While awaiting the lengthy judges’ deliberation prior to the final announcement of results, we were treated to a backstage interview conducted by Miss International 2016, Kylie Versoza, looking resplendent in a satin green terno.  Kylie did a terrific job and on hand to translate into Japanese this time was Stephen of Missosology.  It can be argued he also did a better job than the female Japanese translator for INDONESIA and PHILIPPINES.  I’m supportive of having female translators, but competency is a prerequisite, and that female translator fell significantly short of that.

4TH RUNNER-UP: UNITED KINGDOM – Hariotte Laine.  She was always on the radar throughout her Japan stay–the question was whether her or FINLAND would be the best performing European blonde.  With her impeccable “angelic” national costume and more vibrant stage presence, she made the stronger impression and became the top-performing European.

She was the last to deliver her speech, and her speech went like this:  “At 13, I fell in love with the Miss International Beauty Pageant   It was the first pageant I had ever watched   I wanted to become the confident, beautiful woman that stood before me on that stage.  I wanted to inspire others to chase for their dreams and never stop.  So in my actions for Miss International, I set up a pageant network with a thousand women over the United Kingdom across all ages, of all backgrounds, doing unstoppable things together, supporting our communities and charities.  Together, here in Japan, I’ve shown again that we are unstoppable.  My new sisters, I hope to share the pageant network and continue to Cheer All Women.”  For me, this is the second best-composed speech behind PHILIPPINES.  And she also showcased her intelligence in her chit-chat with Kylie.  I thought she might even land as high as 1st runner-up, so I was mildly disappointed she only got 4th runner-up as I felt she deserved a bit better.  Especially with…

3RD RUNNER-UP: COLOMBIA – Alejandra Vengoechea.  Though I do consider her a shoo-in, I wasn’t as impreseed with her as other pageant observers were with her.  I don’t find her an energetic presence onstage, and I would’ve rather have VENEZUELA up here in her place.  But somehow, the Japanese judges just are enamored with her, which baffled me a bit.  But I have to say she made a standout impression in the semifinal swimsuit round as she chose to be covered up in a long-sleeved outfit that reads more “rhythmic gymnast” uniform than “sexy swimsuit”.

I probably learned the reason why the judges were into her when she delivered her speech: “Since I was a little girl, I found a passion in my life, but that for me is a passion that is a difficult discipline for me–sometimes I wanted to give up, sometimes I battled with fears.  But there is one woman in my life that transformed that [sic] fears–my mom, also my ballet teacher, that those woman [sic] made my life different.  because the essence of a woman is to transform life.  That is what I want to be as Miss International.  ‘Cheering All Women’ for me is that we cannot compete, we should be together in every situations [sic], no matter the race, no matter the nationalities, no matter the physical.” The classically inclined judges probably love her background as a ballerina, and it tugged their heartstrings and hence connected with her and granted her this high a finish.  I’m still not as impressed with her and would’ve rather have Patch take her place, but well, this year they were in the mood to have their heartstrings tugged.

2ND RUNNER-UP:  UGANDA – Evelyn Namatovu Karonde.  She made a major splash as she exudes a classic black Barbie doll type of beauty.  There are aspects of her features that made me recall three legendary black beauty queens at Miss Universe–Miss Universe 1985 2nd runner-up Benita Mureka Tete of Zaire (now DR Congo), Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam of Trinidad & Tobago, and a few splashes of Miss Universe 1999 Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana.  Needless to say, I highly welcome her Best in Swimsuit (formerly Miss Perfect Body) win.

