We have to face it that at least 50 of the 69 contestants stepped up their game, so it’s a matter of quibbling and personal tastes that determined the Top 15.  Still, I wish three ladies in this combo were yanked away to make way for United Kingdom, Hawaii, and of course, Venezuela–oh, I’ll still continue to lament the absence of “Marmegantina” in this group.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Cynthia Nuñez.  I think her ticket to making the final cut is her buffed figure and statuesque frame–I think she might have placed second in Miss Perfect Body behind the winner Moldova.  Because otherwise I don’t really see other strong reasons why she belongs here–her exotic face is not really to my liking (but then perhaps the Japanese judges dug that), and her speech is very shallow and generic, simply thanking Japan and that she will use her reign to help others.  It was the weakest speech of the Top 15, but I think the judges of course appreciate the effort that she tries to speak English and English is not her native language.  Still, Puerto RIcan fans may have reasons to gripe that why the judges choose her over their bet, Gabriela Berrios, especially since she drew raves with her evening gown over this lady’s nude-colored long-sleeved sheath gown.  Yes, I’m adding another fodder for those PR-vs-DR culture battles.


EL SALVADOR – Elizabeth Cader.  I didn’t notice her that much prior to the finals, as I felt the likes of Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala (especially with her pedigree) were stronger.  But she proved to be very polished onstage, with the “Precious Lara Quigaman” proportions that created the illusion that she’s taller than she actually is.  But probably the key why she made the cut may have occurred from the International Forum a few days back, as I think she cited the fact that she is the president of a charitable foundation back home helping children, and that is what she pointed out in her speech, along with heartfelt thanks to their culture and hospitality.  Still, I question, her over “Marmegantina”?


RUSSIA – Alisa Manenok.  She was obviously flustered being chosen in the Top 15, and her nerves showed as she talked about her dream of speaking in front of the United Nations to ask leaders in the world to engage in a global dialogue and connection, and tacked on a message about helping hungry children and people in need, and she’s willing to do this as “I don’t need the Miss International crown in order to help others.”  It’s heartfelt, yes, but still the second weakest speech behind Dominican Republic.  But her saving grace was the way she walks on stage dreamily like a snow queen in national costume and evening gown–which is apt as she comes from the snowy city of Vladivostok (located near Manchuria in China and North Korea).  I’m not as into her face as most, but I do understand her ingenue appeal.


ARGENTINA – Yoana Don.  She has been standing out in many of the pageant activities, so I’m not that surprised she made the final cut.  She delivered strong stage chops onstage, though I quibble about her choice of swimsuit–yes, it’s a sexy one-piece, but the bottom is actually a thong style that fully exposes her booty–it’s a good thing she had the good sense of using her shawl as she turned around to walk back to cover it.  For her speech, it’s obvious English is not her first language but her message in halting English covers the sentiments to end conflict and dying children, that education is important as it’s the one that  sets people free, and that she wants to promote Japanese culture and values all over the world, and added that we don’t need officials to change the world, but us and if we have “respect, love, and a big smile” and these things are the essence of beauty, coming from our soul and mind.  It’s a bit rambling and all over the place, and almost incoherent, but I’m sure many have appreciated the effort.


FINLAND – Emilia Seppänen.  It is expected that a reasonably good looking Finnish girl, regardless of level of polish, will rank high in this pageant whenever it is held in Japan.  As it is, she earned her keep as she did deliver a polished presentation onstage as she has more than adequate stage chops.  Her speech was short and sweet, simply thanking Miss International organization and talk about making friends. and just linking them with what she’ll do as Miss International, simply bring the world together  and connecting and making friends across cultural borders.  She halted as if wanting to say more but decided to leave it at that and conclude her speech with another thank you.   In other editions, that would be enough for her to advance to the Top Five, but with so many well-delivered heartfelt speeches with conviction, and with a relative lack of depth in her message making it this far is enough achievement.


JAPAN – Jyunna Yamagata.  She is one of the strongest Japanese representatives to this pageant in several years, with an elegant demeanor and a pretty face.  She especially looks impeccable in her red gown.  She memorized a speech in English and it goes like this:  “Last year I have a dream of being here and stand on this stage. and ht now that dream came true.  To be honest, I say no one has ever imagined that I was gonna be here today.  But here I am, accomplished the biggest goal in my life.  This experience taught me a lesson–that no matter what dream you have, no matter how hard it looks like, trust me, that dream you have is possible.  As Miss International 2016, I want to share this lesson that  I have learned, I want to encourage people to chase their dreams–that is my next dream.  And now, the ticket of my new journey is right here on this stage.  I’m capable to log that new ticket so that my new journey begins.”  It’s cute and sweet, though not really substantial as the other speeches out there.  Still her kawaii-ness and elegance made her inclusion fully justified.


