MISS WORLD 2016: DIVINITY DENIED (PART 3)

After the semifinal round, they featured a video touting the virtues of Beauty with a Purpose and Rodrick Dixon, as previously mentioned, performed a stirring classical song.  Then the Top Five was announced, and they are subjected to a final question.  Unlike in previous editions where they make speeches about why they should be the next Miss World, the members of the Sorority (previous Miss World winners) asked them a question.

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Now it’s time to discuss the Final Five.  Interestingly, basing from the reports of my insider friend, only two of the Top Ten interviewees were part of this group, and they also happened to come from the same region.  The three ladies who originally weren’t scored highly in interviews also happened to have figured in the Top Five in BWAP (and included the BWAP champion).  You might wonder if the shakeup from the original Top Ten interview ranking was due to onstage charisma, or was the BWAP projects the crucial factor?  Or maybe it was both (with the exception of one, in my opinion)?

FIFTH PLACE:  KENYA – Evelyn Njambi.  Though Ghana edged her in the preliminary interview, it seems her elegant stage presence and her BWAP project made the judges reconsider and favor her instead and make her advance to the FInal Five.  For the semifinal round, Megan asked her, “I am sure you make a lot of people happy and you’re very ambitious but what would you say is your biggest dream?”.  Evelyn’s answer is direct and straight to the point: “My biggest dream is to be a mentor and someone who other girls can look upto, to draw inspiration, motivation and encouragement.”  For the final round, she was asked by Miss World 1988 from Iceland, Linda Pettursdottir this question: “What can you do to improve education in the world?”  This is how Evelyn answered:  “What we can do to improve education in the world.. Obviously, it begins with empowering every child to understand that education is important, and Nelson Mandela said that it is the weapon that a child can use to face the future. So first let’s educate our parents that education is important and then we shall have all children on board to achieve their dreams.”  There are some pageant fans who argued based on her final answer she should have been granted a runner-up position.  But some might argue the substance of her answer was brilliant, but she displayed some nerves as she delivered it, and perhaps that might be the reason she was marked down.  As you read further, there are more debates ahead.

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FOURTH PLACE:  PHILIPPINES – Catriona Gray.  I think it’s obvious the subtitle I gave for my piece alludes to this lady.  Onstage she was radiant and glowing, looking splendidly divine in a rose-pink gown with cape designed by Francis Libiran.  Visions of movie icon Audrey Hepburn rushed through my head at her very sight and based on stage presence and gown alone, it’s almost a given that she should’ve gotten the crown.  But we know Miss World is not always about looks, but Catriona seemed to have that covered with her impeccable responses in both the semifinal and final interview rounds.  For the semifinal round, Megan asked her: “What is the ultimate purpose of everything you do?” Catriona’s answer?  “Well like any creative, my purpose is to make people think feel and ultimately connect with one another like you know when a song makes you feel like no matter what you’re going through you’re not alone and If I can contribute to society and somehow give back to the community I have achieved my creative purpose.”  For the final round question, she was asked by the reigning Miss World from Spain, Mireia Lalaguna, “Which qualities do you think it will take to wear my crown?”  Here’s Catriona’s answer:  “I think, first of all, it takes bravery. To be a Miss World is to carry a burning torch. It is like action carried out by one to illuminate the lives of many. And I would dedicate my whole self, my love for the arts and my voice to try to uplift, empower and educate people. And it would be my greatest honour and duty to hold this torch high enough so that all the world could feel and see its light.”  Her eloquent answer covered all the bases, talking about being an inspiration for the world while being of service to others and the willingness to assume the responsibilities required.  I did hear a few criticisms about the answer, but I’ll dissect that in the final section of my essay.

Oh, and I also forgot to mention a fact that would be shocking to Filipino pageant fans and pundits (especially with her impressive answers):  She didn’t make the Top Ten in preliminary interview!  It turned out she had to rally to make it as far as she did, and most of us assumed she was pegged down from the summit by influence peddlers.  I’ll expound on this later…

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Filipino pageant fans livid over Catriona being shut out of the Top Three decried how the runners-up delivered weak answers in the final round, and hurled accusations of influence-peddling that involved the presence of judges who also happened to be national directors coming from two of three of these countries, and even if by all standards the performance delivered by the winner was actually unquestionable, some of my fellow countrymen deemed it tainted and hurled unwarranted bric-brats at her.  Are there basis to these sentiments?  Here’s my take.

