Here is my take on the tracks from Pentatonix’s eponymous album, particularly their quality and radio-worthiness. I have already previously written about “Can’t Sleep Love” (track 2), “Sing” (track 3), “Cheerleader” and “Where Are Ü Now”
“Na Na Na”. As Avi and Kevin acknowledged, they were inspired by the Bangles’ 1986 smash “Walk Like an Egyptian”, and it makes for a peppy opening for the album. Mitch’s lead is particularly very slinky in this number.
“Misbehavin'”. In song previews, most people will assume the song is a conventional doo-wop number that evokes Ben E. King’s classic “Stand By Me”. It might sound old-fashioned, but if you listen to the full track, Kevin provided contemporary beats after the first verse. It makes it actually another radio possibility. The song’s sentiments about life on the road touring made me think that this could easily segue into ABBA’s 1980 song “Super Trouper”–it makes thematic sense since the song employs the same lyrical themes, and could be a fun multi-generational mashup.
“Ref”. Many music critics found this the highlight of the album, especially with the edgy synth-like sounds generated by Avi and Kevin. It’s indeed an impressive sassy, edgy highlight, though I personally l connected better with other songs than this.
“First Things First”. This tune is squarely in the R&B pocket, and it fits current radio trends. Another possible single you can consider servicing to radio.
“Rose Gold”. Many Pentaholics fell in love with this tune as it was previewed in the On My Home documentary. But as nice as the echo-ey “aw-aw-aw” harmonies are, and how it resembles like Pitch Perfect 2‘s “Flashlight”, well, I fret that as nice as that Jessie J single was, it didn’t really click with the American public. It’s a good ballad, though.
“If I Ever Fall In Love” (with Jason DeRulo). When this song was previewed, I was disappointed why they resorted to a remake, and the preview portion seemed to indicate that they didn’t even put a twist to Shai’s 1992 original smash (stuck at No. 2 because of the unstoppable Whitney Houston juggernaut from The Bodyguard, “I Will Always Love You”). I also thought, if they need a boost from an established superstar, they could’ve used him on another original song instead of a remake. Listening to the full track, it turns out after the first verse and chorus, there are indeed wonderful twists employed with Kevin’s jazzy beats making it more than worthwhile. A little trivia about the Shai original–the main music video actually had these beats and instrumental that albeit minimalist, didn’t put the song in the best light. Radio actually played the a cappella version more often, and that was what most audiences like myself remember–who says radio can’t play a cappella? If they used to do it with Shai and Boyz II Men over 20 years ago, it’s time to also play a hell lot more Pentatonix! If Shai wants to try featuring instrumentals on their song again, maybe they should consider the beats Kevin used…
“Cracked.” The intro reminded a bit of the Animals’ classic “House of the Rising Sun” mashed up with Pentatonix’s own “Hey Momma/Hit the Road Jack”. It has that ominous, almost gospel-ly tone that is mixed with a ferocious, danceable beat. They have been performing this live in various TV appearances, so I hope this also could get a radio push.
“Water.” We barely hear a lead vocal from Kirstin throughout this album (with the exception of a brief passage on “Ref”), but at least we get this song. It’s not “radio-friendly” but it’s a beautiful “deep cut” co-written by Kirstin, Kevin, and Audra Mae. I can imagine this mashed up with Stevie Wonder’s 1986 single “Overjoyed”.
“Take Me Home”. Though the opening lines melodically remind me of Toto’s “Africa”, this track is the most resolutely “a cappella”-sounding track in this album as with the exception of finger snaps there is barely any percussion sounds to this song. It’s not “single-worthy”, but a great “deep cut”.
“New Year’s Day”. The song has an anthemic feel, which is fitting as it’s about looking forward to new beginnings. I wish they push this song just in time for the year-end, or it can be a fitting anthem post Holiday. How about a push for this tune on the radio?
“Light In The Hallway”. Scott wrote this about his nephew, but he entrusted the vocal duties to Avi, who delivered the appropriate solemnity evoked by the song. Another worthy “deep cut”.
“Lean On”. It’s a great cover by this group, as usual, of Major Lazer & DJ Snake (featuring Mø)’s smash hit. They converted the synth lines into harmonic “eh-oh” vocal that is as hooky as the original.
“To The RIver”. This song is exclusive to those who purchased the album through Target. I just wonder why this is relegated to a bonus track as it’s a modern pop number that seems more “single-worthy” than, say, “Light in the Hallway” or “Take Me Home”? A worthwhile listen.
