The year 2015 for the Miss Universe Pageant (and organization) was eventful in all senses of the word, filled with major milestones and dramatic twists.  It began actually in the previous year, when it was unable to secure a venue and a date within 2014 that they had to hold the 2014 edition for January 2015.  Then, Donald Trump decided to run for U.S. President with very provocative pronouncements about Mexicans and a host of other things down the line.  His pronouncements against Mexicans were particularly damaging to the Miss Universe brand, as he was alienating its biggest market and supporters.  Indeed Mexico and a few Central American countries declared a boycott of the pageant in protest.  It also led to NBC cutting ties with Trump and refusing to broadcast the Miss USA pageant; Spanish-language broadcaster Univision followed suit.  Miss USA, in the middle of its competition proceedings, had to wrangle a last-minute deal with lesser-known cable outfit Reelz to broadcast Miss USA.

Things seem dire for Miss Universe until in September, it was reported that Trump was in talks to sell off his ownership of the pageant.  But before he could do that, he needed to buy off the share that NBC had.  Once Trump got that completed, immediately after he sold the entire organization to WME/IMG, a huge talent management conglomerate owned by Ari Emmanuel.  It seemed to be what this pageant needed to revive its fortunes, and many observers (including myself) welcomed the move and are hopeful they can steer this pageant in the right direction.  The Latin American countries called off the boycott.

Most of the current structure seemed to remain unchanged–for instance Paula Shugart remained president of the organization.  So far the changes that were made in this edition of the pageant is that they introduced a talent element, with a few contestants showcasing their talents in a talent show (and there was talk that this will become a pre-requisite in future editions of this pageant) and promotional videos and images celebrating the diversity in the backgrounds of the contestants.  This year, though, we don’t see individual interview videos online unlike in previous editions since 2002–I wish they revive that.  Also, they secured a new broadcaster–Fox–although unlike Trump they didn’t give the broadcaster a stake in the company.

It would seem under the new regime, the conduct of the Miss Universe 2015 finals would run smoothly.  For most part, it actually did.  Yes, just like the January 2015 edition they expanded the running time to three hours instead of the traditional two.  But the additional time meant more coverage on the contestants themselves–like how after the announcement of the Top 15 we get to see a profile video of each of them.  Last year, some of the padding was towards the reigning queen with plugs from sponsors but this year, the segments focused more squarely on the contestants–yes there are some sponsor segments (it’s inevitable) but it’s a welcome treat to see the contestants behind the scenes and some girl-talk and dialogues about various topics, both light and a little serious.  Just like Migbelis Castellanos’ figure, and to paraphrase Meghan Trainor’s mega-hit “All About That Bass”, it was “all the right junk in all the right places”.

The general structure is similar to the January 2015 edition:  After the introduction in national costumes (a pre-taped segment), there is the Top 15 callout with video profiles, then the swimsuit competition and the Top 15 were whittled down to a Top 10, followed by an evening gown round and then the Top Five with a Q&A round.  Unlike last January, instead of two rounds of Q&A, it’s just one round, and this time it’s questions tailor-fit to pressing issues in their respective countries.  Also different is that after that round, the five will be cut to a Top Three where they have the same final question to answer before they then do a final walk.

There is a change in the judging system–normally we would see eight to ten celebrity judges but this year, there are only four, and they added the element of an online public vote acting as a 5th judge judging the various rounds.  For the final Top Three round, they added another twist–the other contestants will also vote for their winner and the compiled results of their poll would act as the vote of a sixth judge.  Many people criticize this system, and there were reported glitches in the online voting but there were enough public votes that went through–it was reported a total of 10 million votes were entered during the broadcast (approximately 3 million per round).

Only four celebrity judges for 2015: NFL football star Emmett Smith, Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo, actress Niecy Nash, and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton (image courtesy of Us Magazine)

The musical guest who performed in the swimsuit round was Charlie Puth.  He performed “Marvin Gaye“, “One Call Away”, and “Some Type of Love”.  For the evening gown, the family country trio The Band Perry performed their recent songs “Done” and “Live Forever”.  Charlie Puth and The Band Perry are rising stars, but I feel their music don’t seem to fit their respective segments well–though “Marvin Gaye” can work in a swimsuit setting, “One Call Away” and “Some Type of Love” are too mellow for a supposedly upbeat round.  It’s a good thing they didn’t ask him to perform his biggest hit, “See You Again”, as that is too elegiac and mournful to use for a swimsuit catwalk piece.  The opposite can be said about the Band Perry’s two songs–their songs are too raucous for a supposedly elegant segment.  Their biggest hit was actually a five-year-old ballad called “If I Die Young”–tempo-wise that would’ve been a good fit for an evening gown segment, but well, the lyrics might be too morbid to use…

For the final look, Seal was on hand to perform three songs:  his recent single “Every Time I’m With You”, then his classic 1990s hits “Kiss From A Rose” and “Crazy”.  I know most people tuned out on the first song, but then were up on their feet enjoying those two mega-hits, which even if they are over 20 years old (“Kiss From A Rose” was a 1994 ballad that got a boost the following year when it was featured on the Batman Forever soundtrack while “Crazy” was 1991) still sound fresh, current, and contemporary.  Seal’s voice that night, in my opinion, was about 90% of his full capability, but even then, he was far superior to the other two featured musical acts.  And with the song “Crazy”, we have an anthem that can define everything that went on with the organization this year, and with the finals, as it turns out.

Hosting the proceedings was comedian and Family Feud host Steve Harvey and providing color and backstage commentary was Devious Maids actress Roselyn Sanchez.  Though at first it’s jarring to hear Roselyn’s commentary right after the contestants’ introductions, I noticed as the evening wore on that she’s offering substantial information about practically everything related to the contestants and their countries, and I appreciated her calm, chill hosting style.

Roselyn Sanchez (image sourced from celebmafia.com)

Steve Harvey, meanwhile, is an acquired taste.  I have seen viral videos of his Family Feud hosting, and I did find his “gospel-preacher-with-a-naughty-mind” hosting style amusing there, and he brought a bit of that style in this pageant.  I can tolerate it, and until that final moment, I thought he did pretty well.  So what caused that monumental mistake that was unleashed to the world?  I think it was lack of rehearsal along with the very linear way Steve tends to read his cards.  It made me recall of stories of how Bob Barker was so diligent at rehearsals for Miss Universe even if he was doing that gig for several years he remained fully present at all rehearsals.  I presume in Steve’s case, he thought he could bank on his experience that he felt he doesn’t need that much rehearsal–and even with the pause he gave himself, out of habit or a momentary lapse of good judgment he still read out the 1st runner-up’s name even if current directive is to skip it to name the winner only (which I disagree–I still prefer the 1st runner-up to be mentioned alongside the winner as they are both worthy of being announced, if you ask me).  I know the Miss Universe Org and WME/IMG seemed forgiving enough to welcome him to host again, but I feel his credibility to announce the results was shot by that mistake that if you ask me, we need someone else–if they would stick with Fox as broadcaster, I would nominate Ryan Seacrest and/or Cat Deeley for the gig, especially since Ryan has a slot open now that American Idol would be no more by May, and the fate of So You Think You Can Dance remains uncertain.

My favorite moment was that they shone a spotlight on Miss Slovenia, Ana Haložanwho couldn’t compete in the regular competition as it turns out she suffered an epileptic seizure (with testimony from Miss Slovak Republic, Denisa Vyšňovská) and the right side of her face was paralyzed.  It’s a nice treat she’s given her own spotlight and the chance to walk onstage.  Later, she also got some lovely photos shot by Fadil Berisha.