2ND RUNNER-UP:  INDONESIA – Natasha Mannuela.  Yes, she’s a modern, cosmopolitan woman.  Yes, there is strong merit with her winning BWAP project (although some livid Filipino fans would note that her project seems to be a copy of Catriona’s project but I’ll give this the benefit of the doubt).  But was she better than Catriona and deserving of the Miss World – Asia title?  Like many Filipino pageant fans and pundits, my answer to that is an unequivocal no, and it is not because I’m siding with my countrywoman.  First, let’s talk about her gown–sure she’s a dreamy ingenue in her blue-and-pink ballgown, but Catriona was way more dreamier and impactful than her.

How about interview?  In the semifinal round, Megan asked her, “You are the BWAP winner and you were talking about how you wanted to help children, how do you do so by living for others?”  Here’s her answer:  “In this life, I have one desire that I will always to become and impact and also a blessing for others live, for my beloved country Indonesia and for this world. That’s why I always knowing that my life is not mine but also its my responsibility to share my life, to share my blessings that I already had to others in this life in this, in this world and to use my potential, maximise my potential in order to give back to communities.”  Her answer does have substance and is sincere, and you do have to account the effort because English is not her first language, but I think Catriona edged her out here, don’t you think?

Now what about the final round?  She was asked by Miss World 2002 from Turkey Azra Akin this: “How would you convince others to help their communities?”  She responded, with slight nerves:  “How to convince others is… have to start from myself first. Then to start with love, then other people could see our sincere and they can inspire on how, what we do. And then can continue it and share it to others again. And then one world can be one and can inspire all the world with love.”   Some have noted that Catriona’s ready delivery of her answers may make the impression that she’s pageant-patty, but this answer, although it has sincerity and substance, also borders to that direction.

If you ask me there is one key person that allowed her to make it this high–Liliana Tanoesoedibjo.  It’s really bad taste that she was present in the judging panel.  Yes, she sponsored things that helped keep this pageant going (like the designers of the Top Model round), but being also the national director for her country does create a serious conflict of interest, and this is not the first time this happened–last year she may have a hand in shutting out our rep Hilarie Parungao, from the Top Five despite her high standing in the final leaderboard.  Why does the Miss World allow this setup to happen?  More on that later.

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1ST RUNNER-UP:  DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Yaritza Reyes.  It’s interesting that despite the predominance of Asians in this mix, the Top Two are from the Caribbean.  This lady was one of the big favorites leading up to the finals, and as it turns out she also made a strong impression with the judges in interview, making the Top Ten.  It’s easy to understand why–she’s a good communicator and she has charisma for days.  She sustained her standing in the semifinal round when Megan asked her, “What is your main objective in the future life that you have?”  She gave this strong answer:  “My main objective in life is to be a better version of myself every single day. So even if it’s a small thing that I could be that I could be represent people and their heart. I know how to work hard is. I come from a very poor humble background but that never stopped me. But Instead that encouraged me to keep reaching out for my dreams and I want to tell people that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, your colour, your race. You can always accomplish your dreams if you work hard.

For the final round, she was asked by Miss World 2008 from Russia, Ksenia Sukhinova a question that seems more appropriate for Miss Earth:  “What do you think should we be teaching the next generation about protecting our planet?”  Yaritza gave this answer: “I think we should be teaching our next generation to protect our planet. This is the only one we have. We shall protect Mother Earth. We should all be together and encourage communities and contribute with making campaigns so people can collect their trash. We have already global warming. We cannot stop it but we can enhance opportunities to make it better.”  It’s arguably the weakest answer of the Final Five as it’s rather generic, but then again, the question is very challenging and with the limited timeframe given, you do have to tend to stick to generics.  But I think she still earned runner-up honors because of the great impression she has made prior to this, and she is not penalized severely for the relative weakness of her answer.