Overall, I do think Pentatonix fielded a strong set of originals, and I do believe they got what it takes to have that non-holiday radio breakthrough–I have my bets on “Misbehavin'”, “New Year’s Day”, “Cracked”, and maybe even “First Things First” or “Ref”.
While the rest of the Philippines was swooning over the #APECHotties, debating who was hotter between the President of Mexico (Enrique Peña Nieto) and the Prime Minister of Canada (Justin Trudeau), the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City provided a venue to introduce this year’s set of the world’s most desirable men officially to the media. I know comparing these youthful, chiseled specimens of manhood over the seasoned charms of those more mature #APECHotties is like comparing apples to orangers, but for those with eclectic tastes there are more options to swoon over.
Twenty-nine of the 37 candidates were present during the Press Preview. Interestingly those who have not arrived yet are from relatively nearer countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka–perhaps they were trapped by the flight cancellations to pave way for the world leaders flying into our shores for the APEC Summit. Hopefully as APEC winds to a close today we will see all of them accounted for by then.
There are no clear front-runners that could be culled so far from this group, and there is a dearth of out-and-out duds from what we see thus far. All 29 present have the right to be classified as at least attractive, with several fitting in the “handsome” category.
Asia typically is a strong performing region in this pageant. For those into the “Oriental” look, they can consider the likes of China (Nan Li), Korea (Song-Jin Lee), and Singapore (Edwin Aw) particularly appealing.
I have to place a special note for India (Halley Laithangbam) as initial portraits of him made me feel that he’s a big step backward from his beefcake behemoth Bollywood-worthy predecessor, but he actually looks better than I expected. In some ways, U S A (Troy Thomas) also fits in this category with his personality and perhaps he has the unique edge of being the only candidate of color thus far in this year’s pageant.
For those who go for boyish looks, they will certainly dig like likes of Panama (Julian Torres), Poland (Rafał Jonkisz), and as a special kind of boyishness, Italy (Andrea Luceri). The last guy is proof that you can have a full scruffy beard and still be boyish.
Generating a bit of buzz behind the heavily lauded front-runners were Dominican Republic (Freds Rivera), Lebanon (Farid Matar), and Netherlands (Cas Winters). Freds has the handsomeness, physique, and sex appeal to be considered among the front-runners, but some noticed that in relation to other contenders out there he seemed relatively short–but then again he has those “Precious Lara Quigaman” proportions: on his own he can pass for a taller guy. Cas is the opposite as he’s the tallest of the group at 6’4″ and he has the qualities to move up to the forefront. Farid actually also seems to have all boxes ticked but is so far receiving less buzz–maybe all that will change in the days to come.
There were nine guys who made the biggest splash during the Press Preview–any one of them could conceivably win it all. I’ll talk about two Latin guys from traditional pageant powerhouses: Mexico (Alejandro Ruiz) and Venezuela (Rafael Angelucci). I can understand the appeal of the former, as I do find him appealing, but I don’t really find him conventionally handsome–but then again I also didn’t have that high a regard for David Zepeda when he competed in Manhunt International 15 years ago and ended up as 1st runner-up, but well he then became one of the biggest telenovela actors in his country. The latter has an undeniable handsomeness, though some might quibble that his physique may not be up to snuff–still do not discount the mystique that the name “Venezuela” brings to any representative.
Our very own Philippines (Reniel Villareal) is holding his own with the front-runners out there–of course it’s a daunting task to equal Neil Perez’s win last year, but at this early stage he’s showing he’s got a fight in him to pull it off–it’s not an easy task with several front-running contenders out there, but he’ll be up there. Also a possible front-runner is a guy with Filipino roots as his mother is from our country: Spain (Daniel Dakila Barreres). He used to visit this country when he was a child, but it has been over a decade since his last visit. I learned that he does adore Filipino snacks like dried mangoes and Nagaraya cracker nuts–two of my favorite snacks, too.
Besides their hunky good looks and buffed physiques, Australia (Chris Nayna) and Czech Republic (Jakub Kraus) possessed winning likable charms that could give them an edge in interviews. For Australia, finally we have a representative who lives up to the great looks and charismatic reputation of its famous Hollywood exports.
Puerto Rico has been on a winning streak in the male pageant realm this year, with wins in Mister Tourism International, Mister Universal Ambassador and Mister Model International, all in a span of less than a month. Its representative to this pageant, Fernando Alvarez, has the potent combination of a perfectly rippled physique, classically handsome Latin features, and an outgoing personality to bring forth another feather to this country’s cap.
