I’m highly pleased with one major development in this year’s pageant: there were five black ladies who made the Top 13–it broke the record set in 1999 and 2009 when each had four. This, in a continent that typically prizes fair complexion as the epitome of beauty. On top of that there were three Asians in the mix, and only two Caucasians and three fair-skinned Latinas, which makes this year probably the most diverse mix of semifinalists ever.
I know my batting average would be considered pretty low, as I got seven of the 13 semifinalists correct, five of the Top Nine, three of the Top Six, and none of the Final Three. It shows with the new direction Miss Universe is heading and the sterling quality of this year’s delegates the winner turns out to be an unpredictable, relatively wide-open race. Anyway, I console myself with the fact that five of those I didn’t get was on my “Bubbling Under” list and one was “Striking Distance”.
The lady who was in my “Striking Distance” list made it there because of what I labeled the “interview Factor”–especially how she put internet-trolling body-shamers down when they pointed out she’s larger than the standard size we expect from a beauty queen. How she handled her detractors and her proven interview skills were key factors how Canada (Siera Bearchell) exceeded expectations and made the final cut when normally her current shape would be grounds for her becoming a cellar dweller.
There is one obvious runaway winner for the Ruth Ocumarez Award: Venezuela (Mariam Habach). Despite an undoubtedly sensational performance at the Preliminary Competition, she was shut out of a perceived guaranteed place in the finals. Why? There are several theories, like a heavier weight for interview didn’t work in her favor, and I also have a conspiracy theory that the Miss Universe Organization (who still have inputs in the selection of the Top 12) dropped her from the roster because of accounts of her arrogant diva behavior towards fellow delegates and the staff behind-the-scenes, especially as denounced by Venezuelan pageant webmaster Julio Rodriguez. Take note that in public she generally projected a simpatica persona for the fans.
During finals night, the possible choice of winner vacillated among three ladies: Kenya (Mary Esther Were), Haiti (Raquel Pelissier), and France (Iris Mittenaere). When the Top 13 were announced with a Q&A portion after each semifinalist was announced, Kenya and Haiti proved to be the most impressive in interview and with their elegant and dignified bearings they could shine the brightest. France always remained in the fray because she has the pretty looks and killer body, but a welcome gown change (from the yellow number in the preliminaries to a nude crystal-laden gown) made her a front-runner in the looks category. Kenya in the Top Six round then fell by the wayside because she was asked a very difficult Donald Trump question, leaving Haiti and France duking it out in the final interview round. At first glance, France’s answer sounded a bit incomprehensible as relayed by the translator so many viewers (including myself) believed Haiti was a cinch to bring forth her country’s first win and you can hear the crowd chanting her country’s name after her brilliant answer. When France’s name was announced as the winner, though some had felt an initial shock, it quickly died down as they know this lady has gorgeousness in spades so she is an acceptable winner.
But as it eventually turns out, when France’s answer was properly translated, it turned out she arguably gave the best answer in the final round after all, and well, she also delivered strong answers all throughout, so it actually turns out she is more deserving of her win than initially perceived. I’ll discuss about that more in my full-fledged review. It will be tough to follow Pia Wurtzbach‘s footsteps, but I am very pleased with her win and will support her in her reign. Félicitations à vous, Iris! And long live diversity!
SOUTH AFRICA – Ntandoyenkosi Kunene. Traditionally this country would be the country most likely holding the torch for her continent. But the thing is, this year, despite this lady’s sterling qualities she is clearly overshadowed by the likes of Kenya, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. It’s highly unlikely that there will be room for all four of them in the semifinals, even if she possesses semifinalist-worthy qualities.
SPAIN – Noelia Freire. She does have great looks, great stature and strong stage moves. Normally that would be enough for one to advance to the semifinals, but with such a bevy of outstanding polished performers out there it’s a big challenge to make serious inroads.
SRI LANKA – Jayathi de Silva. Her facial features are an acquired taste, but her presentation skills are solid.