Many would welcome a black African win from thsi pageant, and eyes are on her to see if she can deliver.  She seemed poised to do that, but then she delivered her speech:  “Somewhere in sunny Uganda, I realize a number of women are such in desperation with their agricultural projects because of an international travel ban.  As a businesswoman and entrepreneur and a livestock farmer, I cannot fathom the frustration of producing without entrance to the market.  Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot speak only on behalf of the Africans, but as the next Miss International, I’ll focus my energy in international business and financial empowerment among women.  Africa has the lowest number of population amongst all continents, but it had a little young youth that have the strength and power and will to prosper in life.”  The content of the speech in hindsight was actually strong, but I have serious issues in the way she delivered it as it lacks energy.  I have a feeling she could’ve been the winner, until this speech came, so she ends up in a three-way tie with Kenya’s Eunice Onyango in 2015 and last year’s Reabetswe Rambi Sechaoro from South Africa.  I think all Africa needs to do to finally clinch that elusive win is to field a Barbie stunner with the gift of gab to deliver a speech that tugs at the judges’ heartstrings.  Once they found that girl, we’ll see that long-awaited breakthrough.

Benita Mureka Tete at Miss Universe 1985
Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam (L) and Miss Universe 1999 Mpule Kwelagobe (1999)

1ST RUNNER-UP:  MEXICO – Andrea Toscano.  Vindication seems overdue for this alumni of Miss Universe 2018, as many are outraged at her exclusion from the Top 20.  She is arguably the most gorgeous face in this year’s pageant, and se proved to be a consistent performer all throughout.

She was the first to be called to the Top Eight, and this is her speech: “Empowerment becomes selfish when it doesn’t break the glass ceiling for others. And that is our challenge at this moment–‘Cheering All Women’ is sharing our life stories, is sharing what we do for others,  As Miss Mexico I introduced a policy for children by developing policies in Mexico.  And I want to say, ‘Congratulations, Japan!’, ‘Omedeto, Nihon!’ You have all my admiration for believing in the power of education to improve the quality of life of children by developing policies for health and education.  And I believe being Miss International is not about winning a contest–it is about deserving the responsibility to be heard, to be a role model in every country. and in every society.”  There is nothing to fault about her speech, though I still maintain PHILIPPINES and UNITED KINGDOM delivered better speeches, alongside the speech of the eventual winner, but still she’s so consistently strong that this lofty placement was fully justified.

Before I disucss the winner, it’s so epic to see that the last four finalists standing were all from one region:  Southeast Asia.  And these countries are the ones most enthusiastic about pageantry lately…

MISS INTERNATIONAL 2019: THAILAND – Sireethorn Leearamwat.  I don’t find her conventionally pretty, but there is something very likable about her that you do get drawn to her.  She is by all accounts a very sympathetic personality that it was expected that she earned the Continental prize for Asia.  Normally this is treated as a consolation prize to reward congeniality, but little did we know the spell she held with the Japanese judges.  I have to say she did look elegant and regal during the final, but for me, not enough to beat the likes of MEXICO and UGANDA, for starters.

I think what clinched the deal was her speech:  “Do you know I was criticized a lot when I became Miss Thailand, but I never give up and now, I’m here.  I dare to dream, to be a beauty queen, even if there’s nothing really [sic] to my career as a pharmacist.  I used all critique as power to make myself improve to be the best representative and make my nation proud.  So the definition of ‘Cheer All Women’ for me is how to encourage, support and inspire women around the world that [sic] make that dream come true and make a great thing to our world.  And if I am priveleged to be Miss International 2019 I will be an inspiration that if an ordinary girl like me can do it, you all can do it, too.”  For me, PHILIPINES and UNITED KINGDOM delivered better-composed speeches, but since the female interpreter ruined the former’s message and the latter was probably not scored high enough to soar higher than her eventual placement, they were touched by this lady’s underdog story, and felt it’s time to reward the underdog, and the shocking breakthrough took place.

In hindsight, Sireetorn cribbed a bit from the Kylie Playbook, but with a more retro-conservative twist:  she assumed Kylie’s deferential stance, which channels the Yamato Nadeshiko ideal of Japanese femininity.  Who needs to include JAPAN in the Top 15 when they already have this girl?  A bonus fact is that she can pass for Japanese, as she reminds me of legendary Pizzicato Five vocalist Maki Nomiya, if Maki chose to be more conventionally elegant instead of being the iconic avant-garde fashion plate that she is.