The biggest revelation during the Press Preview was Switzerland (Pedro Mendes). He was not heavily buzzed about prior to this preview but when he appeared he became one of the most popular and fawned upon candidates. In some ways, he might owe his astounding appeal to the fact that he is actually of Portuguese descent (though not part of the European Union, with a Schengen visa almost any European can live in Switzerland). This country has just made its debut in this pageant this year–can he make it first-time-first-win?
Speaking of Portuguese descent, of course no one can deny Brazil (Anderson Tomazini). Just like most of the eight front-running contenders thus far, he has a perfect mix of handsomeness, physique, and outgoing personality that he preserves his country’s sterling track record in this pageant–since joining in its second edition, it only missed the final cut once.
Figuring out the winner in this group remains muddled at this point as there are several contenders who have what it takes to win it all. It’ll be fun to see as the days unfold if there will be somebody pulling away in the lead, or will it remain a crowded race? I would like the latter as don’t we all like an exciting competition?
I have to say all members of the Top Ten have strong cases going for them to belong in this hallowed group. It’s still has a Latina bias with four (as opposed to six last year) occupying the Top Ten slots. The region that seems to be on the rise is Southeast Asia as three of them made the final cut. The remaining slots were taken by one black African who delivered a breakthrough and two English-speaking Caucasians. For the final speech, all of them spoke in English, and most proved pretty effective in delivering their messages.
THAILAND – Sasi Sintawee. She is a known quantity as she made Top 16 in last year’s Miss Earth, so it is partly expected that she has the charisma to make the final cut in this pageant. I suppose the judges were spellbound by her, but I have quibbles about her performance going into the finals–first, I found her body proportions odd during the swimsuit round–I don’t know if her black bikini made her torso look too short, but as trim as it is it made me scratch my head. Then during evening gown, as polished as she was in her white gown I was underwhelmed. Even with those quibbles, I can agree that her placement is defensible and justifiable, even if I prefer Hungary or Argentina in her place. Her cultural speech is arguably the weakest in this group, partly because the combination of her thick accent and choppy syntax made her message almost incomprehensible. But there are nice noble thoughts in her speech, showcasing her concern about conflicts in her own country, that she wants to educate the children and empower the women. If it were composed more cohesively and got a coach to make key words she need to say more understandable, she would probably rise up from the bottom of this pack a bit.
UNITED KINGDOM – Sophie Loudon. She made a splash in the national costume parade as she proudly displayed her Scottish heritage carrying her tartan train aloft. That splash helped sustain her with her strong showing in swimsuit, and finally clinching the deal with her impeccably polished presence in a simple silver-and-white halter-necked evening gown. Her costume and gown performance helped edged her out early favorite Hungary for the Top Ten. If her proud tartan parade was not enough, we get to listen to her Scottish-ness when she delivered her speech. It touches those general noble sentiments of “love, hope, and equality”, though I suppose it’s regarded as one of the weaker speeches as she didn’t touch on more concrete actions to take to achieve those goals.
BRAZIL – Isis Stocco. Her name is actually a beautiful name–it’s the name of the chief Egyptian goddess. It’s such a shame her name is now associated as the common English acronym of the most abhorrent and evil social movement in this day and age, as dangerous if not more so than the Nazi movement over 70 years ago. She was in every pageant fans’ and pundits’ radar throughout her stay in Japan, even favored to go far as the Top Five. Little did we know until after the pageant that she encountered trials on her way to the finals, with reports of a lost mobile phone and wardrobe ripped to shreds. She had to borrow clothes from the likes of Canada, Paraguay, and Venezuela to get by. That probably explained the overly simple frock she sported for the evening gown round. But at least onstage, she masked all that turmoil with a radiant smile, and that radiance helped secure her placement in the finals. She was a ball of nerves when she delivered her speech, but she delivered a well-composed message linking the concept of respect to being a key to build a better world.
MEXICO – Lorena Sevilla. Her gorgeous face was just too indelible to resist, so she sustained her country’s streak in this pageant. It can be argued that her overall presentation in costume, swimsuit, and evening gown were Top Five worthy. It’s not that her speech was a failure, as it was a well-composed and heartfelt speech. She relayed the fact that she is a “warrior” and a survived a car accident and overcame the odds to be up and about again. As shown with the next person I’ll be discussing, what possibly made her fall out of a Top Five finish was the focus of her speech: it was about herself instead of what she plans to do to help the world at large–the judges deem it is not enough that she is an “inspiration” and leads by example, but she needs to back it up with actions towards the downtrodden and disadvantaged.