SWEDEN – Ida Ovmar. This blonde is from the indigenous Sami people in her country. Her beauty is of an unconventional sort. But she did something that could be considered a Swedish trait (especially as of late)–she recycled her avant-garde evening gown for her national costume. She added a pigtailed wig, a lacy sheer overshirt, mismatched socks, pink kiddie shoes, and cardboard horse prop and voila, she’s Pippi Longstocking. She wins the Denisa Vysnovska* award for frugal wardrobe recycling.
*Denisa Vysnovska was the representative of Slovak Republic last year who also recycled her competition evening gown and turned it into her national costume–in her case she only added a headdress to make her dress pass for a costume.
SWITZERLAND – Dijana Cvijetić. This brunette’s a pretty face, but she obviously needed a bit more polishing to keep up with the high quality contenders out there.
TANZANIA – Jihan Dimack. I don’t like her official headshot as in most photos she’s way prettier than that. She’s also stellar onstage during the Preliminary Competition. If it weren’t for the presence of Kenya and Sierra Leone, she would easily make the final cut. But will there be room for her and her two African peers?
THAILAND – Chalita Suansane. She has a great human interest story with her rags-to-riches story having to be a janitor with her mom. Her beauty is not of a conventional sort but she has won over a lot of fans and is deemed a front-runner. I do think after her Preliminary Competition performance her status as a semifinalist is secure. She can go as far as Top Six or even beyond.
TURKEY – Tansu Sila Çakir. Her photos since her arrival here generated heavy buzz as she has one of the prettiest faces in this year’s pageant. If the competition wasn’t at this stratified level, she could’ve been assured of a semifinalist slot, but even if she delivered a strong performance there are so many outstanding ladies battling for those extremely limited semifinals slots.
UKRAINE – Alena Spodynyuk. Here is another pretty face that generated heavy buzz. One might wonder why the 63rd Miss Universe 2nd runner-up Diana Harkusha is here in the country. I have a feeling it’s because she delivered the red long-sleeved haute couture red gown that she sported for the Preliminary Competition. It is highly possible she can duplicate that trajectory.
URUGUAY – Magdalena Cohendet. Here is another long-necked Latina with strong polished stage chops. Another worthwhile contender in a sea of astounding contenders.
U S A – DeShauna Barber. She has great stage chops and acquitted herself well in the Preliminary Competition. But while based on looks alone, she will have to fight it out for the paltry semifinalist slots with other stunners, her interview skills may give her the big edge to secure her place in the semifinals. Having the “U S A” sash would also help.
U S VIRGIN ISLANDS – Carolyn Carter. This atypical representative (she’s of Native American descent instead of the usual ladies of African descent) has extensive international pageant experinece in her belt, competing in Miss World 2010, Miss Supranational 2011 and Miss Earth 2012. That experience serves her very well here, and we have to salute her for her superbly polished presentation in the Preliminary Competition. It’s almost conceivable that she can make the cut, especially if there is heavier weight given to interview. We’ll see how it all unfolds.
VENEZUELA – Mariam Habach. Her country’s reputation helps her generate heavy buzz despite misgivings that she is not as facially beautiful as several predecessors before her. But her buffed figure and stellar stage skills helped make her a sensation in these shores, and she clearly dominated the Presentation Show in both swimsuit and gown. She seems on-track to fare as well as two Venezuelans who also have “unconventional beauty”, Miss Universe 1997 1st runner-up Marena Bencomo and Miss Universe 2000 1st runner-up Claudia Moreno. Most accounts in these shores portray her as a simpatica Latina, but one important Venezuelan pageant webmaster has come forward to denounce her as an entitled, arrogant phony. We’ll see if his inputs would impact her ultimate placement…
VIETNAM – Đặng Thị Lệ Hằng. If it weren’t for her relatively short torso, she would’ve kept up well with the formidable Southeast Asian triumvirate (Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand). As it is, the most we can say is she’s a worthwhile contender. Still, there is that possibility that she can benefit from the popular vote, but I have a strong feeling a member of said triumvirate would snag that.
