In line with this pageant’s direction towards emphasizing a woman’s intelligence, achievements, and personality, the Top 20 round now features an added 15-second address which serves as a platform for the delegate to express hwer convictions, advocacies, and whatever they choose to highlight about themselves.

POLAND – Magdalena Swiat.  I was assuming the all-female selection committee would be focused more on women of substance, so it is a surprise that they chose this lady to go through.  Perhaps they don’t mind a woman with charm and likability, which this blonde has in spades.  Her chit-chat with Steve Harvey was simple enough–he noted she’s a self-described competitive person, so he asked her what makes her believe she could become Poland’s first Miss Universe.  She declared, “Well, I think because our mentor Lu [Sierra] told me I’m the best Polish she ever had, and that woman can’t be wrong!”  It’s a sincere answer that is refreshing.  For her address, this is what she delivered: “The fact that I’m standing here is the proof that it’s always worth to be yourself and this is the message especially for younger girls: You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be the best version of yourself and you have to work hard and also believe in yourself.”  She’s actually a welcome choice for the Top 20, but well, with other ladies delivering more impressive speeches, I have to put her at the bottom of this pack even if she arguably could be deemed as better looking than several ladies in this group.

BELGIUM – Zoe Brunet.  With the European contingent that is relatively slim pickings in the substance department, this lady got the edge with her oodles of charm and making a standout impression with her mass of blonde frizzy curls.  Steve noted she’s graduated with an accounting degree and asked “What could you say to people who say that all accountants are boring?”  Her answer:  “I don’t agree.  It’s beautiful do do accounting when to do a lot of shopping…” then trailed off and ended with the Thai greeting “kap khun ka“.  For her address, she decided to speak in French and her message is: “I wanted to tell you that at age 13, I didn’t embrace my body. And I would like to pass on a message to all women: Be strong. Don’t let anybody judge you. To be here in front of you is my biggest success.”  It’s an earnest, sincere message that resonates with people of low self-esteem so it’s a worthy message, albeit one that definitely not enough for her to make the next round.

BRAZIL – Mayra Dias.   She has obvious merits, I have to concede, but I feel her slot is better served by letting, say, LEBANON (Maya Reaidy) or NIGERIA (Aramide Lopez) through instead of her.  Well, at least this country’s streak has now stretched eight years, just behind the PHILIPPINES’ nine-year streak.  It seems she has an environmental advocacy saving the Amazon rainforest.  When called into the Top 20, Steve noted she has spent a week with a tribe, and asked the most important survival skill she learned from them.  She noted “respect” and “bio nature is important for our survival”.  She probably misunderstood that what Steve was after was about practical tips to survive the rainforest jungle but anyway she is promoting her advocacy upfront.  It is again in play in her speech: “I am Mayra Dias, Miss Brazil 2018 and I’m proud of be from Amazon in Brazil and my mission is make people aware of the importance of the environment. This is crucial to ensure the future of the next generation. Conserve the Amazon is to preserve every life on earth.

INDONESIA – Sonia Fergina Citra.  Her multi-religious family background and strong communication skills made the selection committee take notice and granted her this slot.  She was trying to be relatable and show she did her homework about the host’s background when she asked about Steve’s grandson, Ezra, after being called into the Top 20.  Steve didn’t take it that well as for him it seems intrusive for her to ask him that.  Anyway, he then asked her about her family’s multi-religious background and wondered if it’s awkward at the dinner table.  Sonia’s reply:  “Well, it is really live conversation, and you know what, my mom is the queen of the family .  I think she’s watching me right now so I have to behave but most of the time in our dinner we always make joke ‘who (is) gonna do the dishes afterward?’ but absolutely not me.”  Steve asked her why is that, and she noted that she often plays the “youngest child” card to avoid such duties.  Her family background is again at the forefront in her speech:  “Being raised in a family with four different religions and seeing there’s many cultural differences, religious intolerance and gender inequality have been the cause of trouble in Indonesia and also persecution. [These] inspired me to do a campaign called “Be Diverse, Be Tolerant” to encourage all the people to respect difference and respect others.

U S A – Sarah Rose Summers.  I expected she would end up as a wildcard semifinalist, as she didn’t make as splashy an impact as other contenders out there with or without the controversy she was embroiled in.  When called into the Top 20 Steve asked her about her favorite hobby being biking like Beyonce.  Sarah Rose explained that she likes attending fitness classes and she conducts Pilates sessions, but her favorite are those biking classes with those flashing lights and the music that is blaring in these sessions are often Beyonce’s music and invited Steve to join her in those classes sometime.  Steve opted to decline as he wants to ride in “slow cars”, which Sarah Rose then noted that he’ll be at home in New York as cars move slowly there because of traffic jams.  As a parting note, Steve encouraged her “It’s a wonderful week.  Keep your head up”–most people observed he’s probably alluding to the controversy involving her remarks over VIETNAM (H’Hen Nie) and CAMBODIA (Nat Rern)’s lack of English skills.   For her speech, she gave this:  “As a certified child-life specialist, I break down medical jargons to relieve anxieties. As the next Miss universe if I were to be chosen, I will utilize my career experience to bring children from around the world child-life strategies because I believe no child deserve to feel alone or scared.