Now, I could feed fuel for some fans decrying influence-peddling in this pageant when one knows about the relationship between Puerto Rico and this country–yes, PR and DR may feud a lot over various cultural things, but most of the time their relations are very close, so conspiracy theorists may also think her placement was due to the presence of Miss World 1975 from Puerto Rico, Wilnelia Lady Forsyth (nee Merced).  But from  what I learned about who among the Top Five finalists were also part of the Top Ten in interview, that argument could be weakened by the fact that the judges had had a very high regard for her from the start.

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MISS WORLD 2016:  PUERTO RICO – Stephanie del Valle.  Despite only predicting her to garner a Top 20 placement, I actually have a very high regard for her especially as I noticed her excellent communication skills and likably spunky personality.  I just thought that Australia, France, Hungary, and India were a bit more compelling that she would be blocked out of the Top Ten, and the only inroads she made in the challenge events was a Top 21 showing in Talent and a shortlist in BWAP.  But now I learned she was the top performer in interview–and take note that this didn’t include inputs from the Lady Forsyth at that point because the Sorority’s inputs actually only come in with the reported last “selective” interview prior to the final and the final night itself.

I have to concede her gown was a lovely dreamy confection–a multi-layered pink ballgown designed by Carlos Alberto (who also designed the famous chainmail gown of Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera).  But still in my reckoning Catriona’s divine presence was off-the-hook, though she (with her passing resemblance to Miss World 2011 from Venezuela, Ivian Sarcos) was not that far behind.

I have to concede her interview performance was indeed stellar and unquestionable and reflective of her No. 1 placement in interview.  For the semifinal round, Megan asked her, “I know you are quite young but what has shaped you to probably become the person that you are today?”  She relayed an answer that was concrete and sincere: “Well I have to dedicate who I am today to my passion for music. When I was four I was part of the San Jose children’s choir and there is where I learned to be independent, where I learned dedication, where I learned how to be resilient and I definitely am thankful for everything that has come to my life. Thanks to music.”  For the final round it was the Lady Forsyth who asked her this question:  “If you have an opportunity to change something about the world, what would it be?”  Her answer was, “If I have the opportunity to change something about the world, I think what I would do is send a message of how important it is to change exclusion for acceptance, to promote and provide justice for others, and the importance of helping those in need.”  Her answer was straightforward and impactful, and I have to note, another shade against the incoming Trump administration–remember that it is going to be loaded with racists and bigots.  I totally subscribe to her answer.  Yes, it’s not lofty and eloquent as Catriona’s answer, but it’s still a brilliant answer.  With or without Wilnelia’s presence in the panel, I could dare argue that her final answer stands up to scrutiny.

If you ask me, there was no question that she belonged in the Top Three–the debate would be is if she was better than Catriona.  I bet this debate would rage on for ages.

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Normally this would be the part where I would make a summary conclusion and this essay will end.  But there is way more to discuss, especially as I dissect Catriona’s journey and lessons to be made from the results.  Stay tuned!

 

 

MISS WORLD 2016: DIVINITY DENIED (PART 2)

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After the Top 20 catwalk, they changed into their evening gowns and the Top Ten semifinalists were announced.  It was done one-by-one–after one was called out, an interview film clip would be shown, and then Megan Young would interview the semifinalist before Jason Cook announced the next semifinalist.  Then, they also announced the Popular Vote winner, and unlike in recent previous editions, the winner was actually part of the Top 20 instead of outside it.

The semifinalist roster was again dominated by Asians, with five of them in this hallowed group.  The Americas and Caribbean region hung tough with two each, and Africa and Europe were down to one each.  It’s also interesting to note that the reported interview placements were not the sole basis for deciding who should advance further–otherwise, Japan, Ghana and Slovakia would’ve been here.  So accusations that results were decided before the finals night should be dispelled, as they do factor onstage impact in the finals in deciding who would make the semifinals and finals–though the initial interview impressions still carry over apparently.