The spontaneous reaction of the other contestants welcoming THAILAND’s victory was a heartwarming sight to behold.  Even if I nursed some heartache at the fact that PHILIPPINES didn’t make the winners’ circle, I could not begrudge the surprise victory delivered by Thailand.  In some ways, it’s about time this country finally have a turn in earning a plum prize as so far they only have the two Miss Universe wins in their ledger.  And it seems the Thai juggernaut might continue as the ladies fielded for Miss Supranational and Miss Universe are making major waves.  Could this be the start of a Thai wave?  Anyway, congratulations to Sireewat and the rest of the royal court!



The delegates gathering around the winner for a hearty congratulations.


I’m very satisfied with the ladies who made it to the Top 15, and judging from the semifinal swimsuit competition, it was actually a closely fought contest among 12 of them for the Top Eight.

NETHERLANDS – Elise Joanne de Hong.  I only pegged her in my “Striking Distance” list because even if this redhead (or is it a strawberry blonde?) resembles Natascha Börger*1, she tends to register as less polished in most activities.  But little did I know she possesses a winningly charming personality that won over the pageant insiders that spilled through the judges–this was evident when they showed some activity videos during the intermission and she got a few soundbites.  From that soundbite, it’s not surprising she won the continental prize for Europe.  This obviously means I way underestimated her and I have no objection at all to her inclusion.

*1 The Venezuelan-German beauty queen who after missing the cut at Miss Venezuela 2000 pageant moved to Germany where she won her national pageant and became legendary as the hardest-working beauty queen on 2002, with a string of wins and successful finishes in five international pageants that year–wins in Miss Baltic Sea and Top Model of the World, 1st runner-up in Miss Europe, 2nd runner-up in Miss Intercontinental and 6th place in Miss Universe.  She took a final hurrah in this pageant two years later, where she also placed in the Top 15, before finally settling down and getting married and have a family in 2005.

Natascha Borger at Miss International 2004 (image courtesy of Jun Sato for WireImages)

HONG KONG – Kaye Cheung.  I am aware of the heavy buzz towards this lady during pageant activities but I was on the fence and placed her in my “Bubbling Under” list.  Her making the final cut is highly welcome and deserving, though she was not quite competing in the same level as the ones who I speculate are in the Top 12.

FINLAND – Jutta Kyllönen.  She actually has polish and drive as exhibited during most of her stay in Japan.  So she was undoubtedly a shoo-in to make the Top 15, and I speculated she could make the Top Eight.  But during the final, though she was obviously doing her best, she was not projecting at the same level as the 12 ladies I will be discussing below, so I was not that surprised that she missed making the Top Eight even if traditionally the Japanese judges tend to highly rate solid blondes carrying her sash.

SRI LANKA – Pawani Vithanage.  I heard buzz that she was a major stage dynamo, especially in the preliminary swimsuit competition.  But that didn’t initially convince me to put her im my Top 15 and took a preference for SLOVAKIA (and CZECH REPUBLIC) instead.  I was won over during the final as she was indeed truly indelible, and in fact with her slim model’s frame and legs for days, she delivered a Top Eight-caliber performance in swimsuit.

PUERTO RICO – Ivana Carolina Irizarry.  With her statuesque height, trim model’s figure, and also lissome long legs, it’s no surprise she made the cut, and she provided fierceness in swimsuit.  In a way, she has the same qualities as SRI LANKA, so there is a side of me that thinks that they are tied–perhaps still out of the Top Eight, but still stellar performers.

BELARUS – Maria Perviy.  Her surname may make me snicker a bit (as in the English language, her surname sounds like a very naughty word) but her babeliciously blonde good looks were simply too undeniable.  She was luminous enough that clearly she edged out FINLAND and became the second-best performing blonde this year.

