SPAIN – Andrea Huisgen. It was a journey of high drama for this lady–she was the winner of the original Miss Spain pageant, which due to a slew of issues (financial, among others) lost the franchise for this pageant in the middle of her reign. But somehow, she (or her family, with the blessing of Trump & Co as she and her family personally went to see them) struck a deal with the new franchise holder to be able to still represent this nation in this pageant (done by relinquishing her title as the traditional Miss Spain). She was initially regarded as a front-running contender, but as she arrived in Vegas, buzz around her dissipated somewhat. Her performance during the Presentation Show was a love-it-or-hate-it proposition–her expressions and her moves tended to be over-the-top that some pageant fans and pundits (including myself, unfortunately) consider it to be irritating. She exuded a bit more finesse in the National Costume show the next day, with a slightly-different-from-the-norm costume with a headpiece that made me recall the Natalie Portman movie Black Swan. I actually mean that as a compliment.
SRI LANKA – Sabrina Herft. There are pageant fans and pundits who started buzzing and heaping praises over her unconventional, exotic kind of beauty. I admittedly was not on that bandwagon until I witnessed her Presentation Show performance–this lady has got ferocious chops, especially how she delivered the famous Dayana Spin at least three times in her sexily sheer (with strategically placed poinsettia accents) red satin number, and sustaining a fierceness in the swimsuit round. She also made an indelibly flashy splash in the National Costume show the next day with her lighted golden peacock costume.
I still have doubts if her sensational Presentation Show performance could help her join Miss Universe 1955 Maureen Hingert and become only the second semifinalist from the country to this pageant. But it is still in the realm of possibility and it will be a pleasant surprise if this happens.
ST. LUCIA – Tara Edward. She definitely epitomizes the word “exotic” with her very Afro-Caribbean features and close-cropped Afro. I don’t want to be mean, but the first person that came to my mind when I looked at her was comedian Chris Rock–I could visualize how he’ll look if he shaves his beard and don drag. Joking aside, I can appreciate her exotic brand of beauty–too bad she’s not quite polished onstage, as she tripped in the swimsuit round of the Presentation Show and sported a blah pine green satin gown for the evening gown round. The following day, she encountered a mishap in the National Costume show as her parasol broke.
SWEDEN – Hanni Beronius. I wonder what happened to her that she didn’t appear in the National Costume show? It’s either her costume is held up in customs or she forgot to bring a costume, or she fell ill and unable to go onstage. At least she appeared in the Presentation Show–though she almost collided with Ms. St. Lucia and tripped along with her, and her gown presentation is lackluster. It’s such a shame as she has potential as she is good looking and judging from her online interview she is a great communicator.
SWITZERLAND – Alina Buchschacher. Here is another member of the P.A.T.I.S. crew–despite the potentially intriguing multiracial features.
TANZANIA – Winfrida Dominic. She probably sees Miss Universe 2007 semifinalist Flaviana Matata as a role model as she likes to keep her head close-cropped. But though she does have a potentially appealing exotic face, Flaviana has such a transcendent prettiness about her that this lady simply could never reach. In general she does make a polished presence, especially in the evening gown round of the Presentation Show.
THAILAND – Nutpimon Farida Waller. I have a feeling that the winner of the online popular vote would be this Eurasian beauty (half-Thai, half-Austrian), judging from recent online voting history. And I wouldn’t object as she’s one of the prettiest ladies in this batch. And she competed at a stratified level–not quite the level of Mz. Malaysia and Philippines, but still at a high standard. I particularly adore her beaded satin gown–she exuded a dreamy, elegant presence in it, like a modern princess.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO – Avionne Mark. Amongst the black delegates in this year’s pageant, I feel this lady is the one who would become the one most likely to make the cut–but the thing is, her performance is generally strong, but there were so many stellar performances out there that she was obviously drowned out. Still, I think she’s great looking, she has a slender and trim figure, she has strong communication skills, and solid stage presence.
TURKEY – Çağıl Özge Özkul. She reminds me of a less-than-polished version of actress Leelee Sobieski. She’s a solid contender, but nothing more.
UKRAINE – Anastasia Chernova. When she was announced the winner of her national pageant, most pageant fans and pundits felt that it is likely she’ll be shut out as they deemed her probably the weakest representative ever sent by this country to this pageant, and definitely a far cry from Miss Universe 2011 1st runner-up Olesya Stefanko. But as she arrived in Las Vegas, people starting taking a second look as she seems to exude charisma, and they started seeing a resemblance to Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. She actually performed convincingly in the Presentation Show, though it is likely a Trump Ticket may be in order to help her secure a place in the finals.
URUGUAY – Camila Vezzoso. She has a very pretty face, but everything else about her is unpolished–her figure is less-than-toned, and she looked matronly in her red sequined short-sleeved evening gown.
U S A – Olivia Culpo. She is actually good looking and polished, even if several pageant fans and pundits have reservations regarding her 5’5″ stature. She was on-track to be assured of a semifinals slot, but then came the evening gown round of the Presentation Show, and she sported a humongous gown featuring a long-sleeved fuchsia velvet top and a voluminous chiffon fuchsia-and-white skirt. It was a fashion risk that misfired horribly–I so hate the styling, and made me uncomfortably recall Ireland’s Rozanna Purcell’s styling issues two years ago. She redeemed herself somewhat in the swimsuit round, but she’s no sexy bombshell like the way Rozanna Purcell was in her Miss Universe stint. A Trump Ticket may be in order for her to advance and avoid the fate of Rima Fakih two years ago.