POPULAR VOTE WINNER:  MONGOLIA – Bayartsetseg Altangerel.  I wondered because she was the Popular Vote winner and that she got a Top 20 slot by her Talent fast-track win,  if it wasn’t for the fast-track she wouldn’t have made the Top 20 at all.  It turns out from the report I received from my insider friend, she was among the Top Ten in interview, so even if Philippines won Talent she would’ve advanced anyway.  However, slots were allocated for the Top Four in interview, those with a bit more compelling charisma, and one with deep connections that she fell short of the Top Ten and the Popular Vote allowed her to secure a semifinalist spot.  She is highly worthy and welcome to belong in this group.  Megan asked her besides performing her talent on finals night, what was the craziest thing she has ever done.  She gave this great response:  “I am an adventurous soul. Last year I set on a journey to discover what it is like to live in the wild as a nomad. So I spend two months with 2000 animals, herding goats and sheep and delivering calf and lost some animals to wolf. So I think that it is really important to make matters to matter your own culture in order to respect and understand others culture so I believe that’s my proposed  Back to the Roots documentary film will inspire many people to  preserve cultural idea.

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CHINA P.R. – Jing Kong.  She is reportedly very well-liked by Miss World insiders though she wasn’t Top Ten in interview.  Stil, her Top Model victory was fully justified as she made a strong impression with her blue-and-white Ming-vase-inspired embroidered evening gown that she earned her Top Ten slot.  Megan asked her, “When you travel, you always want to bring something home. What kind of souvenir do you think you’re going to bring home from the pageant this year?”  In her choppy English she gave a sweet and sincere answer about having bought a shirt and she’s having her fellow contestants sign on it, so it will be “very treasured”.  It was said by my insider friend that if she had a better command in English, she would’ve made further inroads.

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KOREA – Hyun Wang.  I have noted her superb communication skills (especially with her excellent command of English) that I was not surprised when I learned she ranked fourth in interview.  Megan asked her in relation to her video describing how art helped her cope with the death of her mother, “Art is really important to you and you wanna share that with the people around you?”  She confirmed, “Yes I do. Art has always been my best friend, life teacher and a healer and I wanna share those wonderful powers of art by becoming art therapists who takes care after the broken hearts especially of children because today children are burdened by the demanding society and they are hindered from expressing their true selves.

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BRAZIL – Beatrice Fontoura.  As of late Miss World values those who are planning to enter in the highly intellectual professions like medicine and law.  So that might be a factor why this law student was reported to be third in interview.  In her video she alluded to a fact that she left home at age 14, so Megan asked her, “You left home at such a young age. Tell us what you’re doing now?”  Her response:  “Now I am in Law school and when I finish I tend to focus my work, working with child abuse and women that has suffered domestic violence, working for towards that I think I can really help and once with if I become Miss World I want to make this a global platform.”  She looked sleek and elegant in her green-and-silver sequined gown, but her features could register as a bit strong for my taste and perhaps the judges agreed so she was not granted the Miss World-Americas title and it went to someone else.

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BELGIUM – Lenty Frans.  If you talk about onstage charisma, I don’t quite get it with her (even if she’s quite cute), and I would’ve rather have Hungary, France, and even Slovakia take her place.  But because she was second in interview, and having a strong BWAP project to boot, she was deemed the best from Europe (and hence the Miss World – Europe title).  Megan asked her, “You mentioned you wanna help out in your own way. How do you think you can make this world a better place in your own way?”  Her response was, “I think being healthy is the most important thing in life and I wish for everyone to be healthy or atleast to have access to healthcare. So I want to be a part in that. That’s why I am studying medicine to become a doctor.”  To my ears, it was a subtle shade to the then-incoming Trump administration as it plans to repeal Obama’s health care program, and a demonstration how the U.S.A. is far behind other westernized countries in this crucial aspect.

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UNITED STATES – Audra Mari.  She was also Top Ten in interview though Brazil outranked her.  But perhaps because of her placements in Sports and BWAP, along with a great impression onstage, she was granted the honors of being Miss World – Americas.  Megan gave her this question: “Miss World is all about beauty with a purpose but do you feel there’s some kind of stereotype when it comes to beauty contests?”  Audra gave this strong answer:  “I do.  I feel like when you introduce yourself to somebody and they find out you’ve competed in a beauty pageant they kind of have this reaction but I’ve spent the last three weeks with the most incredible women I’ve ever met in my entire life and the most talented women, multi most incredible dancer I’ve ever seen. My roommate is in Law school, Australia. So we have so many different things to offer I think and when they really dive in and realize what is beauty pageant and not just that but what Miss World has to offer. It’s incredibly special.