POLAND – Magdalena Bieńkowska.  Her stage presentation is very simple and polished, but her fresh, youthful ingenue beauty speaks volumes that it’s no surprise she’s regarded as one of the front-runners (and a member of my “Glorious Eight”).  But one might wonder how well her speech would go, as usually this is not typically a Polish beauty queen’s strongest suit.   But it turns out she acquitted herself very well.  As most of the finalists thanked the organization and Japan in general, she took the extra step of thanking specifically her chaperone.  Then her main message is as follows:  “If I become Miss International 2016, I would like to get involved in charity and to make people smile, because that’s make me smile and happy [sic].  I would like to show that beauty is not based on how we look like but it’s who we are and even more.  Life is full of beauty, we just need to look around–it’s in beautiful nature, smiling people, smiling children, and in here I learned what real beauty is and I would love to share it.”  It’s not as substantial as the eventual Top Five, but it’s a good, heartfelt, sincere speech nevertheless.


THAILAND – Pattiya Pongthai.  If based on speech alone, I would’ve ranked Poland above this lady.  Her speech was simply a message of appreciation in behalf of the entire Thai nation to the imperial family of Japan for their condolences for the death of their king, Bhumibol Adulyadej.  She did not express the implicit question of what she’ll do if she becomes Miss International, but that message is relevant and heartfelt, and we cannot begrudge her for that.  But what is most memorable about her is her stage presentation, especially in her lilac evening gown with a dramatic sheer cape.  She may not be as pretty as her predecessors, but the magic she weaves onstage proved indelible and sensational and this was how she earned her spot, sustaining a streak enjoyed by this country for three years and counting.


MEXICO – Geraldine Ponce.  Though Ilma Urrutia‘s daughter failed to advance, her essence was still present in the Top 15 as we have “Xildamena” (fused with the essences of Miss Universe 2010 Ximena Navarrete and Miss Earth 2003 Dania Prince).  She was another consistently strong contender all afternoon, and I’m glad she’s one of the “Glorious Eight” who made it.  Now, people raved about her lacy lilac number with those distinctive scalloped sleeves.  To me, the sleeves are polarizing–I actually dislike them as they registered to me as rags.  Still,s he delivered it with aplomb.  Now, regarding her speech, it was good–“I am a regular woman with a regular life.  However I have big dreams.  Love is the main inspiration for everything I do… [whoever is chosen] must represent a woman with dignity.  We are not superior but neither inferior compared to men.  The next Miss International will have to fight to have every woman has a place they deserve in this world… and I am committed to fight for it.”  As good as it is, the speeches delivered by the eventual Top Five delivered on the mix of lofty goals and heartfelt conviction that I’m not that surprised she didn’t end up in the Top Five.  Still a commendable performance nonetheless.


CANADA – Amber Bernachi.  I was expecting United Kingdom to overshadow her a bit, but she did deliver a bigger impact onstage during finals night, especially with her sexy trim figure in swimsuit (and her maple leaf Victoria’s Secret styled costume) and that low-cut red satin halter gown with a hemline that recalls Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach‘s winning blue gown.  When I was watching the livestream of this pageant, I was in an internet cafe that only has loudspeakers and no headphones–so I was watching surrounded by noisy game players.  So at first, I thought she gave the most impressive speech–If she becomes Miss International, there are two things she would like to support.  “One, is the importance of education–I would like to support that and teach the younger generation as well as our generation how important educating yourself is, as well as visualizing your dreams and achieving anything you want because anything is possible, I’ve learned that now today, so thank you.  Secondly, I would like to promote the importance of equality–equality not just of gender, but race, ethnicity and religion.”  As they were announcing the winner, I was thinking maybe she would end up becoming her country’s first ever Miss International.  But listening in a quieter environment, I realized her otherwise superb speech was marred by occasional displays of nerves, and these nerves were that “one degree” that may have prevented her from garnering Top Five honors (more on that later).


Miss Universe 2016 Pia Wurtzbach (image courtesy of Miss Universe Organization)

All images courtesy of Jory Rivers for OPMB Worldwide unless otherwise indicated.


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