I got nine of the Top 15 correct. It might not seem as much, but it was an extremely competitive year, and I thought that the performances delivered by Vietnam, India, Peru, Georgia, Italy, and Sweden were top-notch that they would go through, but the six ladies I didn’t get were in my “Bubbling Under” list anyway, so all of them were in my radar and have merits to justify their placements in this hallowed group. Without further ado, let us start with:
INDONESIA – Anindya Putri. I would’ve preferred India and Vietnam to advance over this lady, but I think the key reason why she edged those ladies out is that she was strong in personality and interview (a quality shared by her predecessor). In her video soundbite shoe noted she’s a Muslim yet she was willing to sport a two-piece swimsuit, and then there’s the fact that she can rock an electric guitar and be a rocker. Cool and modern, isn’t she? However, if you pit her figure against the rest of the Top 15, she is clearly the weakest link and there is no way she could advance further.
SOUTH AFRICA – Refilwe Mthimunye. I’m glad they featured representation from the black African contingent this time, and I know they had two great options to choose from–Tanzania and this lady. This lady got the edge, and I’m pleased she properly represents that less-regarded contingent. There is another, more formidable, dark-complexioned contender, not to mention the other formidable contenders out there, so she could not advance beyond this level, but still making this far is something worth celebrating.
MEXICO – Wendy Esparza. Prior to her arrival in Las Vegas, she seemed to be a formidable contender who was expected to keep up with the front-runners out there. However, she doesn’t seem to sparkle at Las Vegas, and many reported she wasn’t at peak form. Still, you can’t discount the strong fan base in Las Vegas, plus the fact they need to make up for the offenses committed by the pageant’s previous owner, that despite her lackluster performance she was still granted a slot. But because of her obvious lack of motivation, she delivered her country’s weakest placement in a Vegas edition (remember: wins in 1991 and 2010, a finalist finish in 1996, and a Top 10 finish in 2012).
BELGIUM – Annelies Törös. She’s one of the pleasant surprises, but totally worthy of belonging in this hallowed group. This deadringer to a young Vanessa Paradis (sans trademark gap tooth) competed with drive and fire during the Presentation Show–and you don’t typically see that quality in most European contestants, much less contestants from this country, and she delivered the goods with her buffed figure, her come-hither Lolita persona, and strong stage presentation skills. She likewise put up a good fight during the Top 15 swimsuit round, but, well, the judges were a tad more impressed with a few others–she probably only missed it by small margin.
BRAZIL – Marthina Brandt. This blonde was expected to advance to the Top Ten at the very least, and be in a nine- or ten-way battle for the coveted Top Five slots. So it was a shocker to many (including myself) that she failed to advance beyond the Top 15. All pageant fans and observers felt she has one of the best bodies in this competition, so she should’ve been a Top Ten shoo-in. So what gives? Some observers may point out her standing might have been hurt when she was called first in the Top 15 as the judges may have forgotten about her or scored the others at a higher scale when they subsequently appeared. I also observed during her Presentation Show performance that as stunning as she was, her catwalk seems masculine for some odd reason–this was especially apparent when she was in evening gown. I think that was another factor why the final night judges were not as wowed as they like their contestants to move more feminine. But the real overriding factor was probably that they have to make way for one contestant with a more compelling human-interest story.
With the exception of one, the ladies who made the Top Ten were a worthy, fiercely competitive bunch. In another year, any one of them would’ve been a Top Five shoo-in. I got eight out of ten correct, as I was expecting Vietnam and Brazil to be in this lofty group, but, well, Vietnam missed the cut altogether and Brazil just missed the Top Ten to make way for…
JAPAN – Ariana Miyamoto. I know the human-interest story of her being bi-racial in a society that prizes conformity and homogeneity is a compelling story that could be her ticket to make the final cut, even if I was more impressed with other performances. I wasn’t that surprised she made the Top 15, and she does have merits to belong there. But to advance further to the Top Ten, especially at Brazil’s expense? All I can say is that obviously Emmitt Smith, Niecy Nash and as he attested in his podcast, Perez Hilton, were won over with the human interest angle that they definitely want her to go to the Top Ten. But compared to the fiercer contenders out there, she was outclassed in the evening gown round.
