65TH MISS UNIVERSE: AT THE HOMESTRETCH (PART 1)

To the excitement of the Filipino fans, the Miss Universe pageant is back to being held in the Philippines for the 65th edition (almost 23 years after it was last held here).  It could’ve been called Miss Universe 2016 but well, due to scheduling concerns they had to hold it early the following year.  Anyway, as expected the 86 delegates were treated to a series of grand receptions and events, with tours throughout the Philippines going to Baguio, Vigan, Batangas, Boracay, Cebu, and Davao, along with a grand Governor’s Ball and a Charity Auction/ Filipino designers’ showcase in Manila.  This on top of various sponsors’ visits (since officially the government is not financing the proceedings–only private and corporate sponsorship), needless to say the schedule was hectic.  Just like reports of delegates grousing the non-stop schedule back in 1994, some of this edition’s delegates paid a bit of the price for all that, as some witnessed a few having fainting spells, or being absent due to flu of various forms.

Still, for most part the delegates remained a hardy lot, and this was demonstrated how the huge majority of them stepped up their “A” game during the preliminary competition.  With a more brutal format being introduced this year, it’s a major crime that only 12 out of these outstanding ladies will move forward during the final.  Without further ado, let’s start with…

ALBANIA – Lindita Idrizi.  You won’t miss her with her frizzy Afro locks.  It’s a look that reminds me of ABBA’s Frida (a.k.a. Anni-Frid Lyngstad) in 1974 when they were promoting their Eurovision-winning single “Waterloo”–I’m a big fan of Frida, but this look was the one I liked the least (my favorite look was mid-1978 though I know most fans would prefer the way she looked in the 1976-1977 era).  Still I suppose she’s caught between a rock and a hard place–either stand out and own the frizzy look, or blend in the background and be dubbed a Trump acolyte in her former look.  She did okay during the preliminary competition, but was in no contention to make serious inroads to the finals.

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Frida circa 1974 (image sourced from Raffem.com)

ANGOLA – Luisa Baptista.  She’s a member of the P.A.T.I.S. crew–a solid performer but attention is focused towards three to four stellar Africans this year.

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ARGENTINA – Estefania Bernal.  She has a beautiful sexy look that’s perfect to walk the Victoria’s Secret runway.  She showcased it with aplomb in the swimsuit round of the preliminary competition.  My concern is that during the gown round, her gown underwhelms.  In a cutthroat situation like this year, that choice may spell the difference between making the cut and missing it.  Whatever the case I still hold her in the highest regard.

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ARUBA – Charlene Leslie.  Lookswise, she may not stand out but she has an enviably slim figure (as a nutritionist/dietician) with strong communication skills and a polished stage presence–there are people raving about her simple but elegant white evening gown.  She can be a worthwhile sleeper surprise.

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AUSTRALIA – Caris Tivel.  She was one of the early favorites but as other ladies started generating buzz, she faded into the pack.  She still got what it takes to ultimately make the final cut, but from being regarded as a shoo-in, she would need to battle for her place with at least 40-50 others.

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AUSTRIA – Dajana Dzinic.  Besides her angular features, what is most notable about her is her Sound of Music-inspired national costume.

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BAHAMAS – Cherelle Williamson.  See ANGOLA.

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BARBADOS – Shannon Harris.  It’s nice to see the Caribbean country back to this pageant.  What’s interesting that this country fielded a Caucasian lady instead of the African type that is more common in that island.  Still this lady is a stunner and has all the bases covered, though it’s a tough, crowded field out there so her making a breakthrough is far from assured.

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BELGIUM – Stephanie Geldhof.  She has one of the prettiest faces in this competition, and she has strong stage chops to complement her stunning looks.  In fact her stage chops redeemed what I would deem the biggest fashion risk of the evening gown round–a satin red cocktail dress with a long red skirt that covered the dress asymmetrically.  I think she got away with it somewhat, but I fear with such limited slots would that risk pay off?

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BELIZE – Rebecca Rath.  She’s an above average representative from this country. and acquitted herself pretty well during the Preliminary Competition.  Though not expected to make serious inroads into the finals, she’s proven to be a worthwhile contender.

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BOLIVIA – Antonella Moscatelli.  In another year, she would’ve been a middle-of-the-pack contender, but with a strong set of delegates, she’s clearly outclassed and overshadowed.

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BRAZIL – Raissa Santana.  Glad she kept her hair wild and nappy and with her easy way with the fans, she was well beloved by the public.  Her exotic vibe reminds me of singer Jody Watley, as if she’s a younger, equally charismatic relative.  I’m rooting for her sympatica personality and utterly striking looks to make the cut.  I can’t envision a Top 12 without her.

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Jody Watley (image sourced from Theycallmedaymz.com)

BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS – Erika Creque.  Back in 1994, the last placed delegate was from this country.  Though lookswise she is clearly overshadowed by stunners out there, she has some polish and good communication skills to not occupy the cellar this time.

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BULGARIA – Violina Ancheva.  She exudes more glamour than her now-famous predecessor, and she is good looking.  But her figure and projection skills are no match to many astounding contenders out there so she ends up being middle-of-the-pack.

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All images courtesy of Miss Universe Organization unless otherwise indicated.

COMING UP:  CANADA to GEORGIA

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