the video metaphors being used by Mr. Averett–I try to do a “written” equivalent when I do my pageant “Homestretch” reviews with all those photos and videos of deadringers and lookalikes that I embed throughout.  I think if I were to appear on video again, it would probably be better if I feed off conversing with an equally passionate colleague, like the way Michael Slezak has American Idol Season 6 shoulda-been-winner Melinda Doolittle as a dialogue partner.  I have one person in mind (a viral semi-celebrity who is a longtime friend of mine, but I wonder about his commitments with another blogger) and I think if we videotape our dialogues on pageants it would probably be fabulous.  I’m embedding three of my favorite sample episodes of “Idology” for you readers to check out.

My second role model is a Canadian married couple now based in South Korea–Simon & Martina Stawski of Eatyourkimchi.com.  They originally set up their blog to help their family keep tabs with them as they pursue their careers as English schoolteachers in Korea (their family had fears about what Korea was like then, especially with a looming North Korean threat then).  But their very meticulously educational yet humorously entertaining guide on all aspects of Korean culture has led to an increasing amount of followers that eventually they left their original professions and made a career out of their blogging.  Their “K-Pop Music Mondays” are their most popular feature, where they review the latest in K-Pop–they mix intelligent insight with utterly cheeky humor, which is again how I try to approach my own reviews.  I tend to wholeheartedly agree with their views with the exception of their take about the rap sequence in the Wonder Girls’ “Be My Baby”–I don’t find it as jarring as they found it, but it resulted in a classically hilarious skit about mismatched rap interludes.  My favorite review of theirs is their take on Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop”–Simon’s raunchy dancing is permanently etched in my head, and I could never look at “Bubble Pop” any other way…  Besides that video, I’m also embedding their 100th episode edition of K-Pop Music Mondays so the non-initiated can catch up with their series of in-jokes, along with their year-end “How To Dance K-Pop 2010” (which has now evolved into the “Eat Your Kimchi Awards” or “EYKAs” this year).  Their favorite phrase is “Ooh, you’re so naaaasssty…”, and they have a fan club known as the Nasties–I count myself as one of them.

Especially in the expected lulls between pageant seasons (since the major pageants I follow now tend to take place in the second half of the year), I will most likely share my passion for pop music, even if I know they aren’t currently the most popular features on my blog–I hope there would be more readers who would patronize this side of me eventually, especially those who do mash-ups as I have musical mash-up ideas that I hope one can execute over in YouTube one of these days (as I don’t have the skills or the time to learn how to edit my own mash-ups).  My brain is brimming with them and I’ll see if I can make them into a regular feature.

The next little ambition I have for next year is to revive my hobby doing my fan art related to Humon’s online comic strip “Scandinavia & the World”.  Humon is a female Danish artist who provides brilliant insights on various cultures (of course specializing in Scandinavia) featuring characters personifying various countries–I want to do my take featuring the Asian countries, and I have some fun ideas for her own characters that I hope could make it into her canon eventually.  I don’t have the energy to do my own drawing even if my mind is loaded with so much plots and ideas (and I’m often frustrated at how crude they often look), so I wonder if there could be a skilled artist whom I could collaborate with fleshing my ideas on paper…  Anyway, below is a sample piece of work I created inspired by that comic strip:

Scandinavia & the World characters inspired by Boys Over Flowers, from L-R: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Sister Japan (all characters copyright by Humon)

Finally, my other wishes for the New Year are the cliché ones–prosperity and good health for myself and my loved ones, along with peace through all the world.  Hope all my goals can be realized for next year, and I wish for the best for the coming year for all my friends and colleagues.




The victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (image courtesy of Time Magazine)

MISS UNIVERSE 2012:  U S A – Olivia Culpo.   The day after the Presentation Show, a mentally unstable and antisocial 20-year-old named Adam Lanza murdered his gun-collecting mother and then went on a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newport, Connecticut, slaughtering 20 innocent 1st grade children and six members of the school faculty before killing himself.  I’m certain the Miss Universe Organization and NBC went into a pow-wow after this to discuss how they could address this issue.  I imagined the meeting went something like this:

“Should we overhaul the pageant’s theme to address this tragedy?  How do we make it somber?”

“No, we shouldn’t do that.  Let’s keep the holiday theme intact.  We can address it by offering a moment of silence to pray for those victims.  Besides, America would need something uplifting after a tragedy like this, and we can provide that uplift.”

“Okay, we keep it festive so we can uplift America’s spirits, and we can squeeze in that moment of silence after the final question-and-answer round…”

“And what better way to uplift America’s spirits than to have Miss USA win!  I’m sure our predominantly American celebrity panel would be in a mood to support her no matter what.  How are her chances so far?”

“We tabulated the results from the preliminary judges, and she fell a bit short–her evening gown performance prevented her from making the Top 10, but otherwise she did well in swimsuit and interview.”

