MISS UNIVERSE 2018: DIVINITY VINDICATED (PART 2)

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?

COMING UP:  THE TOP 10

MISS UNIVERSE 2018: DIVINITY VINDICATED (PART 1)

The Miss Universe 2018 pageant turned out to be  one of the most epic competitions of all time.  Yes, two delegates ultimately drew the lions’ share of the fan attention that it can be metaphorically viewed as an epic boxing match, but the other delegates also delivered their own fireworks and sparkle.  Unlike in recent editions when the pageant production and activities may fall short to match the caliber of the delegates.  this year, this year’s production has stepped up, and from this I’ll start discussing the production aspects of this year’s pageant.

First, the stage is set up as a long X-shaped catwalk.  Though an X-shaped stage was previously seen in the 1997 edition, this year there was no steps on the back portion–surrounding the X-shaped catwalk were basically pits that would fit members of the audience (many of them pageant fans carrying banners of their favorite country).  It makes for a novel format that catwalk fans enjoyed as the swimsuit and evening gown competitions become more exciting competitions since we get a more prominent view of their stage catwalks.

This year’s opening number featured Ne-Yo performing his latest single, “Nights Like These“.  In its recorded form, this is a collaboration with Latin-pop artist Romeo Santos, but Ne-Yo was solo this time.  They decided to remix the song by infusing Thai cultural elements like traditional Thai drums and featuring gold-clad Thai traditional dancers.  The 94 Miss Universe delegates then basically marched across the stage basically in line formation across one part of the X-shaped stage passing by the drummers.  It sounds unwieldy on paper, but somehow the mix worked.  For over a decade now the Miss Universe stage doesn’t feature elements reflective of a host country’s culture that to see this onstage was a refreshing treat.  We need more of these in future editions.

As much as he improved over the years, host Steve Harvey will always remain the weakest link of this pageant, and this year is no exception.  Sure there are fans of his Gospel-folksy style of hosting, but the issue I have with Steve is his ego, and the fact that he’s always making the show about him, from milking that 2015 mistake by constantly referencing it in his spiels.  And that egoistic, inconsiderate attitude spills over with his interaction with the delegates, especially during the Top 20 announcement when after calling each delegate’s country he would then do his chit-chat/interview–there are some interactions that are uncomfortably prickly, and of course I’ll never forgive him for that chit-chat with eventual winner Iris Mittenaere of France during the 65th Miss Universe.  More on that when I discuss the National Costume winner and the Top 20.  My Miss Venezuela-Loving Friend (MVLF) also observed during the final announcement, Steve was handed two envelopes, one to announce the 2nd runner-up, and the other to announce the winner.  MVLF noted it looks like to avoid a similar scenario like 2015, they had to adjust to Steve’s egoism and stubbornness that to make it easier on him he only needs to read one name on those envelopes.  Oh the way to bend backwards and simplify…

Steve Harvey with his “famous” chit-chat with Costa RIca (Natalia Carvajal)

Serving as color commentators were plus-size model/body image advocate Ashley Graham, former Queer Eye fashion guru Carson Kressley, and runway coach and former model Lu Sierra, with Ashley performing extra duties as backstage correspondent.  I know Filipino pageant fans are throwing shade on the latter two for downplaying their favorite, but I can figure out what is going on in Lu Sierra’s mind–remember how immediately after 2008 we see a flurry of contestants trying on the Dayana Dervish and Taliana Twirl (and the Riyo Mori Gucci Flash)–Lu had to take so much effort weaning those contestants from attempting to perform those spins and twirls, and with the legendary walk delivered by the eventual winner, imitators would likely surface that Lu will try to wean them away from–good luck on that, Lu!

Carson Kressley, Ashley Graham, and Lu Sierra (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)

I forgot to note that they continued with the Continental format from last year, where they choose the Top Five performers from three major regions (Asia/Pacific/Africa, Europe, and the Americas) plus five wildcards.  They also integrated the contestant introduction with the announcement.  It should be noted that I have a feeling they want to even out the regions, as there are 32 from te Americas, 30 from Europe, and 32 from Asia/Pacific/Africa.  So it’s odd that they decided to take KAZAKHSTAN (Sabina Azimbayeva) out from the Asia/Pacific/Africa region and plunk her in the European group–with her very Asian features she seemed a bit out of place with this group, though justifiably part of that country is part of Europe so that could be their justification to even the groups up.  I know most pageant fans and pundits (including myself) would prefer a simple Top 20 performers format, but at least they found a good way to fill the three-hour broadcast format that also highlights the delegates more even if this process took up more than one hour and 15 minutes of the three-hour broadcast.  It turned out to be not as boring as it could’ve been, though we wish we could hear the delegates state their names instead of just simply their country.