VENEZUELA – Melissa Jimenez.  She reminds me of Miss International 2003 Goizeder Azua if you style her to be like 1975-era Cher.  It seems this lady was inspired by the 2nd runner-up success of her countrywoman Sthefany Gutierrez at Miss Universe last year that she followed her styling on most occasions in her stay in Japan.  But my favorite look of hers came in the very early goings, when she pulled back her hair and sported this sleek white shirt with a black skirt–she looked unique and was the epitome of elegance in that outfit.  I would’ve loved her to compete with that gown, but for the evening gown round, she basically wore Sthefany’s Miss Universe gown and parlayed that to a Best in Evening Gown*2 award

*2 No longer labeled “Best Dresser” like in previous years.  Apparently the organization finally caught on at how the English language readers tend to snicker at their wording and looks like henceforth they will use the more conventional and internationally recognized wording instead.

She switched to a red gown prior to the selection of the Top Eight, but for the first big shocker of the night, she was shut out of the Top Eight.  I would’ve rather she switch places with her sister/neighbor country (more on her later) as I thought she left no stone unturned and was Top Eight, and even probably Final Five worthy, but well, the Japanese judges beg to differ.

R: Miss International 2003 Goizeder Azua; L: Cher circa 1975 (photo by Richard Avedon)

Since 2017, this pageant made another cut to a Top Eight who would then deliver their cultural speeches.  This year, it seems the speeches has to fit the pageant’s theme this year, “Cheer All Women”.  All eight finalists delivered their speeches in English, which would then be translated into Japanese for the predominantly Japanese panel.  There is a 45-second time limit for the speeches.  There were two male and one female interpreter on hand to do the Japanese translation.

Backstage with the Top Eight

VIETNAM – Nguyễn Tường San.  For me she makes up for the absence of Korea in this pageant (since that country’s government was in the middle of a trade dispute with Japan, hence the absence) as she exudes the vibe of a K-pop star.  She won the Best in National Costume prize with her intricately designed yellow silk costume.  I sensed with a strong performance in evening gown and the semifinal swimsuit round, she earned her slot in the Top EIght, to the point of edging out more highly favored VENEZUELA.

English is obviously not her first language, so it’s a bit of a task for me to transcribe her speech, but here goes:  “Smile is an international language that everyone understands.  As Miss International, wearing the crown means spreading love, laughter, and kindness to all, making each day count.  I would use my voice to empower women all around the world.  Please love yourself and learning to love yourself–that’s the key that could wake the self without and in hand the right to have and determine the choices, the right to have access to opportunities and resources, the right to have the power to control the old rich [?].  Please stay joys [sic] and Cheer All Women.”  In my opinion, this was the weakest speech as it’s filled with generic sentiments barely strung together to a cohesive thought.  It didn’t help matters that wtih her limited facility with English, she made the word “right” sound like “rice”  She proved worthy of finishing in the Top Eight, but she was the clear bottom in this hallowed group based on her speech.


INDONESIA – Jolene Marie Cholock Rotinsulu.  During her stay in Japan, she was channeling Miss International 2016 Kylie Versoza, and considering how Kylie actually helped boost the organization’s profile, she could be one of the formidable obstacles to Patch’s path to secure our seventh Miss International win.  But then on finals night came, I noticed she decided to deviate from the Kylie playbook in the end.  It started with styling her hair in a wavy cascade, and her coice of gown is of a pageant-patty princess style.  THe yellow gown she sported in the first evening gown round still had a bit of sleekness that I liked, but for the final speech, I found her white ballgown a bit too high school prom queen for my taste.  I thought her foothold in the Final Five might be vulnerable from that moment on.