“We shouldn’t worry about that since we have a say on who makes the cut anyway and we can always grant her a slot.”

“But there are eight contestants who are leading the pack so far… Australia, Mexico, Paraguay, Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Venezuela, with Croatia as a wild card as people are buzzing about her pretty face and long-sleeved evening gown.”

“Which of them could we remove?”

“Well, Paraguay and Puerto Rico have several detractors over the Internet.”

“Okay, so let’s keep them out of the final cut…  Who’s next?”

“Croatia is very pretty, and if she wore that same gown with the same hairstyle she can overshadow our bet.  She is like a new Audrey Hepburn.  But she does have a weakness as she doesn’t move that well onstage.”

“Well, have someone advise her to change her hairstyle so we can let her go as far as the swimsuit round and no further… Who else could we take out?”

“The remaining girls have strong followings that if we get rid of any of them, there would be an uproar.  The fans over the internet particularly believe South Africa as the one most likely to win.”

“Does she have any weakness like Croatia.”

“None that I can think of… She’s actually perfect.”

“That’s it!  Maybe she is too perfect, and not everyone trusts a person who is ‘perfect’.”

“She likes making inspirational statements in the interview we filmed, like she talked about ‘we are the product of the choices we make’ and ‘living life in abundance’–we can edit it to make her less human and real…  The judges would probably then not allow her to go to the Final Five.”

“That’s good, then.  What about Australia?”

“Remember that Kooey and Australian Gold are among our sponsors this year?”

“Oh yes, okay, let’s keep her in the Top Five.  How about Venezuela?”

“Well, she’s too strong to not make it all the way, but she could be over-the-top sometimes.  Some are saying she could be the next Dayana Mendoza.  I don’t know but I think her team are finetuning her act for the finals.”

“Okay, we’ll just cross the bridge when we get there and let our celebrity panel decide her fate.  We can make her 1st runner-up if she performed perfectly all the way.  What about Mexico and Philippines?”

“They do have fanatical followers and they will be in full-force on the 19th.  Philippines is someone to watch out for if she reaches the Final Five.  She aces her interviews.”

“Well, we can always say Philippines is not as pretty as Miss USA, so she can be, like, 2nd runner-up.  And we can let the judges decide Mexico’s fate if they think she deserves to be in the Final Five.”

“So what can we do with Miss USA’s gown?  Olivia’s deadset on wearing it for the finals.”

“Let her keep on wearing it–it’s different enough that it could wow the judges.  We can change the styling, so perhaps that would make it better.”

“So, I think we have everything all set, then?”

“Yes, indeed.  Americans should be pleased with the end result.  Meeting adjourned.”

As much as I am convinced a conspiracy has to be in place to permit Olivia to win it all, I don’t really have anything against Olivia herself.  Let’s face it–despite her relatively diminutive 5’5″ stature she is pretty, and her figure is a buffed athletic frame.  I also have to commend that she cleaned up her hairdo for the finals evening gown round–yes, some detractors compared the hairstyle to a meatbun (we Filipinos and probably the Chinese would call it siopao) plopped on top of her head, but it’s a quantum improvement over the messy hairdo she sported in the Presentation Show.  The absence of sashes in the final competition also provided an added bonus as the low-cut gown showcased her ample cleavage to the fullest.  I wouldn’t have objected her advancing to the final round except for one thing–she tripped on her evening gown!  With at least five ladies delivering flawless evening gown performances, her tripping should’ve been penalized.  But I suppose the celebrity panel were in a patriotic mood (and are conditioned to believe Miss South Africa is “too perfect” to be true) so they let her through.

For the final question, she was asked by Miss Universe 2010 Ximena Navarrete, “What is something you have done that you would never do again?”  Olivia’s response: “Hmmm… Okay. Well, first, I’d like to start off by saying that every experience no matter what it is, good or bad, you’ll learn from it. Um. That’s the name of… That’s just life. But something that I regret would probably be picking on my siblings growing up because you appreciate them so much more as you grow older. You get closer with your family but everybody fights with their siblings, right? So… But I don’t regret it!”  Actually, she gave a strong and refreshingly sincere answer–in my reckoning, it’s good for a 2nd runner-up finish, but it still does not compare to the brilliance of Janine’s answer or the strength of Renae’s answer.  With the clearest of conscience, in all aspects I do not believe that this lady was better than Janine that night.

Well, in a certain way, the “uplifting” set-up did generate results–TV ratings for the broadcast of this pageant went up 14% from last year’s all-time-low, but we have to note–it’s still approximately half the audience attracted ten years ago when Oxana Fedorova won.  One might assume that Americans “drank the Kool-Aid” offered by this broadcast–but as revealed by the fan rant* in my previous installment, (along with reactions by some American pageant fans and pundits), not every American is convinced by the victory.

