The third Philippine edition of the Miss Universe pageant (also known as the 65th Miss Universe pageant) as expected generated electrifying excitement with the general public, made palpable upon seeing the enthusiastic 15,000 strong crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena. The three major broadcasters in the Philippines (ABS-CBN, TV5, and GMA 7) paid rights to UHF and cable broadcaster Solar Entertainment to simulcast the pageant at their channels (and Solar also did the same across its various UHF and cable channels).–in the US this typically only happens when the US president makes a State of the Nation address. The Miss Universe Organization praised the reception they had received from us, with Miss Universe Organization president Paula Shugart declaring our hosting as “perfect”. Now, was the conduct of the pageant also “perfect”?
It has also been much discussed about the Miss Universe Organization’s direction to emphasize more about women’s intelligence and achievements over simply looks, and that it will embrace and celebrate diversity. This message is an indication of a major break from the former owner, now-US President Donald Trump*1 and as the pre-opening number sequence (not the skit that preceded it) featured the delegates speaking messages about education, respecting planet, equal rights, fight racism, fight intolerance, and other empowering messages about making changes in the world. Did it deliver on that message?
*1 They did try to pay lip-service in the Trump era with the “Redefined for Today” slogan but remember from 2000-2015 they removed the semifinal interview round.
Let’s start with the main host, Steve Harvey–he milked his infamous blunder for comedy gold, starting with a skit with him planning an escape plan in case he repeats the same mistake. Any references to that blunder, he would make some quips. I’m actually amused by it, though I have issues that he’s making the pageant more about him instead of where the focus should be. Still in my reckoning his jokes generally landed so I won’t take that against him. My favorite gag was the climactic moment before he announced the winner, when outgoing queen Pia Wurtzbach emerged to hand him a pair of thick prescription glasses–to ensure he reads the correct winner.
The color commentator this year was plus-size model and body image spokesperson Ashley Graham. She did a very competent job, and she did actually represent a portent of things that follow, as one might realize when I review the Top 13.
The opening number featured hit rapper Flo Rida performing a medley of his hits “In the Ayer“, “Low“, “My House” and his latest single, “Zillionaire“. He did bring energy with his medley, but well, we wish the delegates’ introduction was them in costume introducing themselves, as in this edition, they simply marched in their Sherri Hill dresses as their country’s name was announced.
In a now-welcome tradition, the second musical guest that performed at the Finalists’ Final Look was a hitmaker with an astounding run of hits (usually past, like 1990s, but are still active marquee names in the live circuit)–this year it’s Boyz II Men appropriately serenading the Final Three with their biggest romantic ballads: “On Bended Knee“, “I’ll Make Love to You” and “End of the Road“. You don’t expect perfection from live performances, and just like Seal last year, even if their vocals are at 90% power, they were still terrific, and you know the Filipinos at the MOA Arena were singing along to those classics.
[EDITED to correct two of the round table members] I’ll discuss the format of the competition proper when I discuss the “Lucky 13” semifinalists. But I would like to commend the clips featuring five of the delegates in a roundtable discussion on two topics, gender roles (would they date a man who prefers to stay at home) and skin color/diversity–this featured Ecuador (Connie Jimenez), Austria (Dajana Dzinic), Sri Lanka (Jayathi de Silva), Nigeria (Unoaku Anyadike) and USA (DeShauna Barber). I enjoyed those two segments, and appreciated the depth and substance they showed. There is also a segment featuring some delegates trying to eat the dreaded street food balut (duck embryo) and a montage of the delegates sharing their thoughts about their mothers, and what they did for them and what they taught them. I love these sequences, but if in future editions they are pressed for time instead of, say, shortening the main competition rounds, they can always show these segments on their website and YouTube channel.
The segments I would like to see less of are Steve and Ashley chit-chatting with the judges. Another negative is that there is a dearth of the flavor of the host country in the proceedings–many pageant fans and pundits grouse that the staging felt too generic and impersonal, that the pageant could have been held again in Vegas for all they know. The only tourism concessions were a clip of Ashley and Pia exploring Bohol and some generic scenic shots that were presented without any kind of context.
Before I proceed to discuss the Top 13, let’s talk about this year’s special award winners.
BEST NATIONAL COSTUME: MYANMAR – Htet Htet Htun. It’s not a surprise that she won as the costume is pretty grandiose, and she added flair by mimicking a puppet dance as she presented her backdrop-styled costume. An amusing moment when Steve Harvey interviewed her as she noted she can’t keep on standing up as her costume is extremely heavy, and this cues Steve to let her demonstrate her costume presentation.
Before they would announce the Photogenic and Congeniality winners during the telecast, but apparently to make more room for Steve Harvey’s comic hijinks and judges’ chit-chats, these special awards were presented after the coronation, during the Victory Party. Anyway, here goes the Photogenic and Congeniality winners:
MISS PHOTOGENIC: ALBANIA – Lindita Idrizi. Her hairstyle is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition but no one could deny it made her stand out and look more striking. She did generate a fierce headshot with that hairdo, and that probably contributed to her photogenic win.
MISS CONGENIALITY: KOREA – Jenny Kim. At least this bright and articulate girl is rewarded with this award. There also other bright, articulat, sympathetic ladies in this bunch, but perhaps this lady was the one who was deemed great company to be around. Good on her!
COMING UP: THE TOP 13