I was a bit out of the loop that it turns out this pageant are selecting a Top 18, not a Top 16 this year, and on top of that added a layer of cuts as they would then go to a Top 12 before the well-established Top Eight and Final Four rounds. So I got 10 of the Top 18 (but I would’ve gotten 12 if it was a Top 18–more on that later…). I can console myself that I got five of te Top Eight, but I only got one of the Final Four–though I was vacillating and originally placed one lady in my choice of Final Eight in the Elemental Queens’ circle. But I have to salute the quality of this year’s batch that even if I’m kinda off in my predictions, I have no objections to the results.
Admittedly, ROMANIA (Denisse Andor) was outside of my radar as I thought she registered as a tad raw. But the insiders and the judges in the rounds were impressed enough with her that she made the final cut. She made the Top 10 in the Beauty of Face and Poise round.
I vacillated between putting JAPAN (Mio Tanaka) in my “Bubbling Under” list or my “Striking Distance” list as though I thought she has great looks and presence, I was not that impressed with her interview. But it seems she charmed the judges enough that she made the cut. In the cases of GHANA (Belvy Naa) and MONTENEGRO (Katarina Šećković) they prove to be strong interviews that I thought even if I’m not into their looks they can impress enough to make the cut, which they did. In the case of the latter, her lean, sleek model’s figure also made her also make the Top 10 in Figure & Form.
I think I was distracted by unflattering photos and discounted ITALY (Sofia Pavan) even if she has a lean, sleek figure and was a major interview standout. I thought her features, like MONTENEGRO, were a tad too angular for comfort but there are other pictures where those features soften and she looked pretty. That was why I only put her in my “Striking Distance” list. But during finals night, she made a great enough impression to advance all the way to Top Eight, and as much as I wanted CHILE or SLOVENIA (more on them later) to advance in her stead, I have no objections to her eventual Top Eight finish.
I placed NEPAL (Priya Sigdel) in my “Bubbling Under” list but I knew she was making a strong impression since the Press Presentation, on top of that impressive Eco-Beauty video that gave her one of the two “Wildcard” slot If the Top 18 was based on merits, I think she would’ve made the cut anyway.
I have to place a special note for SPAIN (Carolina Jane) who turned out out to ave made the Top 10 in Face & Poise and Interview & Advocacy, but still fell short out of the Top 18 overall. Figuring in the Top 10 in two of the three main competitions should make one a near sure-shot for a Top 18 slot, but it seems she fell way short in the figure department (as she is thick for pageant standards) and she cannot play the Stephanie Stefanowitz/Siera Bearchell card to pull it off.
Though I didn’t quite get her, I was swayed by the buzz from pageant fans and pundits who were bullish on PANAMA (Diana Lemos) to include her in my forecast, even if I gnawingly felt I should’ve wanted to put AUSTRIA, NEPAL, or VIETNAM in her place. I should’ve trusted my instincts more.
I was very impressed with the interviews delivered by GUAM (Emma Sheedy) and INDONESIA (Ratu Vashti Anissa) and felt they had consistent enough presence that I thought they deserve an inside track to the semifinals and probably even usurp the favorites. But I think coming in early for the interview round hurt them that they didn’t score as high as they might have deserved and probably also didn’t quite impress the judges enough in the other two rounds so they fell a bit short. Oh well, for me they are the runners-up for the Ruth Ocumarez award.
So who’s the winner of the Ruth Ocumarez Award? I and many pageant fans and pundits would probably hand this to NIGERIA (Maristella Okpala)–many are hyping her as the “African-most-likely” alongside SOUTH AFRICA (Margo Fargo) that many were shocked that GHANA was chosen in her place instead. Many thought she did well in interview and thought she should’ve scored well in Face and Figure, but somehow the judges don’t seem to agree.
Many were betting that CHILE (Antonia Figueroa) and SLOVENIA (Danijela Burjan) would secure Top EIght slots, but I have a feeling on finals night the judges had a stronger preference for the likes of ITALY, AUSTRIA, and VIETNAM that these two erstwhile big favorites were shut out.
Two big favorites to garner elements, VENEZUELA (Diana Silva) and most especially PORTUGAL (Telma Madeira) ultimately fell short in the same scenario that occurred to two big favorites last year from Thailand and yes, also Venezuela. But unlike last year which was more upsetting, these ladies delivering answers that were not at the same caliber as those delivered by the eventual Final Four was a bit justified and not as upsetting.
I actually was spellbound by COLOMBIA (Valeria Ayos)‘s striking multiracial features paired with a sexy figure and great charisma. I was vacillating on her being part of the Elemental Court but I was not as impressed with her preliminary interview as I was with CHILE so I originally placed CHILE in my elemental court in her stead. But I’m so glad that onstage, she delivered great answers in the Q&A rounds that I was rooting for her to win it all. Anyway, the fact that she garnered an element gladdens my heart.
If I expanded my forecast to a Top 18, I would’ve included the eventual Top Two, VIETNAM (Nguyễn Phương Khánh) and AUSTRIA (Melanie Mader) in my prediction. Neither of them figured in the Top 10 of the preliminary judging rounds, but the mix of judges for finals night worked in their favor. AUSTRIA had the background that she has Filipina heritage so instead of putting PHILIPPINES (Celeste Cortesi) in the elemental court, she could be a suitable “Philippine” surrogate. There are two Vietnamese judges in the final night panel, and though that would make one raise eyebrows and question if there was bias in her favor because of the presence of those judges, I have to note that this lady did the work and earned her way to the top.
All in all, I’m actually satisfied with the results of this year’s pageant, and I actually like the new format. I know this pageant will continue to generate controversy and criticism, but at least these results are a step in the right direction.