There is a major change in the competition format–besides cutting down the number of semifinalists from a Top 15/16 to a Top 13, they reintroduced a live interview format (last in place in 1999). In this edition, after each semifinalist was called out, Steve Harvey would interview the semifinalist from a tidbit on her bio which the semifinalist would expound further. I like the return of the interviews in this round–but many thought Megan Young did it better at the recently concluded Miss World pageant, and cutting into commercial after only four were called feels too time-consuming–many (including myself) felt perhaps they should split it into two segments instead of three. Now, one would wonder–did this chit-chat have any bearing in the judges’ decision to select who would make the next cut? I believe it did.
After film clips displaying the forum discussion amongst the five contestants, along with Ashley Graham and Pia Wurtzbach’s tour of Bohol, it was time for the swimsuit competition. Almost like the preliminary competition, the Top 13 were presented in groups of two or three. This was set to the audio recordings of Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza [Seeb Remix]” and The Chainsmokers featuring Daya’s “Don’t Let Me Down”. Many viewers objected to this new “en masse” format and preferred this (and the evening gown) segment be longer and the semifinalists parading one-by-one like in all editions past.
As I previously noted in my results reaction, diversity is a major theme for this pageant, and this year’s mix delivered on that count, with a record five delegates of black or mulatta heritage, three Asians, three fair-skinned Latinas, and two Caucasians, only one of which was representing a European country. Without further ado let’s discuss them starting with:
INDONESIA – Kezia Warouw. Though Indonesia has been enjoying a four-years-and-counting streak making the semifinals, they never advanced beyond the swimsuit round. There was hype that this statuesque and cosmopolitan lady can break out and bring forth Indonesia’s best finish in this pageant. However, it looks like her fate was sealed when she was interviewed by Steve Harvey about what her life was like being a tall girl (being 6′, she’s a whole foot taller than the Indonesian average of 5′). She was obviously nervous and haltingly replied, “Yes, I feel I’m so blessed because I think… this is gift from God [sic] so… I can help to others [sic].” Even if she redeemed herself somewhat with a strong swimsuit performance, that brief, shallow, and choppy answer sealed her fate and she couldn’t advance. She could’ve pointed out that she was bullied when she was young and how her mom encouraged her to model and told her about that “gift-from-God” thing, and that would’ve made her answer much stronger and more touching–she mentioned all that in her Up Close video.
BRAZIL – Raissa Santana. She was the choice of many pageant fans and pundits (including myself) to win this whole thing, but what killed her chances was her chit-chat with Steve–Steve asked her what it means to be the first black girl from her country to represent her country in 30 years. She was obviously tense and nervous and could only come up with, “I am proud… I am very proud to be an example to other girls like me.” It’s a solid answer, but with everybody else delivering stronger responses or making more memorable impact, her answer was drowned out in the din, and it probably colored the six judges’ perceptions (I think most especially the “East German” judge Francine Lefrak) that even with a finals-worthy swimsuit figure and catwalk, she was not allowed to advance.
PERU – Valeria Piazza. She was a worthwhile sleeper choice for the finals and her spontaneous remark after being called that “Oh my God, my heart is going to explode with happiness” was very apt (she’s probably as surprised as most people were). I know she has strong communication skills, but I forgot she also has a compelling human interest story as she survived a horrific car accident in October last year. Steve asked her to expound on that. “Yes I had a car accident last year and it was very painful. Many doctors told me that I couldn’t come to Miss Universe. But you know, Miss Universe was my biggest motivation, so I started to go twice a day to therapy to recover fast, and now I am here and I am more grateful than ever and this is the best moment of my life so far.” In my reckoning she performed 12th in swimsuit, but I would rank her higher than Brazil and Indonesia overall because of that human interest story, and that she’s a strong communicator (yes, she speaks English with an accent but her enunciation was crystal clear).
PANAMA – Keity Drennan. She was in the radar of many pageant fans and pundits, who raved about her buffed body and strong stage presence. So her making the cut was not that much of a surprise (it was just a matter of personal taste that I preferred others over her in my “Fearful” Forecast). Steve asked about her background as a child of a single parent and how it prepared her in competing in this competition. Her answer was strong: “My mother told me and my sister that with effort, working hard, you can have everything you want, and it definitely give me the confidence and the strength to pursue my dreams.” It’s a strong, well-articulated answer, but there were others that made stronger impact. Hence, despite her superb performance in the swimsuit round, she missed advancing to the Top Nine.
This year the announcement of the Top Nine was done in a mock-suspenseful split fashion. After eight of them were called, they cut into commercial break before the final finalist was called. I dislike the format and would prefer all nine were called in one go. In essence, after each of the Top Nine was announced, they aired her Up Close video–last year, the video profile airing was done during the Top 15 announcement but with the live interview format this time, this is where they choose to place it.
The Top Nine then paraded in evening gown, this time set to Kiiara’s “Gold”. Interestingly, Miss Earth also used this song during the evening gown segment, albeit in a remixed version. The song probably was deemed a perfect elegant catwalk song that was why it’s chosen as an evening gown catwalk soundtrack. Seven of the nine semifinalists in this round switched their gowns from the preliminaries.
