I am generally very satisfied with the Top 16, though I have quibbles as the preliminary judges seems to revert back to an overwhelming bias towards fair-skinned brunettes with token slots for a blonde and a dark-complexioned lady. Still, each of the Top 16 have good justifications to belong in this hallowed group. Let’s begin with…
NORTHERN IRELAND – JulieAnn McStravick. Though I would’ve preferred the likes of Nigeria (Chioma Precious Obiadi), Kenya (Grace Wanene), Denmark (Klaudia Parsberg), Bolivia (Eliana Pamela Villegas), or maybe even Wales (Charlotte Hitchman) in her place, I can see why the preliminary panel dug her–she does have a classically pretty face that looks great without make-up. Her figure is trim enough, although not as toned as other ladies in this hallowed group. I had to put her in the bottom of this group because her stage skills are less than polished.
MACAU S A R CHINA – Clover Zhu. She does have a prettiness about her (on top of having good communication skills that probably gave her an edge in the preliminary judging). Onstage she probably overdoes her moves a bit, but still it’s polished enough that I wouldn’t borderline grouse the absence of some strong contenders in her place.
SOUTH AFRICA – Nozipho Magagula. As the token black/African lady, she does deliver a polished presence, though her wattage was relatively subdued compared to other contenders in this group.
KOREA – Chae-Yeung Lee. She makes a polished, impeccable presence with her enviable straight hair and her pretty features. If only I could say the same about her catwalk especially during the evening gown round–still kinda polished but there are some raw moments. I think I underrated her (I only listed her as a “striking distance” possibility instead of something better) as she is worthy of belonging here.
Within the Top 16, the fight for the Top Eight was fiercely fought amongst 12 delegates. I’m sure the decision on who to advance was a slight matter of splitting hairs and personal preferences.
ENGLAND – Luissa Burton. This early favorite generally delivered the goods with her potent combination of gorgeous features, trim figure, and polished catwalk. I think the only quibble that put her out of contention was her slightly unruly wavy curls during the swimsuit round–her locks didn’t quite flow the way the other ladies had.
AUSTRALIA – Lyndi Kean. I pegged her as a Top Eight contender but it seems in the moment where it counted she wasn’t as luminous as I potentially thought she could be, and perhaps the judges found her shiny blue satin gown not as impactful as the others who they chose to advance.
MEXICO – Itzel Paola Astudillo. If I were a judge, I would include her in the Top Eight as her classic beauty and strong stage presence could not be denied. But it seems the judges have slightly different tastes as they seemed more charmed by an Asian and make room for the Asian representing a European country, plus they probably felt four Latinas in the Top Eight is enough, and probably felt her stage performance paled compared to the other four.
ITALY – Denise Frigo. She proved to be a stage dynamo, that I don’t mind her polarizing unruly updo that she sported during the evening gown round. She reminds me of a cross between actress Jennifer Love Hewitt and Miss World 2002 from Turkey, Azra Akin. Based on stage performance she probably missed the Top Eight by very little.
Though if I have my way I would replace two of the Top Eight with Mexico and Italy, in general there are strong justifications why the Top Eight were as such. They are subjected to a speech round where they express their thoughts based on a given hashtag expression. How did they fare? Let’s proceed with…
VIETNAM – Nguyễn Thị Lệ Nam Em. Though she’s not conventionally pretty like, say, Korea, she does have a charm about her and a luminous stage presence that obviously charmed the judges, and she’s rewarded for being the best Asian by being granted this Top Eight slot. For her speech, she was given the hashtag #EmpoweredToMakeAChange. Her response in Vietnamese seemed relatively brief, but her translator seemed to elaborate and expressed her answer as such: “It’s my belief to live to the fullest, to live up to the dreams that I always carry with myself and the belief that I can do everything with my capabilities and a desire to achieve and that’s what makes me that will allow me to achieve my dreams.” Hmmm, it seems a tad not connected to the hashtag given, so I had to relegate her to the bottom of the Top Eight.
RUSSIA – Aleksandra Cherepanova. It is a given with her gorgeousness, charisma, and stage chops that this lady was a Top Eight shoo-in. For the speech round, her given hashtag was #MyLifeInOneWord. As she giggled in Russian, her answer goes like this: “I am so happy to live now, to live this time and I’m really thankful to my parents. I live now and this moment I try to look positively each all sides of life. So I’m really thankful to my parents, relatives, my friends and the people who are around me.” It’s not quite clear what is that “one word”, but I have a feeling that word is “happy”.
SWEDEN – Cloie Syquia Skarne. Though she redeemed herself with her elegant blue satin embroidered gown, if she didn’t have that ace with her Filipino background she wouldn’t advance further especially since her figure is not as trim or toned as the other members of the Top Eight. With the absence of the notorious Imelda Schweighart in the Top 16, the Filipino fans’ energies were redirected towards this lady. Of course I expected that she’ll garner an element, but I’m glad that it seems merit holds a bit more weight in this edition than in some previous ones. Her hashtag was #BeautyQueen and she gave a solid response as follows: “To me being a beauty queen had been a dream ever since I was young and ever since I was young growing up in Sweden, I know it’s very important to take care of our environment and I believe that no matter who you are or where you come from, it’s our duty to as people of the earth to take care of our mother earth for future generation and that’s for me to be a beauty queen.” She expressed sincere sentiments and tacked on the cause espoused by this pageant, which is clever, though the environmental message is obviously tacked on.
U S A – Corrin Stellakis. I pegged her as “element-worthy” but I think she probably came quite close but was ultimately overshadowed by the formidable Latina contingent. I’ve noticed that in some angles, she resembles Spanish actress Penelope Cruz. Her speech has to revolve around the hashtag #ZeroWaste, and she gave a confidently delivered answer thusly: “I think it is very important as a beauty queen and someone who uses their voice in a daily basis to advocate for that. We need to protect our environment and put our best foot forward to create a sustainable earth.”
COMING UP: THE ELEMENTAL QUEENS