NICARAGUA – Farah Eslaquit Cano. Her features are what I tend to describe as appealingly exotic. In general I regard her as another member of the P.A.T.I.S. crew (there is a huge roster for this club this year). In a less competitive year, she could have made serious inroads into the finals.
NIGERIA – Isabella Agbor Ojong Ayuk. Where, oh where, have all the Agbani Daregos and Chinenye Ochubas have gone? This lady is one of the weakest links in this year’s pageant–if it weren’t for Denmark’s disastrous catwalk, this lady would’ve been the cellar-dweller.
NORWAY – Sara Nicole Andersen. This brunette has striking features that caused a tizzy amongst some pageant fans and pundits. This is partly because she is actually of Serbian-Iranian descent (she immigrated to Norway when she was four, and I have a feeling her name is an adopted name and not her birth name). She reminds me of a cross between Smallville and Beauty & the Beast star Kristin Kreuk and Charmed star Holly Marie Combs. She exudes a lot of charm, and is a strong communicator. Though she has a solid catwalk, her Presentation Show performance was not a home run–people have an issue that the gown she wore was a knock-off of Miss World 2011 Ivian Sarcos’s winning gown, and she didn’t have the charisma to pull off the risky number. Could a Trump Ticket be in order for her to make the final cut?
PANAMA – Stephanie Vander Werf. Her face is rather plain (Project Runway Season 2 contestant Nick Verreos may disagree with me here), but we have to concede that she’s a polished performer onstage–sure there are people panning the green printed number she sported during the evening gown round of the Presentation Show, but I feel she pulled it off with flair.
PARAGUAY – Egny Eckert. I know she is likely going to make the final cut in this pageant, but I didn’t anticipate the dreamy presence she generated during the Presentation Show–she exudes a regal goddess persona, especially during the evening gown round. It was a very finessed persona I witnessed and I felt she gave one of the five best Presentation Show performances out there. She even sustained that serene goddess persona during the National Costume show the following day, with her utterly classy, elegant, and tasteful costume. It’s a far cry from the hoochie sexpot persona she exuded before she started competing in international pageants, but she has been cleaning and classing up her image starting with her stint at Miss World 2010 (where she made the Top 25). Can she equal or even exceed the 3rd runner-up placements of Yanina Gonzalez (2004) and Lourdes Arevalos (2006)? It is highly conceivable.
PERU – Nicole Faverón. It’s tough that she’s sandwiched in between two of the most formidable stage dynamos, that as well as she had been performing she couldn’t get an edge in. Her face is prettier than the majority of the contestants here, but against such a competitive group, she ends up becoming a member of the P.A.T.I.S. crew. Still, we have to commend her for putting up a good fight.
PHILIPPINES – Janine Tugonon. One might assume that with the popular and enthusiastic cheers she received in Vegas (almost akin to the reception Venus Raj received two years ago), that she’s a shoo-in for the online popular vote. I have a gnawing feeling that she will not win the vote–though she does have legions of Filipino supporters, she also has a significant amount of Filipino detractors. Her detractors fall into one or both of these categories: 1) lingering acrimony as they championed Mary Jane Lastimosa to win the right to represent the country in this pageant and felt Janine should have sat out this year as this is MJ’s last shot for the title; and 2) that Janine needs the heavy makeup to make a major impression as she looks relatively plain without it. For the second argument, I have to note that Miss Universe does not have a judging portion where the delegates would be stripped of their makeup (only Miss Earth has that kind of system), so Janine is free to pile on the eyeliner and mascara to strike that much needed impression (she evokes Miss Universe 1999 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao with the makeup).
But I was initially concerned about the first phase of the preliminary judging as the delegates were already presented in swimsuits and there was a photo released that alarmed me–her figure seemed not so trim and lacks the hourglass ideal in that shot. I had visions of Zoraida Andam (the 2001 Philippine representative) all of a sudden and feared that our chances for making the cut may have vanished. But I heaved a sigh of relief as I watched the Presentation Show, as it turns out it’s probably only an unflattering angle, as she does have the requisite curves. But her biggest ace is her ferocious catwalk (which pageant fans and pundits have now dubbed the “Cobra Walk”), and that factor propels her to the front of the pack. I’m confident that once she makes the cut during the finals, the expected Filipino fans who will pack the auditorium (and would be rivaling the Mexican camp) would help boost her chances and advance all the way to the finals.