With all the delegates discussed, here is my leaderboard:
TOP CONTENDERS: BRAZIL, FRANCE, THAILAND, VENEZUELA
SHOO-INS: MEXICO, PHILIPPINES, U S A
LIKELIEST: ARGENTINA, ARUBA, AUSTRALIA, BARBADOS, BELGIUM, CHILE, CHINA, COLOMBIA, CURACAO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, GEORGIA, GERMANY, HAITI, HUNGARY, INDIA, INDONESIA, ITALY, JAMAICA, JAPAN, KENYA, MALAYSIA, NAMIBIA, NETHERLANDS, NICARAGUA, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, POLAND, PUERTO RICO, RUSSIA, SIERRA LEONE, SLOVAK REPUBLIC, SOUTH AFRICA, SPAIN, TANZANIA, TURKEY, UKRAINE, U S VIRGIN ISLANDS
INTERVIEW FACTOR: CANADA, KOREA
POPULAR VOTE FACTOR: VIETNAM
EXCELLENT: BELIZE, COSTA RICA, CZECH REPUBLIC, DENMARK, GREAT BRITAIN, KOSOVO, MYANMAR, NORWAY, PORTUGAL, SINGAPORE, SWEDEN, URUGUAY
VERY STRONG: ANGOLA, BAHAMAS, CAYMAN ISLANDS, CROATIA, GUATEMALA, GUYANA, HONDURAS, MAURITIUS, SRI LANKA, SWITZERLAND
STRONG: ALBANIA, AUSTRIA, BOLIVIA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS, BULGARIA, FINLAND, GUAM, ICELAND, KAZAKHSTAN, MALTA, NEW ZEALAND, NIGERIA, SLOVENIA
VERY GOOD: ISRAEL, ROMANIA
Now, here is my “Fearful Forecast”:
TOP THREE: BRAZIL, THAILAND, VENEZUELA
TOP SIX: FRANCE, MEXICO, PHILIPPINES
TOP NINE: CURACAO, INDONESIA, U S A
TOP 13: JAMAICA, NICARAGUA, PUERTO RICO, SIERRA LEONE
BUBBLING UNDER: ARGENTINA, ARUBA, AUSTRALIA, BARBADOS, BELGIUM, CHILE, CHINA, COLOMBIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, GEORGIA, GERMANY, HAITI, HUNGARY, INDIA, ITALY, JAPAN, KENYA, MALAYSIA, NAMIBIA, NETHERLANDS, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, POLAND, RUSSIA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC, SOUTH AFRICA, SPAIN, TANZANIA, TURKEY, UKRAINE, U S VIRGIN ISLANDS
STRIKING DISTANCE: BELIZE, CANADA, COSTA RICA, CZECH REPUBLIC, DENMARK, GREAT BRITAIN, KOREA, KOSOVO, MYANMAR, NORWAY, PORTUGAL, SINGAPORE, SWEDEN, URUGUAY, VIETNAM
From my vantage point, it looks like seven of the expected Top 13 (since they are adding the popular vote wildcard to the Top 12) have their semifinal spots assured, leaving 39 others to battle out for the six remaining slots. It is highly conceivable that I could be off with my forecast as with so many awesome contenders battling for a scant few slots there is a wide range of tastes. But one thing I hope would finally take place is that there will be at least three delegates of color in the semifinals–normally when this pageant is held in Asia, there would be at most one. I definitely don’t envision a black shut-out like in 2002 as there are so many compelling delegates of color this year. It’s exciting how everything will unfold today… Best of luck to all the ladies!
NORWAY – Christina Waage. She looks prettier from afar, which is probably why many pageant fans and pundits rated her in the bottom of their lists. But I wouldn’t put her in the bottom of my list as she has strong stage chops and I like her polished impeccable styling in the evening gown round of the Preliminary Competition, particularly that updo. Extra credits for her national costume, as it’s a nod to the fact that the fictional kingdom of Arendale in the film Frozen is based on her country, so it’s obvious she was playing the character of Elsa from that film.