Now, let’s talk about the delegates that missed the Top 20 but got significant screentime.  First, there is the national costume winner, LAOS (On-Anong Homsombath).  The costume was unique as it features mannequins that she carried along with poles, creating the illusion of three people walking together.  It’s off-putting that Steve Harvey used this to unleash his misanthropic side as he asked LAOS about people who are “deadweight” and implicitly, freeloaders and users.  LAOS did acknowledge she knows of some people, but again, boo to Steve Harvey for turning this segment into a dour gripe instead of a celebration of her country’s culture.

Then, there is the tribute to SPAIN (Angela Ponce) for the fact she’s the first transgender delegate to this pageant.  It’s nice to highlight and celebrate uniqueness, even if I don’t foresee this becoming a trend and it is more likely roster of delegates in the near future will revert back to being 100% biologically female, but at least it’s great to pay lip service to diversity.  It’s so ironic that the policy of allowing transgenders was actually approved when Donald Trump was at the helm–especially since now as US president he is trying to reverse the rights earned by the LGBTQ+ community.

COMING UP:  THE TOP 20

MISS WORLD 2018: SOMETHING FRESH, SOMETHING CONTINENTAL (CONCLUSION)

 

As previously mentioned, the Final Five is based on Continental allocation, basically who the judges deemed as the top performer for each continent advances to the Final FIve, instead of selecting the actual Top Five performers amongst the Top 12.  For a year with standouts heavily stacked on certain regions, like Asia & Oceania in this case,   Anyway, I like the touch that prior to the announcement they interviewed roommates or friends from within that continent.

After the five Continental Queens were selected, just like since 2016 they are subjected to a Q&A with a question posed by an outgoing or former Miss World.  I’ll discuss their answers in detail when I discuss the Final Five in depth.

MISS WORLD – CARIBBEAN: JAMAICA – Kadijah Robinson.  This country has always been a pet country for this pageant.  Well, yes, this lady is polished, articulate, and educated like most of the fellow representatives from her country before her, but to be honest, I found her a tad low-key during her head-to-head challenge.  She also didn’t make the shortlist in any fast-track event, So one might wonder, why her instead of, say, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO?  Some speculated that TRINIDAD & TOBAGO makes an intimidating rival against the “favored” one, so the insiders decided to mark down the big rival enough to miss the cut and put this less intimidating lady as the top Caribbean performer instead.  Miss World 2008 Ksenia Sukhinova asked her, “In my year as Miss World, I saw the extreme difficulties that so many people have to overcome. What is the greatest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?”  This is Kadijah’s reply:  “The greatest obstacle that I’ve had to overcome is one of self-confidence, and I’m so glad I did because I’m here tonight standing in front of you in pure joy and humility. When I was younger, I always doubted myself and I always doubted my capabilities. It took me a very long time to overcome this, and I know it takes a lot of communication with the self and a lot of thoughts. It’s a long process, but I was able to do it. To whoever is listening tonight that is not confident with themselves, I implore you to communicate with yourself. Find your niche. Find yourself, and it will be the most awesome feeling ever.”  It’s actually a relatable obstacle (as I also have to deal with the same thing), but it doesn’t make for a compelling answer and worse, she didn’t really illustrate any specific example about the lack of self-confidence she faced.

MISS WORLD – EUROPE: BELARUS – Maria Valisevich.  She was a bit under my radar but I did believe she had what it takes to make it all the way to the Top 30 as she proved a strong communicator during the head-to-head challenge with an intriguing background being a licensed pilot alongside being a globe-trotting model.  She made the shortlist in Top Model and Sports.  She also was a more spontaneous, confident communicator during the Top 12 round that she pulled off the upset and beat the more favored FRANCE to be the Continental Queen of Europe.  For her final question, she was asked by Miss World 2014 Rolene Strauss this:  “Every Miss World winner builds upon a legacy of the previous Miss World. How do you plan on building on the legacy of Manushi Chhillar?”  Maria was obviously nervous but she delivered this answer:  “I think that Manushi had done a big job during this year. I’m so proud that I will have an opportunity – maybe, an opportunity – to continue this job. I think I will continue my own Beauty with a Purpose project which is connected with unable and disabled people, and talented children.

MISS WORLD – AFRICA:  UGANDA – Quiin Abenakyo.  Her late arrival helped her shine bright against the other latecomers in her group (even if they are no slouches, to their credit).  She indeed has one of the prettiest faces amongst this year’s contenders from her continent, and her bob weave does give her a stylish, cosmopolitan look.  Another lady who could’ve deserved a Top Model slot over, say, BARBADOS (yeah, I’m piling hard on her, am I?).  Winning the head-to-head challenge is already a big milestone for her country, and the final night judges were in the mood to add gravy to an already impressive achievement, as she emerged as a great underdog story, even if MAURITIUS arguably gave a better chit-chat.   For her final question, she was asked by Miss World 2016 Stephanie del Valle this:  “What unique quality would you bring to Beauty with a Purpose?” Quiin’s response went like this:  “I am very passionate about cooking. I believe one can show the love they have for everyone through food. My Beauty with a Purpose project is fighting teenage pregnancies. We can all come together and help, but we can also do this through food. When we all come together, we share ideas, we generate ideas, just like the Miss World family who are able to come up with different ideas to solve problems in our countries.”  It’s not quite cohesive but it’s solid.