PHILIPPINES – Janicel Lubina. Just like Miss Mexico, going into the Top Ten it seems a Top Five finish was in the bag for her. She was stellar as expected in swimsuit, but she was a vision of serene elegance in her white crystal-studded serpentine gown designed by Leo ALmodal. The Best Dresser award was totally deserving as she was the most elegant vision that evening. Such a clear message to the Bb. Pilipinas franchise that it pays to use local designers.
So why did she fall out of the Top Five with her speech? Ironically it wasn’t because of its quality because it was well-composed and heartfelt–I think it could even be argued that aside from Miss Kenya’s topical and relevant speech hers was the best-composed of them all. It wasn’t because it lacked sincerity and charm because it was loaded with both, and her ending her speech in the Japanese language was actually a genius touch. And her delivery was actually flawless with the right rhythm and cadence–I don’t quibble about her diction because unlike Miss Thailand she delivered her message very clearly and it was easy to comprehend and non-Filipinos are not that fussy about diction anyway.
I was slightly upset after the results that she was not called into the Top Five or declared the winner, but a few minutes after the coronation I got a call from my friend Lex Librea, and we dissected her performance. He was slightly critical about the styling done for her gown, suggesting she should’ve had her hair in the same style as her stint in the finals of Miss Philippines World two years ago, but I discounted that as even if that will be a better look, she already looked the best that night anyway. He also mentioned that Leo Almodal sometimes needs to edit his work, but to my eyes the amount of bling on Janicel’s gown was just right–it was abundant, yes, but for me it didn’t go overboard. Then we discussed her speech and Lex observed one very crucial element that may have cost her the crown–the focus of her speech. You see, Janicel relayed her heartwarming story about rising up above poverty and how her circumstances never stopped her from dreaming for a better life. She then mentioned her aim to be an inspiration to others and share her story to the world. Lex pointed out that the other finalists talk about being of service and helping others to build a better world, and her speech was focused on herself. As Lex mentioned that, it all made sense to me and it made me sad–it reminds me of America’s Next Top Model cycle 22 finalist Mame Adjei (who also happens to be Miss USA 2015 4th runner-up)–during the go-see challenge, she booked all four designers in their assignment, but she couldn’t win the challenge as she was late in returning back to the Next Model management office. If only instead of saying she wants to become an inspiration, she talks about “teaching others” to rise above their circumstances with her experience as an example and probably pepper that with “as long we can build a world where people have the equal opportunity to realize their dreams”, perhaps instead of one country pulling away with the overall lead with seven wins, we could’ve been in a tie with that country with our sixth win.
4TH RUNNER-UP: U S A – Lindsay Becker. Her astronaut costume might be a bit tacky, but she has the charm to pull it off. She did everything right and she proves simple could be effective like in her red velvet gown. Her speech integrated appreciating other cultures with her background as a Delta Airlines flight attendant, and espousing the cause of uplifting other women’s self-esteem as she tackled relevant topics like bullying and body-shaming. With all that, she secured her place in the Top Five.
3RD RUNNER-UP: VIETNAM – Phạm Hồng Thúy Vân. Lookswise, I found her a bit of a head-scratcher. I find her face rather plain. Sure, she delivered a little flair in her stage presentation throughout all three rounds, and her voluminous white evening gown has a “princess”-y vibe to it, but going into the Top Ten she was the weakest link. Byt I sensed the Japanese seemed to be favoring her with all the photos taken of her prior to the finals–perhaps they see in her the closest equivalent of rooting for their hometown bet as, well, the hometown bet couldn’t really deliver. I was also not that impressed with her speech–it’s charmingly delivered, but it’s just basic sentiments about world peace and all that yada yada without any fresh spin to them. In my reckoning, she robbed the slot that rightfully belonged to Janicel and I will forever resent her for it.
2ND RUNNER-UP: KENYA – Eunice Onyango. With her cropped hair and distinctive African features, along with a lively personality and strong communication skills, there is no way you would miss this lady. I know other pageant fans and pundits were betting on the supposedly prettier Miss Zambia, but I noticed that this lady seems to have that distinctive edge, and she exuded a vibrancy and charisma onstage that she was clearly the “African-most-likely” (and the “black-girl-most-likely” for that matter). But little did we know she will even go further as she delivered her speech–she talked about her cause comforting and supporting terror victims, and how we should learn to think of others instead of being selfish. It prove very relevant and prescient in account of recent events. With that, she made the big milestone being the first black African to make the Top Three in this pageant. Will a win from this part of the world come soon after?