*Caveat emptor:  take note that the said angry American fan rant was filmed by an American-based Filipino pageant fan, but I wholeheartedly believe her sentiments are true and sincere.

As much as I agree with the sentiments of my fellow Filipinos about the final outcome, Janine’s achievements is still something worth celebrating, and we should respect the results even as we vehemently disagree with it.  Let’s just move on and hopefully we will get our just rewards next year or in the years that follow.

The three successful Filipina queens: Venus Raj (4th runner-up 2010), Shamcey Supsup (3rd runner-up 2011), and Janine Tugonon (1st runner-up 2012) (image courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide)

All images courtesy of Miss Universe LP, LLLP unless otherwise indicated.




Three members of the “Magic Eight” made it all the way to the Final Five.  Most pageant fans and pundits are upset at the inclusion of the two other members of this group and would rather have, say, Mexico and South Africa in their place.  One finalist is notable for changing her gown (all the rest of the Top 10 semifinalists who got to parade their gowns didn’t change them).  Two of the finalists may not have changed their gowns, but they altered their styling and one of them even altered the way she walked in it.  It is also interesting to note that as it turns out, the three surviving “Magic Eight” members also channeled the most recent successful Filipinas in this pageant–how and who is what, I will discuss that further when I review each and every one of them, starting with…

4TH RUNNER-UP:  BRAZIL – Gabriela Markus.  Several pageant fans and pundits have a low regard for her, almost as bad if not worse as they regarded her predecessor Priscila Machado.  I may not consider as gorgeous, but I do find her attractive, even better looking than the hissable Ms. Machado.  She makes me think that she’s like an older sister of Gislaine Ferreira–and yes, I know Gislaine competed in this pageant and landed as a semifinalist nine years ago.  I have much respect for her polished presence and strong catwalk skills, and I know she didn’t need a Trump Ticket to make it this far.  And let’s face it, she did deliver in both rounds in the finals (though I had a quibble with her slow catwalk in the swimsuit round), especially in her sexy gold evening gown with lines radiating from the middle of her torso.

For the final question, she was asked by judge Kerri Walsh-Jennings (a three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist) about her opinion if wearing a swimsuit in public reduce people to sexual objects.  She gave a solid answer about that it is not in the way we dress where we show our true selves, but what matters is what we show in our hearts.  Even if one other finalist gave a disastrous answer, the judges were charmed by that lady’s energy that they felt this lady making as far as she did was already reward enough.  I kinda agree a bit there, and I actually did not object her presence in this lofty group as vehemently as several other pageant fans and pundits.

Gislaine Ferreira at Miss Universe 2003

3RD RUNNER-UP:  AUSTRALIA – Renae Ayris.  She exudes the perfect balance of polished presence and bubbly charm to win over the celebrity panel and edge out the “too perfect” Miss South Africa to make it all the way to the Final Five.  For her final round question, she was asked by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump that since a Miss Universe title involves modeling, what would she do if she was told to lose weight or risk losing a modeling contract.  She answered “I feel really comfortable in the way I feel and I think that’s really important. If someone told me that I’m overweight then I would completely ignore it. As long as I’m feeling good within myself then I think that’s all that matters.”  Though it’s a ballsy stand as models typically try to acquiesce to what a client requires, it’s a stand that many would respect, and it made me recall the stance Shamcey Supsup took with her question last year, and even if some may disagree with her view, it’s a well-delivered and well-argued answer.  I expected her to fight it out with Janine for the final two based on her answer, and I would’ve tolerated her being chosen as the winner.  So I was shocked when she was called 3rd runner-up instead, and it turns out she is exactly like the Shamcey Supsup of this year’s group, providing a high quality answer in the Q&A and deserving of a higher ranking than what she got.

2ND RUNNER-UP:  VENEZUELA – Irene Esser.  If someone would ask me who is most likely going to turn into this year’s version of Venus Raj, I wouldn’t think that anyone would fit that bill, much less this lady.  I presumed she would be like Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza and during the swimsuit and evening gown rounds she seemed to be on that track, though she added her own bouncy and lively twist (I know that detractors again would decry that she’s overdoing it, but I think it worked wonderfully).  She changed her gown from the flouncy black-and-white number in the Presentation Show to a season-appropriate striped pine-green satin number–many pageant fans and pundits preferred the former, but I think she did a tremendous job working the latter number and evoking the holiday spirit.