I have to note that she changed her styling from the Presentation Show to the finals. Remember that most of her appearances, she was sporting this stylish bob–for the finals, she decided to put her hair up in a bun (almost similar to when she competed in her national finals, but at that time it was more of a ponytail than a bun as she had longer hair). I know her low-cut golden gown was roundly panned by Nick Verreos but in my opinion it is an interesting sight and she carried it well, but yes, I’m glad she didn’t make the Final Five, and most likely in relation to the rest she took up the rear.
CURACAO – Kanisha Sluis. She’s another big pleasant surprise for me, and I’m actually pleased she made the final cut. She does have the looks, the buffed figure, and the statuesque height (6’1″) to make major impact. The reason why I only placed her in the “Bubbling Under” list was because of her evening gown. With Vietnam out of the way in the Top 15, she capitalized on her height, figure, and beauty to be a clear Top Ten shoo-in. But then came the evening gown. Okay, her red long-sleeved gown hugged her figure well and the fringes did create some interest, but the styling just reads old-fashioned. Putting her hair in a beehive bun, even if it was more refined in the finals than in the Presentation Show, just made her look matronly instead of the gorgeous young woman that she is. And because of that gown and styling she was out of contention for the Top Five.
VENEZUELA – Mariana Jiménez. During the Presentation Show, I was extremely impressed with her swimsuit performance–for me she has the best figure of all of them and the best swimsuit presentation. I had visions of the swimsuit performance of her countrywoman Miss International 2015 Edymar Martinez. She was again impressive during the finals in the swimsuit round. Now, the issue was with the Top Ten evening gown–again, Nick Verreos hated her long-sleeved white evening gown, though personally I think it’s okay, although not really a wow, but with such a cutthroat level of competition failing to create a wow impact spells the difference between making or missing out of the Final Five.
THAILAND – Aniporn Chalermburanawong. I didn’t find her conventionally pretty, but she has competitive drive and charisma in spades, not to mention strong stage presence, sterling catwalk skills, trim figure, and a vibrant personality. I presumed three Asians would be shoo-ins for the Top Ten this year and though yes, this year there were three Asians, I presumed that third Asian would Vietnam, not Japan, and thought Vietnam would edge this lady out in the final clinches. Sealing the deal and assuring her spot during the Presentation Show was her shimmering white gown with trailing cape. It was indeed one of the gown highlights for this year’s pageant, drawing raves from Nick Verreos and pageant fans and pundits everywhere. But then during the finals, Miss USA (Olivia Jordan) decided to steal her thunder by wearing a gown with a similar design (though of a lacier variety), and the judges being American, would of course favor the hometown girl over this one even as this lady delivered a sterling performance. Still, she should remain proud of her performance and she put up a superb fight.
Of course we should also note how unlike in previous years, they decided to take an unconventional route for her national costume–instead of the royal court-inspired designs or historical motifs, they went camp this year and used a tuk-tuk (a motorcycle with coach) for inspiration. With online fan votes deciding the winning costume, her costume won. In a piquant touch, her homecoming from the pageant featured a motorcade with her in a tuk-tuk.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Clarissa Molina. I find her indeed a front-running contender as she has pretty good looks, statuesque height, and an enviable lean buffed figure. She delivered a sterling performance in the Presentation Show and I expected she would put up a great fight for the Final Five. She actually did just that during the finals night–truly sterling in swimsuit, and I love her white Grecian evening gown. She added some flourishes in her presentation to boot, as she did some twirls during the swimsuit round and for evening gown revived the “Dayana Dervish”. I know the Miss Universe Organization issued a directive discouraging everyone from doing that (along with the “Taliana Twirl” and the “Riyo Mori Gucci Flash”), but in my reckoning, it’s nice to see these things especially if it’s done well. Perhaps that was the ultimate reason she was prevented from making the Top Five, but well, I still salute her for a job well-done and for putting up a great fight.
I’m slightly divided about her personality based on the reports I have gathered. If I were to believe the Puerto Rican press, she was the main “bully” who almost caused Miss British Virgin Islands to withdraw, and this is so ironic as part of her story is that she’s a bullying victim. But then, after the coronation brouhaha, she was one of two Latinas who bucked the trend and expressed her support to the real winner. For many Filipino pageant fans, they would embrace her for that gesture.
COMING UP: THE TOP FIVE