Now how was her speech?  This was what she delivered:  “I am grateful and honored in standing here tonight to be the face of Indonesia, along with the most beautiful women from around the world.that I proudly call my sisters.  Here in Japan I learned so much about friendship and trud definition of…we come together as one nation.  And the most important thing as women is to empower one another, inspired by the spirit of ‘o-mo-te-na-shi‘, to give more to others, more than they could ever imagine.  And now, I’m ready to spread love and peace through beauty.  Because at the end of the day it is not just about te crown, it is about friendship, international understanding, and sisterhood.  Cheer All Women!”  She has a lot of great ideas in her speech, and it’s of high quality that it’s still conceivable for her to make the winners’ circle.  But I notice her delivery was not as strong and confident as I had hoped, so I thought if she makes the royal court, she’ll probably take something like 4th runner-up.  But then it turns out she was shut out–besides the factors I had mentioned above, other pageant fans and pundits observed that also blocking her spot in the winners’ circle was her female Japanese translator, who was struggling to convey her thoughts for the Japanese judges.  More on that inerpreter later when I disucs…

PHILIPPINES – Bea Patricia Magtanong.  During Binibining Pilipinas, I thought the results were reminiscent of Kylie and Maxine Medina back in 2016.  Like in that edition, the lady chosen for Miss Universe, Gazini Ganados, didn’t deliver a strong answer in the Q&A round as for many observers she went off-tangent.  SO I felt there is some strategy involved–since the reigning Miss Universe is from our country, it was believed we should set aside our expectations of generating a back-to-back and field our best candidate to secure our seventh Miss International win to close in to Venezuela’s eight wins.  The main strategy, I thought, is to package her like Kylie, as she looked great with her hair straight and parted in the middle.

However, when she set foot in Japan, she immediately deviated from the Kylie playbook and decided to play a bit with her styling, like pulling her hair up in a bun instead of leaving it straight.  It was rumored that there was some criticism in pageant circles that she seems to be a one-trick pony styling wise, so to address that criticism, she played a bit with her styling.  I still prefer her with her hair down and straight, but she was actually on to something when she decided to pull her hair up. So, I’m fine that she decided to vary her looks, and at least I’m glad she went for the straight look in her preliminary swimsuit and casual wear competitions.  Since for the final she was already set to put her hair up in a bouffant for the evening gown rounds, it’s impossible for her to revert to her original hairstyle for the semifinal swimsuit, so I was on pins and needles as she strutted the runway in the Top 15 swimsuit round.  But I’m relieved that she made the Top Eight, and with that I awaited with gleeful anticipation on what she’ll deliver on her speech.

Let’s just say she didn’t disappoint:  “Speech:  “When I was younger, I found it strange that I was subjected to different standards as other boys my age. When I got older and even more so when I became a lawyer, I began to question these standards and challenge them.  Why should women live in fear of harassment, violence, and discrimination when basic human decency calls for respect, tolerance, and compassion? To cheer all women means to support all women regardless of the race, religion, or background, but not only these – it also means, to remove all the barriers that prevent women [from reaching] their full potential.  Miss International does this by fostering a global culture of women empowerment and gender equality, and through this platform we can ensure that no woman anytime and anywhere is left behind.”  After listening to the other speeches, I was full convinced that again, we delivered the best spech of all, so despite my reservations on her styling, I thought she could conceivabley pull off the victory.  Yes, I heard the struggle the female Japanese translator had relaying her message in Japanese, but at that time I thought it wouldn’t play a big factor.  Needless to say, when we saw the lat four Southeast Asians standing, I was thinking she would be declared the winner.  But, it turns out, we have a shocking result–more on that in the next section of my essay.

Much has been said that the botched translation by the lady translator was the biggest factor that caused Patch to be shut out from the winners’ circle.  But upon further reflection, other factors might have been at play, and it’s not only about the aforementioned styling..  First,she was projecting fierceness, but it’s a fierceness that could be viewed as forbidding and not alluring and inviting–and we all know the Japanese prefered the latter.  Second, as brilliant as her speech was, we have to take note that the majority of the judging panel is composed of an older Japanese demographic.  Though they may like to follow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe‘s lead to pay lip service to women empowerment, they may not be that willing to heed Patch’s urgent call to action, even as persuasive as it might have been.  Thirdly, I have this gnawing feeling that Patch’s heart is not into pageantry, that she would like to get this over with so she can finally pursue her career in law–this was the vibe I got when I watched a sequence prior to the final announcement…