VENEZUELA – Irene Esser. She was my favorite to win it all, as I am enamored by her beauty–one of the most gorgeous delegates ever sent by this perennial pageant powerhouse, in my reckoning. Though some pageant fans and pundits were starting to be annoyed by her occasionally goofy but energetic vibe, I still hold my regard for her as the one to beat until the Presentation Show came. She started well in the evening gown round, as she worked her striped black-and-nude number with flouncy mermaid hem with aplomb–some pageant fans and pundits bitched that her performance in this round was over-the-top, but I loved it. It was the swimsuit round where I found she is vulnerable–her styling made me recall the “Little Lulu” styling issue that marred Mexico’s Anagaby Espinoza back at Miss World 2008, that she dropped from front-runner to mere semifinalist.
But then again, I recalled back at Miss Universe 2008, there were some pageant fans and pundits who also complained that Dayana Mendoza seemed to be acting over-the-top, but she finessed her act when it counted during the finals, and the rest was history. I think Irene can easily fine-tune and adjust and when she does, watch out Melinda Bam! (or Karina Gonzalez or Janine Tugonon or Bodine Koehler or Egny Eckert for that matter).
I have to note that like Miss Sri Lanka, she also has battery-powered lights for her chocolate-inspired costume–her family runs a chocolate factory, you know, hence the atypical costume. I also have a note about her online video interview–she surprisingly exudes the vibe of a Brazilian instead of a Venezuelan, as she talks about being on the beach in her responses to two of the three questions and exudes a breezy, fun vibe.
VIETNAM – Lưu Thị Diễm Hương. This lady already has experience, having made the Top 14 at Miss Earth two years ago (she was the host delegate). This is evident with her polished top-notch performance in the Presentation Show. Like Miss Curacao, her response to the “Armageddon” question was to rob a bank, but they can’t become partners in crime, as her intentions are a bit more altruistic–to help poorer people, a la Robin Hood. Though she is worthy of making the cut with her own merits, her best prospects to make the final cut is to win the popular online vote–if Thailand or the Philippines do not beat her to it.
With all 89 delegates accounted for, here is my Leaderboard:
TOP CONTENDERS: PARAGUAY, PUERTO RICO, SOUTH AFRICA
SHOO-INS: AUSTRALIA, CROATIA, MEXICO, PHILIPPINES, VENEZUELA
LIKELIEST: ALBANIA, BELGIUM, BRAZIL, CAYMAN ISLANDS, CHILE, COLOMBIA, CZECH REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, FRANCE, GEORGIA, GUATEMALA, JAPAN, KOREA, KOSOVO, LEBANON, MALAYSIA, NETHERLANDS, NEW ZEALAND, POLAND, SRI LANKA, THAILAND, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, UKRAINE, VIETNAM
TRUMP FACTOR: CHINA, FINLAND, GERMANY, HUNGARY, NORWAY, RUSSIA, SPAIN, SWEDEN, U S A
EXCELLENT: ARGENTINA, BAHAMAS, BOLIVIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, EL SALVADOR, GABON, GHANA, GREECE, INDONESIA, IRELAND, ITALY, JAMAICA, NAMIBIA, NICARAGUA, PANAMA, PERU, SWITZERLAND, TANZANIA
VERY STRONG: ANGOLA, ARUBA, CANADA, CURACAO, ETHIOPIA, GREAT BRITAIN, HONDURAS, INDIA, ISRAEL, SERBIA, ST. LUCIA, TURKEY
STRONG: BOTSWANA, BULGARIA, COSTA RICA, ESTONIA, GUYANA, HAITI, LITHUANIA, MAURITIUS, SINGAPORE
VERY GOOD: BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS, CYPRUS, GUAM, MONTENEGRO, ROMANIA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC
GOOD: DENMARK, NIGERIA
Though it might not completely match my leaderboard (especially the Top Five constituents), here is my “fearful” forecast:
TOP FIVE: CROATIA, MEXICO, PHILIPPINES, SOUTH AFRICA, VENEZUELA
TOP TEN: AUSTRALIA, ECUADOR, GUATEMALA, PARAGUAY, PUERTO RICO
TOP 16: CZECH REPUBLIC, GEORGIA, KOSOVO, MALAYSIA, NETHERLANDS, THAILAND
BUBBLING UNDER: ALBANIA, BELGIUM, BRAZIL, CAYMAN ISLANDS, CHILE, CHINA, COLOMBIA, FINLAND, FRANCE, GEORGIA, GERMANY, HUNGARY, JAPAN, KOREA, LEBANON, NEW ZEALAND, NORWAY, POLAND, RUSSIA, SPAIN, SRI LANKA, SWEDEN, THAILAND, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, UKRAINE, U S A, VIETNAM
STRIKING DISTANCE: ARGENTINA, BAHAMAS, BOLIVIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, EL SALVADOR, GABON, GHANA, GREECE, INDONESIA, IRELAND, ITALY, JAMAICA, NAMIBIA, NICARAGUA, PANAMA, PERU, SWITZERLAND, TANZANIA
The way I see it, the battle for the crown is going to be fiercely fought amongst eight contenders: would the crowds sway the judges in favor of Mexico or the Philippines, or would merit prevail and the consistently stellar performances of Australia, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, or South Africa would be rewarded, or would Venezuela get her act together when it counts and blast everyone away, or can Croatia sneak behind with her Aubrey Hepburn elegance? It is going to be very exciting, and I’m rooting for the best girl to win.
All images courtesy of Miss Universe LP, LLLP unless otherwise indicated.