There were some pageant fans and pundits who felt her silver gown seems to resemble Venus Raj’s gown. Just like what I mentioned in my review of Miss Mexico, though the gown shares the same color and sheen as their Vegas predecessors, this garment is fundamentally different as it’s structured as a silver satin bustier swimsuit that is then draped at the waist with sheer, creased fabric. Venus remains peerless in terms of gown performance, but Janine delivered a high caliber performance in her Barraza (again!) number.
The Filipino pageant fans might be dreaming that Janine would give us the third Miss Universe crown. I have always maintained that as long as we make the semifinals, I would be completely content, and I maintain the same sentiment in this instance.
POLAND – Marcelina Zawadzka. Like the situation with Miss Peru, this blonde is sandwiched between two front-running formidable stage dynamos, so it is a major challenge for her to get in edgewise. But it turns out she is one of the best representatives sent by this country in recent years, and unlike most of her predecessors (and several previous European delegates for that matter) she has strong stage projection and catwalk skills. In other years, she could even be considered a shoo-in, but with the caliber of delegates this year nothing could be set in stone. Her polished (pun partially intended) performance during the Presentation Show still deserves notice and commendation.
PUERTO RICO – Bodine Koehler. Pageant fans and pundits initially have regarded her as a front-runner, but some candid photos in some appearances prior and during her stint in Las Vegas have made them reconsider–they particularly have an issue with her “imperfect” nose, as if actress Denise Richards got caught in a fistfight and got punched in the noggin. I personally have kept the faith, and it turns out it is justified, as not only she proves to be a great communicator (judging from her online interview), her Presentation Show performance proved to be one of the biggest sensations of the night–her statuesque height and slim-but-buffed figure are a marvel to behold, and she performed impeccably in the evening gown round. She also made a memorable impact the following day in the National Costume show, as she sported a provocative and revealing costume. She is on track to making the Final Five.
ROMANIA – Delia Monica Duca. I find her facial features a bit too angular for comfort and her presence in every aspect not-so-polished. She might be considered a middling contender in other years, but with this group she is part of the bottom of the pack.
RUSSIA – Elizabeta Golovanova. Her standout feature continues to be her waist-length hair, and at first, I thought she’ll be able to finesse it especially the way it was styled in the Fadil Berisha portait. But she went back to her unruly wavy style for the Presentation Show, and I’m underwhelmed as a result. She is undeniably good looking and Trump & Co. like their Eastern European ladies, so she could be a leading candidate for a Trump Ticket. I also have to note that she joined Mexico and Philippines in sporting what is basically a swimsuit with a draped skirt–in this case, a solid royal blue cloth wrapped across her waist like a sarong.
SERBIA – Branislava Mandić. Unlike Miss Cyprus, this lady registers better in photographs than in video. Somehow in motion her facial features seemed harsher and not as pretty. For her evening gown, she sported one of my pet peeves: the miniskirt with train! I think she is wearing an identical gown with Miss Montenegro, albeit this one is in a red color (Montenegro’s in black).
SINGAPORE – Lynn Tan. She is actually a solid performer with good communication skills, a slim-and-trim figure, and polished stage chops. Her main liability is her plain face. Still, I have to say I love her white satin gown with black embroidery (so does Nick Verreos).
SLOVAK REPUBLIC – Ľubica Štepanová. With her very angular face, she is probably the weakest representative coming from this country that I have ever encountered for this pageant. Her sloppy white evening gown–which evokes the vibe of a medieval barwench about to go out to take a dip in the lake–only worsens matters. She has redemption somewhat with her polished presence in the National Costume show the following day.
SOUTH AFRICA – Melinda Bam. Pageant fans and pundits (including myself) felt that after the Presentation Show, this lady is starting to become the one to beat. She is a polished communicator with abundant charm and personality to spare, and her performance at the Presentation Show was undeniably sensational, arguably the best overall for the night. I could only see three potential obstacles to her path to the title at this point: 1) the final night judges may have an issue with her relatively short 5’6″ height; 2) the final night judges might be swayed by the expected rabid Mexican and Philippine fans in the audience; and 3) Miss Venezuela polished up and perfected her act for the finals. It will be interesting to see how the finals unfold…
All images courtesy of Miss Universe LP, LLLP, unless otherwise indicated.
COMING UP: SPAIN to VIETNAM plus the “Fearful” Forecast