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COMING UP:  THE FINAL FIVE

 

MISS WORLD 2016: DIVINITY DENIED (PART 1)

The subtitle I gave for my review pertains to one non-winning contestant, who I will discuss in-depth at the end of my essay.  But let’s first go through the motions and discuss the production aspects of the finals of this year’s pageant and the contestants who made the cut.

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Just like in last year’s pageant, the Miss World Organization packaged the telecast of the final to allow broadcasters options to choose between the full 2-1/2-hour option or the 2-hour option.  Just like in syndicate Sunday comic strips, this usually means that supposedly the first sequence could be treated as a throwaway, but in this instance, most broadcasters would deem it an essential sequence, as this was the pre-taped contestant introduction–it was a welcome change that they reinstated the full contestant introduction featuring a full shot of the contestant walking in her designer gown and a superimposed shot of the contestant speaking–this was last done in 1994.

The stage at the newly opened MGM National Harbor (in Oxon Hill, Maryland) does have grandeur.  However, the triangle pit at the front reminded many observant pageant fans of the Miss Universe 2015 stage at the AXIS in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Even if the triangle pit is larger here, the similarities make fans regard this premiere pageant as a copycat.  And this is not the only element that borrowed from another major pageant…

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The Miss World 2016 stage
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The Miss Universe 2015 stage

The final was hosted by American actor Jason Cook and Miss World 2013 from the Philippines, Megan Young.  Megan continues to grow in strength as a host–I wouldn’t mind seeing her be turned into the next Angela Chow and host several more editions of this pageant.  Her shining moment was in interviewing the Top 11 finalists as their names were announced, as she generally was gracious in her questioning and brought the best out of them.  Jason, meanwhile, is pleasant and generally competent–his only gaffe was mispronouncing the surname of one of the judges, Liliana Tanoesoedibjo (the last name is like Tah-noo-soo-dib-yo).

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Hosts Megan Young and Jason Cook

In the role of backstage correspondent (and host of the challenge events) was Mister World 2012/13 finalist from Canada Frankie Cena–his high-pitched speaking voice is an acquired taste but to his credit he has exuberance and competence.  Producer Steve Douglas, meanwhile, was now more of an off-camera announcer–in previous editions, he’s typically the one recapping the challenge events, but that task is now performed by the hosts.

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Frankie Cena with Miss World CEO Julia Morley

This year, Miss World preferred to employ local talent for their musical interludes–and when I mean local talent, these are talents that are known mostly in a certain niche or in the regional circuit and are not high-profile artists.  Singing a stirring hymn after another Beauty with a Purpose tribute clip aired after the Top 11 interview was opera singer Rodrick Dixon.  He actually previously performed at the 2012 pageant with a classical cover of the West Side Story chestnut “Somewhere”.  He’s reportedly a world-renowned opera tenor, though there are very few opera singers that have awareness with the general public.

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To provide musical accompaniment as the rest of the girls walked on the stage in their designer gowns prior to the announcement of the winners , there was Washington DC band the Morrison Brothers with their single “Party at My House“.  The song is indistinguishable from the “bro-country” songs permeating country radio these days though it’s a pleasant enough listen.  Even if it aired on cable network E!, I doubt E!’s broadcast would help raise the profiles of these artists.

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It’s now time to discuss the pageant format.  It of course starts with the opening number, and this was a high energy sequence, featuring the contestants clad in solid minidresses according to the colors of their groups–Red, White, and Blue.  The sequence ends with the contestants lined up to form the American flag.  That formation is a nice touch and at least is a nod to the host country.  However, this was scored to Fifth Harmony‘s latest single, “That’s My Girl“.  and this song (in slightly remixed form) earlier served as the opening number song for Miss Earth about 1 1/2 months before.  Again, as good as the opening number was, it would be saddled with a “copycat” tag for the song use.

