The Top 10 is composed mainly of ladies from two regions, the Americas and Asia/Pacific/Africa. Only one wildcard advanced, basically advancing when one of the original five in the Americas faltered. It does reflect the strength of these two regions this year. As they were called out, their Up Close videos would be broadcast.
The Top 10 swimsuit segment features the non-Top 10 ladies swaying then marching across the catwalk en masse to French Montana‘s song “No Stylist” featuring Drake which then segued to Bruno Mars‘ smash hit “Finesse” featuring Cardi B as the Top 10 strutted their stuff across the catwalk. Generally all ladies are in great shape so it made for a very tight swimsuit competition.
For the evening gown segment, the songs used were Lauv‘s “I Like Me Better” and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” (featuring Cardi B). Unlike the way they strictly set the first song for the non-finalists’ parade and the second song for the Top 10, this time the first song continued to play when the first six semifinalists appeared and then segued to the second song after that.
NEPAL – Manita Devkota. The key to this country’s breakthrough is to out-India INDIA. Manita has the classic Bollywood-worthy charisma you expect from those classic Indian beauty queens in their 1990s-early 2000s heyday, along with those strong interview skills of those legendary queens. She also speaks in a clear style which contrasts sharply with INDIA (Nehal Cudasama)‘s very thick stereotypically “Indian” accent. Despite Nehal’s sensational stage chops, Manita clearly edged out Nehal and advanced instead of her. Steve asked her about the many good luck charms she brought from her country, and asked her to tell the audience about one of them. Manita acknowledged, “Yes I did, because I’m somewhat superstitious. I recently visited a Buddhist monastery four months back, and they gave what I call a thread bracelet tat’s supposed to protect me and help me on my journey.” She likewise made a great impression with her 15-second address: “I see myself as a pioneer. I’m a first generation immigrant and first generation college graduate. That fact alone has made me value my dreams and feel empowered. I now work to empower the women and girls in my community who face mental health challenges by providing them health training and solutions and health education.” It is conceivable she ranked 7th going into the Top 10. However, she was clearly outclassed onstage by the other ladies in the Top 10 as her stage skills, albeit solid, is subdued compared to the rest. It also doesn’t helped that she tripped in her white evening gown, and hence she took the rear in this hallowed group.
THAILAND – Sophida Kanchanarin. She may not be as conventionally pretty as her predecessor, Top Five finalist Maria Poonlertlarp, but she does have the competitive drive that she broke the host shut-out curse and made the cut. I have a feeling if it weren’t for the loud crowd, GREAT BRITAIN could’ve advanced in her place. When Steve greeted and ask how she’s feeling, she noted that she’s a little hungry, so Steve noted for now, she can eat the roaring applause of the crowd. Steve noted she started as a poor student to becoming one who graduated with a 3.9 GPA, and what sparked the change. Her answer: “To be honest, I just want my parents to proud [sic] because tey paid my tuition a lot, and more importantly than that, the love for myself empowered me to pull all my efforts to accomplish my academic goals. So, love yourself, guys, and love will make a way for you.” She showcased her story of determination and drive in her speech: “To many, I dream an impossible dream to be a Miss Universe. I dare to overcome all fear of failure and criticisms to join this journey and I’m doing with all I am and all I have to fulfil not only my dream but the dream of Thai people.” She did keep up well in the two Top 10 rounds, showcasing a slim and trim bod in swimsuit and looking very proper in her crystal-studded red gown–a gown reportedly designed by a member of Thai royalty. There is nothing to fault in her performance, but it’s obvious six ladies were competing at an extremely stratified level.