1ST RUNNER-UP: HONDURAS – Jennifer Valle. Her first international pageant was Miss World 2012, where she was an also-ran–for a 17-year-old teenager she came off as too serious to the point of being dour. But it seems after that unremarkable stint she went on to blossom and succeed–a month after Miss World, she competed in Reina Mundial de Banano (World Queen of Banana) and won. Then a few months later in January 2013, she earned a runner-up position in the well-established International Queen of Coffee pageant. When she set foot in Japan, pageant fans and pundits took major notice of her and pegged her as a front-running contender–something rarely heard of for this usually unheralded Central American nation. It can be argued that she’s the best Honduras has offered since Miss Earth 2003 Dania Prince. Not only does she have the advantage of experience, her looks blossomed into a classic beauty that is hard to miss and resist.
Moreover, she delivered on the hype on finals night. Her elaborate Mayan costume was sensational, she showcased her trim figure and beautiful features in swimsuit, and her beaded evening gown was stellar. I also observed another standout quality was her elongated, swan-like neck–I know long necks are usually highly prized in beauty circles, to the point that it’s taken to the extreme with certain indigenous tribes like the Kayan/Karen tribe in Myanmar. I also observed that it looks like Jennifer also studied carefully last year’s pageant, as upon reflection I noticed it mirrored some keywords expressed in last year’s speeches. She talked about how this pageant provides an opportunity to accomplish one’s biggest dreams, such as to learn, to teach and to give back especially to help people in need. Then she mentioned about “listening” to their struggles and linked it to her background as a medical student, and ended it with “When we listen, we show respect. When we respect, we care. And when we care, we help and understand each other to make positive changes.” I find the cadences of her speech a bit odd with pauses I don’t normally expect, but still no doubt she delivered a superb speech and this finish is well-deserved. Now, I wonder if a few years down the line she can go give Miss Universe a try–she actually has ample time to consider that as she’s only 20 years old right now, and if she does, she can bring forth a big breakthrough for her nation in that pageant (it was 60 years ago when this country last made the semifinals there with Pastora Pagan ). She has the gorgeousness, drive, and charisma to pull it off.
MISS INTERNATIONAL 2015: VENEZUELA – Edymar Martinez. Yes, among the Latinas I found Mz. Mexico and Honduras way more gorgeous than this lady that I discounted her prospects for winning. But in hindsight I should’ve realized she possessed patrician features that proved to be a winning edge in previous years, like in the case of Miss Universe 2003 Amelia Vega of the Dominican Republic and our very own Miss International 2013 Bea Rose Santiago. Those patrician features, along with her expectedly fierce stage presence, were clearly catnip for the Japanese judges (and for several pageant fans and pundits). But clinching the deal was her supremely buffed figure during the swimsuit round–as terrific as Mz. Honduras, Hungary, Mexico, and Philippines were this lady was head and shoulders above all of them and she clearly had a commanding lead in that segment. Sure some may bitch the manner in which she may have attained that body, but the results were natural-looking enough and awe-inspiring. “Miss Perfect Body” indeed. She was no slouch in her long-sleeved white evening gown, too.
What about her speech? It started out shopworn as she talked about how each and every girl represents a country, culture, and people, and how Miss International represents all of them. But she gave a message that the judges loved to hear about reaching out to all nations and helping oothers, and how this society needs love, communication and charity, and that love starts at home, and she closed with a quote from Mother Teresa: “Who doesn’t live to serve doesn’t know how to live.” It’s a noble speech and very strong–only Kenya, Honduras, and the Philippines were stronger in my opinion, but still I can understand how she became the overall winner and clinched her nation’s seventh crown in this pageant.
I respect the decision made and I don’t object at all to Edymar’s win. But her win left me with a bittersweet feeling in my heart because it will make it difficult for the one who would be following her next year. You see, the Venezuelan representative for next year’s Miss International is Jessica Duarte, and she is a visual stunner with features that is a lethal combination of two of the most highly esteemed beauty queens of all-time: Miss World 1999 1st runner-up Martina Thorogood and our very own Miss World 2013 Megan Young. I’m now fretful that she may not attain the crown that I deem would be rightfully hers and be relegated to the roster of the most gorgeous beauties who do not end up as the winner. Still, there is always hope that Venezuela will pull off that heretofore unprecedented back-to-back win in this pageant.
In the end, despite my bittersweet sentiments there is nothing left for me to say but congratulations to all the winners. I do hope that Jessica Duarte will beat the odds and bring forth a Venezuelan back-to-back.
All images courtesy of Stephen Diaz for Missosology unless otherwise indicated.