After this number, they recapped the challenge events.  Unlike the 2011-2015 editions, the challenge events are back to being fast-track events, the winner of each event earning automatic slots in the Top 20.  This also meant the leaderboard was eliminated, so we don’t see who scored the best in interview.  However, I just recently learned from a friend with connections who actually were the Top 10 in interview–I’ll discuss them as I review the Top 20.  Anyway, what didn’t change was that the Talent winner then performed her talent–but instead of being highlighted, it’s treated almost as if it was an afterthought and the performance looked edited and pretaped–in fact, midway through the performance Steve Douglas piped in to segue to a commercial break.

The contestants then had another dance number where they were clad in uniform black dresses and did a few cha-cha dance steps set to Icona Pop’s “Emergency.  Now, I kinda like this sax-laden dance jam–wish it was a bigger hit than it was.  The Top 20 were then announced and Jason Cook introduced the final night judging panel–again it’s a mix of Miss World insiders and members of the “Sorority” (I don’t know if Miss World 2014 top five finalist Carina Tyrell of England can be considered a “sorority” member as she was not a winner, but probably we can expand the membership to include previous contestants, too).  After the judges were introduced, the Top 20 were then reintroduced individually by Steve Douglas, providing brief backgrounds to each.

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Before I discuss the next sequences, I will pay brief tributes to the Top 20 quarterfinalists who failed to advance to the Top 11.  Interesting to note that although they ultimately did not clinch the crown, Asians comprised eight of the Top 20 (followed by Europe with four, and two each from the Americas, Africa, Oceania and the Caribbean).

COOK ISLANDS – Natalie Short.  She made it on the virtue of her win in the Sports challenge event.  She actually has the prettiness and articulateness to make it based on merit, but I have a feeling because she came from a less-regarded country she needed the fast-track win to bring forth her country’s breakthrough.  I welcome her presence here.

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THAILAND – Jinnita Buddee.  I thought she’ll probably need the popular vote to make serious inroads but it turned out she won over the judges enough in interview to make it (and perhaps they also factored in Beauty with a Purpose [BWAP] as she made the Top 25 here).  I’m glad her personality was winning enough to make the judges take notice and grant her a slot here.

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INDIA – Priyadarshini Chatterjee.  I’m glad this ingenue made the cut on interview merits and her Top Five BWAP performance–her predecessor couldn’t even make it here even when she scored high on the challenges.

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HUNGARY – Tímea Gelencsér.  I was expecting her to go Top Five, but despite a sterling performance in the challenge events (Top Ten–arguably Top Three, even–in Talent, Top 24 in Sports, and Top 25 in BWAP aren’t that compelling for her to advance further.

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FRANCE – Morgane Edvige.  I was expecting this gorgeous lady to advance further to the semifinals, but I suppose the judges found more compelling interviews to advance ahead of her, just like…

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AUSTRALIA – Madeline Cowe.  See FRANCE.  I presumed she’ll ace her interview and her BWAP project had strong merits, but the insiders actually found more compelling interview choices ahead of her.  Anyway, she can be content with the designation of being crowned Miss World – Oceania as the highest ranking contestant from her region.

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SLOVAKIA –  Kristína Činčurová.  I learned from an insider friend of mine that this lady was one of those who made Top Ten in interview.  She didn’t figure in any of the challenge events so I thought that might hurt her chances but her interview showing helped her make it this far.

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GHANA – Antoinette Delali Kemayor.  I had mentioned previously that I have underrated her as I didn’t appreciate her brand of beauty then–but then I started appreciating her dignified presence and realize she was indeed worthy of belonging here.  Just like Slovakia, she failed to make inroads in any challenge event but she is among those reportedly in the Top Ten in interview.

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JAPAN – Priyanka Yoshikawa.  One big shocker I got from my insider friend was that this lady was reported to have placed fifth in interview.  I suppose her biracial background (remember she’s half-Indian) was a compelling human interest story for the judges.

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COMING UP:  THE TOP 11 SEMIFINALISTS