COSTA RICA – Natalia Carvajal. Lookswise, I felt there were other ladies more charismatic, even if she had the track record of winning Miss Eco-International 2016. But the sparkle comes when she opens her mouth as being a TV presenter she has terrific communication skills, and no doubt that was the key to wowing the selection committee. She then provided a major highlight when called by Steve Harvey to the Top 20 Steve noted her background as a TV host and asked if she has any tips for him. Natalia seized the moment and referenced Steve’s infamous mistake. “Well, I think you’re doing good, your outfit is fine, the smile is always great, but I have to give you one advice just for the future, just in case.” She then asked Steve to lean closer as she is supposed to whisper but said it aloud anyway: “If ever they give you a really, really, really important envelope, try to read it carefully, okay?” Of course Steve then goes into his mock-wince reaction and mock-sarcastically noted “So you think that’s funny?” and then defensively noted, “Well, I’m still here!”. She clinched the deal to advance to the Top 10 with this speech: “Well, I come from a place where they taught me to find happiness in the simplicity of nature and the healing power of love. This is why I don’t dream with a physical crown or a title. I dream with the opportunity to represent each and every one of you behind that screen that still believe the world can be changed by planting seeds of love and acceptance.” She showcased her buffed bod with aplomb in the swimsuit round, but is pegged down in the evening gown competition as her blue gown, albeit sexy, lacks the oomph delivered by other ladies.
CURACAO – Akisha Albert. It turns out she’s one of our lucky talismans like the way USA’s Olivia Jordan and to a lesser extent Guyana’s Ruqayyah Boyer was. In the three international pageants she competed in, our country wins–first back in 2014 at Miss Earth where our very own Jamie Herrell won, and then last year in Reina Hispanoamericana where she placed 1st runner-up behind Winwyn Marquez, and of course–spoiler alert–here. It’s interesting how she evolved from her Miss Earth stint to here–at Miss Earth she was drowned out by other dusky standouts (who were shut-out, by the way), but at Reina and here, she developed this regal presence that made her a force to seriously reckon with. When called to the Top 20, Steve noted that her grandmother and mother had previously competed in pageants and asked if they have any advice for her. Akisha’s response: “Well Steve, my grandmother told me to eat as much as I could here in Thailand–and so I did. And my mother as always told me that a winner’s dream is to never give up and so I never give up on my dreams, and now I’m here, on the Miss Unvierse stage!” For her address, she delivered this: “Despite our society’s ideology of beauty, the most important thing for me is to stay true to the woman I was created to be. Making sure to express the highest and truest expression of myself with love, respect and a lot of confidence.” Her presentation in both swimsuit and evening gown were no doubt impeccable, but she is clearly behind six ladies that were actually fighting neck-and-neck for the lead, like…
CANADA – Marta Magdalena Stepien. Vindication was forthcoming for this lady from her Miss International shut-out last year, as she stepped up on the glamour side and, well, Canadians are noted for strong communication skills and this lady is no excepiton. Now there is a controversy raised by previous Canadian reps Lauren Howe and Siera Bearchell as Marta apparently exaggerated her educational background as it turns out she’s studying biomedical technology and not engineering (especially since Lauren is an engineer). Anyway, with that in mind, Steve asked her since she is both a model and an “engineering” student, which is more fun and why, Marta’s reply: “I think it’s so hard to choose, Steve, because with modelling I get to feed on my creative side and with engineering I get to better the lives of people with my talents in math and physics, so it’s a win-win situation.” Steve’s response to this is off-putting as even as he’s lighthearted about it, it still patronizing to tell her to stick to modeling as she gets to travel and wear nice clothers–such a patriarchal mindset, no? Now, if you’re unaware of the aforementioned controversy, you would think that her speech address was impressive: “I’m fortunate enough to come from the land of opportunity. I was blessed with a ten year modelling career that took me around the world where I realized there’s a need for change. I chose to be a part of that change by pursuing study of biomedical engineering so that I can help people around the world regardless of who they are and where they come from.” Despite misgivings on how she fudged her educational background, what is unquestionably true is the mesmerizing spell she casts onstage, which Carson Kressley and Lu Sierra described as “old Hollywood glamour”. Her buffed body is very undeniable in the swimsuit round, and yes, she evoked classic Hollywood in her silver-and-pink Michael Cinco gown. I was expecting her to advance to the Top Five, but perhaps the selection committee found the extra gown layer a bit over-the-top that in a closely-contended group of six, she ended up getting dropped from the Final Five.
COMING UP: THE FINAL FIVE