The message of diversity turns out to not only apply towards race and ethnicity, but also towards body types and sizes, which threw many pageant fans and pundits (including myself) in a loop. The presence of one lady whose had been a target of “fat-shaming” in the Top 13 and Top Nine polarized many people–perhaps it is IMG’s intention to make people appreciate that beauty comes in a variety of sizes. Anyway, the lady in question is…
CANADA – Siera Bearchell. She was deemed in “ideal” shape when she competed in Miss Supranational 2015 (and ended up as 1st runner-up) and when she won her national pageant. I’m not sure what happened between her national pageant and this pageant, but well, many pageant observers took notice and internet trolls came in droves to criticize her. But to her credit, she embraces the shape that she’s in and the viral story turned her into a poster child for another type of diversity, and this pageant decided to embrace it by allowing her to make the cut (when in other editions like in the Trump era, she would be relegated to the bottom of the pack). Her fabled communication skills serve her well as an advocate embracing body-type diversity, and I have to admit it is refreshing that she became a token symbol for people like me. and make me rethink my preconceived notions that bigger sizes can’t make inroads in modern pageants. Still there are those who do not quite subscribe to this message–fellow Canadian Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova, who was in Manila with her family to watch this pageant made some salient points about this issue–here is her take from her own review of this pageant:
I honestly think Canada could have won the crown, had she worked on her body and looked the way she did last year. I was Siera’s biggest fan when she won Miss Canada and even before that, and always felt she had huge potential to be the 3rd Miss Universe from Canada. In the end, as we see, it takes more to win, and I think Siera missed her chance. While her message of body confidence is a very important one to young women, what I think is even more important to tell the younger generation is that if you settle for what you have and don’t work to improve yourself, it can only get you so far, but with a bit more perseverance and determination, you can go all the way to the top! The new generation is at a risk of feeling entitled and spoiled by getting ribbons for participation and trophies for coming in last, so if we don’t teach them that it takes hard work, sacrifice, discipline, setting goals, and never settling for less, we stand to have very unsatisfied and unfulfilled generation of young people, who never truly get to live their dream.
I highly recommend reading Natalie’s full review of this pageant. You can click on the Facebook link here or as published on Pageanthology101.com. Anyway, to help advance the impression that her body size was still “healthy”, when she was called to the Top 13 Steve noted that she recently ran her first marathon and ask her about how being athletic gives her an edge in this pageant. As expected, she confidently spoke that “Running a marathon along 42.2 km or 26 miles takes determination, perseverance, patience, and a lot of stamina and all of those seem like attributes that a Miss Universe seems to have, so…” After the swimsuit round, Steve went into a slightly lengthy chit-chat with the judges and put some of them on the spot on who were their top choices. All who were interviewed included Canada on their list, so even if many pageant fans and pundits disagree, she overtook the likes of Brazil and Panama in the swimsuit round and made it to evening gown. Now, she changed from her pink number in the preliminaries to a white gown. I suppose this is enough justification for the judges to not let her advance further, that her presence in the Top Nine is enough of a statement–I can recall a fashion rule that white makes you add pounds, and is usually considered unflattering for plus-size figures. No doubt she has made an indelible mark that will be debated upon for years to come. It reminds me of Camryn Manheim‘s battlecry when she won the Emmy award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama for her role in The Practice: “This is for all the fat girls!!!“
U S A – Deshauna Barber. Though many pageant fans and pundits don’t put her looks in high regard, her sash and her sterling communication skills helped secure her placement in this group. I’d like to note that prior to the announcement of the Top 13, they broadcasted excerpts from the preliminary interviews. We saw Bulgaria (Violina Ancheva) and Romania (Teodora Dan) flub their interviews, while shining brightest were two eventual Top Six finalists whom I shall discuss later, and this lady, who confidently explained that besides having “a master’s degree in computer information systems, I am also in the military–meaning that not only can I fix the software of each of your computers, I can also kick the butt of a 250-pound man who tries to take your computer.“. Memorable soundbite, no? As she was called to the Top 13, Steve asked her what it meant for her to change from her fatigues to being glammed up and campaign “as Miss Universe”. Deshauna corrected Steve, “Hopefully as Miss Universe, if I have the privilege enough to be crowned, but as Miss USA, I have had the opportunity to really just go around and show the world the diversity that we have as women, and I, myself, and the other 85 contestants are so diverse that we represent so much coming from our countries that I’m incredibly excited, honored, and humbled that I represent strong, powerful women, especially women that serve our country.” She also has an undeniably trim, toned figure and a polished stage presence so it’s inevitable that she advanced to the next round. She switched from the low-cut red gown in the preliminaries to a long-sleeved lacy red gown for the finals. It’s a solid number, but admittedly other gowns had more impact, hence this is as far as she would go. If she advanced further, she would have been a major threat in the question-and-answer rounds.
MEXICO – Kristal Silva. As she was announced as one of the Top 13, she was asked by Steve about the fact she once tripped and fell in a pageant. “It was three years ago in a catwalk,” she answered, “and obviously I felt nervous… and…I think that I take advantage of that opportunity because there were judges, there were media, and I say, ‘This is my opportunity to say I’m here, I’m Mexico! ‘ and, well, I take advantage of that I say, ‘nothing happened.’” This led Steve to reference his legendary flub, “That’s what I said after last year.” She showcased a lovely hourglass figure in the swimsuit round and it was a cinch for her to advance. She probably missed the Top Six by very little as her sexy silver evening gown (unchanged from the preliminary competition) was flawless.
COMING UP: THE TOP SIX