For the final question, she was asked by Rock of Ages star Diego Boneta about what would be one law she would want to create and why.  Though it was translated into Spanish, she chose to answer in English this way: “I think that any leys [“laws” in Spanish] that are in constitution or in life are already made. I think that we should have, uh, a straight way to go in our similar or, eh, in, in our life as it is. For example, I am a surfer and I think that the…the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So… please… do… our only laws that we can do. Thank you, Vegas!”  It sounds so disastrously flaky in English that some pageant fans felt she should’ve probably answered in her native Spanish instead.  But I have a feeling even in Spanish, the substance of the answer would be incoherent, and the translator could have been given flak instead.  I couldn’t quite make sense of it–the closest I could figure is perhaps she is saying she would rather not make any new laws, but implement better the laws that are already in place, but then again, what would this have to do with her background as a surfer?  At least you could figure out what Venus and China’s Luo Zilin were trying to say in their respective years, that they were only marred by the awkward way they stated their answers.  This lady’s answer made the other two ladies sound like Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

But still, how come this lady got away with it and salvage a 2nd runner-up finish while Venus and Zilin ended up in the bottom of the Final Five?  I suppose the bouncy final look helped remind the judges how they loved her in the earlier rounds.  I have a feeling that if she did not screw up her answer, she might have ended as 1st runner-up (I would’ve said winner–but we now realize that that slot is now reserved for one lady alone regardless of how well she performed).

1ST RUNNER-UP:  PHILIPPINES – Janine Tugonon.  If Renae channeled Shamcey and Irene channeled Venus, this lady obviously channeled Miss Universe 1999 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao–she is finally Miriam Quiambao 2.0 fully realized and upgraded.*  Just like Miriam Quiambao, she makes a strikingly distinctive presence with her dusky Asian features, and bolstered that presence by making an indelible impact whenever she appears onstage.  But she possessed something extra that Miriam lacked–strong presence of mind and a gift of delivering brilliant answers when it counts–she has proven this in the two occasions she competed at Bb. Pilipinas, first becoming 1st runner-up behind Shamcey and the other titleholders before finally clinching the Miss Universe Philippines title the following year.  We should also add the powerful crowd presence of Filipino fans and supporters rooting her every move, just like with Venus Raj back in 2010.  She is also the most likely winner of the popular vote (which was not announced this year)–I have a feeling they treated the popular vote like a fast-track this year, that even if she qualified with the preliminary judges’ results, her popular vote win probably allowed one more slot for a girl to qualify.

* I originally thought our representative back in 2001, Zoraida Andam, was the Miriam Quiambao 2.0, but she was like a beta version that fizzled with a less-than-toned swimsuit figure.  In some ways, just like Shamcey is like what Nina Ricci Alagao should have been back in Miss Universe 2000 (she unfortunately fizzled with a wan Presentation Show performance), Janine is what Zora should have been but wasn’t–remember that Janine’s weakest point is her figure, but she managed to make the judges overlook that with her fierce catwalk.

It’s interesting to note that for the evening gown round, with the help of her handlers from Aces & Queens she tweaked her presentation from the Presentation Show to the finals.  First, her hairstyle was altered from the small back bun in the Presentation Show to the sleeker ponytail for the finals.  Then, the way she walked in her gown changed–she originally simply walked and swayed her Barraza number in the Presentation Show, but for the finals, she played around with the pleating of her sheer skirt and employed elements of the Riyo Mori Gucci Flash and hence created an evening gown performance that now belongs as among the all-time greatest along with the legendary performances by Miriam Quiambao, Taliana Vargas, Dayana Mendoza, Riyo Mori, among others.  As designer Nick Verreos blogged, “Drag Queens across the World will be copying it!”

Now, let’s talk about that now-legendary question-and-answer round:  former America’s Next Top Model photographer and judge Nigel Barker asked the question posted on Twitter thus: “As an international ambassador, do you believe that speaking English should be a prerequisite to being Miss Universe? Why or why not?”  Janine’s response: “”For me, being Miss Universe is not just about knowing about how to speak a specific language. It’s being able to influence and inspire other people. So what…[Audience applauds] So whatever language you have, as long as your heart is to serve and you have a strong mind to… to show to people, then you can be Miss Universe.”  The last time I was mesmerized by an answer, it was back in 1997 when Brook Lee brilliantly aced what stumped the likes of Jamaica’s Kimberly Mais (1991), India’s Namrata Shirodkar (1993), and most heartbreakingly, Venezuela’s Carolina Iszak (1992) during the Top Six judges’ question round (see video embedded below, and if you can, go to the 9-minute mark).  As a sassy American viewer put it (see video embedded below), “(It’s) like God touched her and (said), ‘Answer!'”  And the level of Janine’s answer compared to the rest made me recall how Gloria Diaz clinched the final Q&A round back in 1969 (though Gloria’s answer was not in the profoundly eloquent level of Janine’s answer, but in those days contestants were not that savvy in interviews as they are these days).  At that moment I had visions that Janine might indeed become our next Gloria Diaz and bring forth our nation’s third win from this pageant.  But the events on the day after the Presentation Show put that possibility out for good…

All images courtesy of Miss Universe LP, LLLP unless otherwise indicated.