Normally Julia Morley would announce two runners-up and the winner, but this year she only announced one runner-up.  There was speculation that there was a tie for third place for two of the Continental Queens, but because the Continental Queens will be on-hand to tour alongside the winner throughout the year, perhaps they decided ad hoc not to bother announcing the 2nd runner-up.  Anyway it turns out t

RUNNER-UP AND MISS WORLD – ASIA:  THAILAND – Nicolene Pichapa Limsnukan.  This country deserved some vindication after missing the cut last year with a stellar contender.  This lady is a huge upgrade as she has an excellent command of English since she actually grew up in the US.  We all know in Miss Universe American-raised Thais would shine brightly and it now extends to this one with this gem.  She made a splash by being in the Top Five in designer dress and making the Top 32 in Top Model, then also getting shortlisted for Talent with her flag routine, which was tapped as the opener for the final night Dances of the World sequence.  But she earned her slot by winning the head-to-ead challenge as she eloquently presented her advocacy stemmed from taking care of her autistic brother.  Her project may have fallen short of making the Top 25 in BWAP, but it’s still a strong project.  She also gave a strong answer to the question posed to her by the outgoing Miss World, Manushi Chhillar, thusly:  “Being a Miss World is glamorous and exciting, but it’s also hard work. What strengths would you bring to the role?”  Her answer:  “The strength I would bring to being Miss World is passion and love for the project I started, which is Love For All, which works with kids with autism. It’s based around my little brother. I feel that as long as you have passion, you’re able to work, you’re able to love, and do what you want to do. That’s going to be able to move the world, move society, and change who you are as a person, as well as change the world to make it a better place.”

I’ve noticed she has a resemblance to our representative from 13 years ago, Carlene Aguilar.  If Carlene was not too slickly packaged and have a dash of spontaneity like this lady, she could’ve easily justified her fan status as the favorite to win it and we would’ve had a much stronger outcome (probably even securing our first ever win).

Carlene Aguilar at Miss World 2005

MISS WORLD 2018:  MEXICO – Vanessa Ponce de Leon.  As the finals close in, many are buzzing that this lady is the anointed one, the favorite to win.  Her modeling background with her string of volunteer work makes her an ideal fit to this organization’s agenda.  She also justifies her status with a shortlist in Top Model, reserve slot in Sports, 2nd place in Multimedia, and a fourth-place tie for her BWAP project helping alleviate the poverty of indigenous people.  Though making Top Five in BWAP already would secure a place in the Top 30, she earlier earned her slot thanks to an epic head-to-head challenge win against the formidable TRINIDAD & TOBAGO.  She nailed her win in the Final Five by answering the question posed to her by Miss World 2013 Megan Young, thus:  “When I became a Miss World, I was able to use my position to help people. How would you use your influence as Miss World to help others?”  Vanessa answered, “I would use my position just the way I’ve been doing it for the past 3 years – being an example. We all can be an example of good in the world, we all have to care, we all have to love, we all have to be kind. It don’t cost a thing. Helping is not that hard. We just really need the world to make a change. You just need to go there. There’s always someone that’ll need what you have to offer.”

Mexico’s win was deemed long overdue after three 1st runner-up finishes (2005, 2009, and 2017) and a 2nd runner-up finish (2007).  But I observed a similar trajectory like what took place with another major powerouse pageant country that recently changed franchises, and coincidentally, who also shared very similar cultural ties.  I’m talking about the Philippines, of course.  Megan Young was the third winner under the new franchise, and so is Vanessa.  And both countries had a 1st runner-up within that three-year period.  For some detractors who are arguing that this win is “pre-ordained” and a reward for the new franchisee, could the same argument also affect us (as I presume some of the main detractors are from our own turf) and are you willing to diminish Megan Young’s win in the process?   There is the possibility that there is some truth to that arguments raised by detractors, but I think Vanessa earned her win fair and square.

Though I do have misgivings with the mercurial way the Miss World officers changes the rules almost ad hoc, and how it is increasingly operating like a home-grown cottage industry than a professional, accountable organization, I still feel there is a bit of fairness in the way things are decided, and unless hard evidence can be presented by those detractors, its projects for charities around the world has been enviable and had made a great impact over the decades.  Here’s hoping for a successful, fruitful reign for Vanessa Ponce de Leon!

JUST ME!

JOSEPH