JAMAICA – Emily Sara-Claire Maddison.  I will forever dub her as “Mocha Pia” as she most likely impressed the selection committee with her striking resemblance to Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach.  She also exudes a bubbly vibe especially when called by Steve Harvey onstage, and that is why she was in the First Five for the Americas and not a Wildcard.  Steve noted she recently won for her recipe in a jerk chicken contest, and ask if she can share her recipe.  She replied: “Well, to be completely honest, it’s completely new to me, but always remember your seasoning–that is something we don’t forget growing up in Jamaica.” Steve noted that she doesn’t need to remind the Thais about that as they are noted for seasoning their food with spices, and Mocha Pia acknowledged that it is indeed delicious.    Such a shame she doesn’t have the mental fortitude of Pia as she delivered the big boo-boo in the address, as she lost her train of thought.   “I start my Miss Universe journey despite my insecurities. I know that… I actually start today to work on my insecurities… I know that I’ve realized that queen defines their own perfection. I know I have what it takes to inspire, relate and most importantly comfort young women across the world.

Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach at the Star Magic Ball 2018 (photo by Mark Jesalva for Cosmo.ph)

HUNGARY – Enikő Kecskès.  Some pageant fans and pundits might find her a shock inclusion as she has a slender frame that they felt seems unhealthy.  But she seemed to impress the selection committee in interview as she is a very confident speaker.  Steve noted that no-one from her family could make it to watch her live onstage, so he asked what message she would like to say to them.  She gave this sincere, heartfelt response:  “I love you so much and you said that I will be here and I’m very thankful as without you I wouldn’t be here.  And I wanna say I have my Miss Universe family here as I consider everybody who is with me in this journey and I love you, too, guys.  Thank you so much!”  She continued on the gratitude track with her address: “After I graduated at high school, I decided to travel as a model. I end up in the most beautiful places all around the world but I felt so aimless and alone. And now, I’m back to Hungary studying at the university—finals in the accounting and I’m very happy and satisfied with my life.

AUSTRALIA – Francesca Hung.  She’s the last to be called to the Top 20 and she noted it’s so nerve-wracking to be the last to be called, but well, with her outgoing bubbly personality, you get the reason why she earned her slot even with being embroiled in the same controversy with  U S A.  Steve noted that in her bio she likes to tell jokes and asks her to tell one. Here’s her joke:  “A pessimist and an optimist met in a bar.  The pessismist said ‘Ugh! Things just couldn’t get any worse!’ And the optimist said, ‘No! Of course they can!’”  She self-deprecatingly noted that her jokes may not be “PC” enough, or that they’re good.  For her speech, she gave this address:  “I’m an advocate of cultural diversity and I’ve come to learn the importance of diversity through my experiences of growing up biracial in Australia. I believe theres no one single definition of beauty but one’s difference is what truly makes you beautiful.”  Post-pageant, Francesca went on record to note that if it weren’t for the controversy, she could’ve advanced further.  I think I agree with her there, but at least she put up a good fight, and she has the consolation of being front in both a video sequence where some delegates learned how to do a traditional Thai dance, and she was the one very much on front of the other non-Top 10 in the swimsuit segment.

IRELAND – Grainne Gallanagh.  Her strongest quality is her gift of gab and intelligence, and this is in full effect when Steve asked her about her love of Harry Potter as she read all seven books of the series three times.  He asked “Do you realize they end the same each time?”.  She asked Steve back, “Well, I will answer your question with a question–have you read them yourself?”  Steve Harvey noted he doesn’t even know who he is.  Grainne then went on, “Well if you did you will understand why I read them three times and anybody else who did [pointing towards the audience] would understand, too.” It’s a good response but of course it made the host seem ignorant (well, he is)–I can imagine Boy Abunda giving suggestions that the better approach is to point out exactly what makes this series so special and popular (like it’s loaded with adventures, and it contains rish message that are relevant for kids and adults living in today’s society and in future socieites, too. “As a nurse, with a dream of opening my own female health clinic, I want to use my knowledge and my experience to educate women on how to look after themselves. I wanna raise awareness about female health and as a Miss Universe I would shine a light on the unfortunate stigma that surrounds female health in society.”

GREAT BRITAIN – Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers.  She made a big splash when called out to the Top 20–Steve asked her “You claim you are able to find a song that is appropriate to any situation.  Now you just made the Top 20–what is your tune of choice?”  She showcased impressive vocal chops as she sang the chorus of “A Moment Like This“, best known as Kelly Clarkson‘s victory song when she won American Idol in 2002, but for Brits like her, they would associate this song as more of a Leona Lewis song as this song was used as her victory song when she won the UK X-Factor in 2006.*  She showcased she’s a woman of substance when she delivered this address:  “When a knee injury ended my dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete, I quickly realized that in this life, you’re all entitled to more than just one dream. This belief inspired me to become a barrister and an advocate for victims of acid attacks and equal pay. This is what I want the world to remember me for.”  If it weren’t for the formidable ladies in the Asia/Africa and Americas exuding more charisma (and several with lots of substance), she could’ve made the Top 10.  As such, she would have to content herself with being the best performing European in this batch.

* Are the folks of X-Factor that year lacking inspiration that they could not find an original victory song and chose to rehash another song?