PANAMA – Keity Drennan. The “P” group is now considered the most dangerously fierce group in this pageant, with delegates from countries beginning with with letter delivering consistently fierce performances that it’s a crime that not all of them would advance. Many pageant fans and pundits laud this lady’s performance and added her in their Top 12 lists. I agree she delivered a semifinalist-worthy performance indeed, especially with that dramatic gold gown with orange cape. Though battling for those limited slots would be fierce as there a whole slew of them who delivered performance at that level.
PARAGUAY – Andrea Melgarejo. She has a resemblance to Top Chef host/judge Padma Lakshmi. She also is one of those long-necked Latinas, and I initially presumed she’s taller than her 5’7″ height. Anyway, her chances may depend on how the judges would appreciate her skinny frame–would they view it as unhealthy bordering on anorexic, or would they consider it as fitting the modern model frame? But she delivers on the catwalk and looked great in her white gown. I personally think it’s semifinalist worthy.
PERU – Valeria Piazza. Following another long-necked Latina is a thicker-but-buffed one. She ticks all the boxes, and there is little to find fault with her performance.
PHILIPPINES – Maxine Medina. Well, we have to salute her for her playful catwalk in the swimsuit round of the Preliminary Competition–it is a unique, worthwhile catwalk. Her green evening gown was a gamble that paid off–though it’s not much to look at in photos, in motion the fringes brought drama. I believe she will be a shoo-in for the semifinals but I have a feeling that she is also going to be the Popular Vote winner, and will free up a slot for another lady to go through–which I think is much needed with so many awesome ladies this year. Now, people’s eyes will be peeled on how she’ll deliver in the interview rounds–interview has never been her strongest point, and there is talk that this will be the first time our country will employ an interpreter (normally it’s a given the Philippines will speak in English). We’ll see if an interpreter will help unlock any hidden eloquence that was missing.
POLAND – Izabella Krzan. There are unflattering angles on her but there are other angles where she looks good. But undoubtedly she has a trim, lean figure and strong stage projection skills bringing drama to her rose-pink gown with train.
PORTUGAL – Flávia Brito. Traditionally this country would be the weakest link in the “P” Group, and with the exception of 2015 this adage holds true. But it should be noted she’s far from mediocre and held her own in this formidable group–in a less competitive year she’ll make serious inroads.
PUERTO RICO – Brenda Jimenez. See PANAMA. Her silver fringed gown also makes maximum impact. But for me her most memorable presentation was in costume with her Christopher Columbus-themed robed costume.
ROMANIA – Teodora Dan. She’s the winner of the BB Sweepstakes award, though she covers up her cleavage during the Preliminary Competition with her sash. Nevertheless, her projection skills are raw and her face is one of the plainer ones around, so she is in no position to be in the running for a semifinalist slot.
RUSSIA – Yuliana Korolkova. Her slim frame and pretty face turned a lot of heads. But I think she’s a long-shot for a semifinals slot, as during the evening gown round of the Preliminary Competition, she wore a gown that is my pet peeve–a sequined black cocktail dress with a satin train tacked on behind it.
SIERRA LEONE – Hawa Kamara. She’s the African who garnered the most buzz, with her cropped head and bright, cheerful demeanor. Not only she’s the inaugural representative to this pageant from her country, she can even bring forth a breakthrough–though Kenya and Tanzania are nipping on her heels to garner that “Africa” slot.
SINGAPORE – Cheryl Chou. This country rarely figures as a contender for the semifinals, with the exception of the 63rd edition as of late. Still, she should be credited as one of the stronger contenders fielded by this country in recent years.
SLOVAK REPUBLIC – Zuzana Kollárová. She has a smoldering appeal with her supermodel-worthy looks. She delivered a polished above-average performance in the Preliminary Competition.
SLOVENIA – Lucija Potočnik. This blonde is good looking, but is obviously outclassed by the stunners out there.
COMING UP: SOUTH AFRICA to VIETNAM plus the “FEARFUL” FORECAST