Despite attracting a record 82 delegates, there is an obvious effort to streamline this year’s Miss International final.  Eliminating musical guest stars (except for a traditional Japanese cultural performance) helped, but what helped reduce the time was not making the swimsuit parade as a competition category as there is now a preliminary swimsuit (and casual wear) judging round conducted a few days before.  Despite the reduction from five-and-a-half hours last year to four hours, for most pageant fans and pundits, watching this pageanit is still considered a long slog.

For those hardy enough to endure the lengthy program, well, it’s generally a straightforward affair.  After the parade of nations, they awarded the winner of Best National Costume.  Since she eventually made the semifinals, I;ll discuss about her later…  This was followed by a recap and a farwell address by the outgoing queen, Meriam Velazco.  It’s a relatively long four-minute speech but it has good messages and is sincere and gracious.

In other pageants, the speech would’ve been the best way to fill time while the delegates changed from costume to evening gowns, but even with the length of the speech (which is then translated into Japanese) there was still 20-minute intermission before the next competition round.  As mentioned above, they proceeded with all candidates in evening gown.  I agree with most observers’ criticisms about the inconsistent camera work, as the delegates were presented in pairs and there was inconsistent angles and close-ups that made it slightly more difficult to follow than in years past.

There technically was no swimsuit compettiion proper, but all delegates marched individually to the stage in quick succession, which they would then announce who made the Top 15.  The official swimsuit competition for this occasion is now restricted to the Top 15–I’ll be discussing more about that in the next part of my essay.

Since 2015, this pageant awarded Continental Queens representing five continents.  But unlike how it’s done in Miss World and Miss Supranational, this actually serves as a congeniality prize, voted by the delegates themseves within their continents.  At most one of them would eventually advance to the Top 15 (in 2015, 2017 and 2018) but this year, two of the winners made the cut, and one of them eventually way beyond that.  So I’ll only discuss three continental winners in this section.

MISS INTERNATIONAL – OCEANIA: HAWAII – Eunice Raquel Basco..  Oceania is admittedly a weak group this year, and in my opinion the best performer is indeed also the congeniality champ.  She had prior experience representing the US at Miss Intercontinental, and hence she’s the most polished of the six ladies from this continent.  At least I’m glad she got her time at the spotlight.

MISS INTERNATIONAL – AFRICA: LIBERIA – Naomi Nucia Glay.  Like GUADELOUPE, she let her natural curls fly and it worked really well for her.  She proved to be competitive, maybe even outperforming the highly touted COTE D’IVOIRE as the second-best African performer in this batch.  It’s a welcome consolation that she got her time in the spotlight with this award.

MISS INTERNATIONAL – AMERICAS: PERU – María José Barbis.  She has a similar Ana Ortiz look like NICARAGUA, but with a more-favored alabaster complexion.  I think like PARAGUAY and ARGENTINA, she probably missed the Top 15 by very little.  Like LIBERIA, it’s nice that she got er time on the spotlight with this award.

MISS PHOTOGENIC: GUADELOUPE – Noémie Kribo Milne.  I do gravitate my eyes towards this lady–not only did she make a standout impression with her curls, she also has a pretty face, even sometimes generating a passing resemblance to Oscar-winning actress (and Miss World 1986 finalist) Halle Berry.  So indeed this award is very suitable for her.

Halle Berry at the 2017 Oscars (image courtesy of Jeff Kravits from FilmMagic)

Before I review the Top 15, I’ll hand out my own special awards–the Ruth Ocumarez Awards.  Since I got 12 of the Top 15 correct, it’s easy to pin-point the Top Three:

RUTH OCUMAREZ AWARD 2ND RUNNER-UP: SLOVAKIA – Alica Ondrášová.  I loved the way she looked and thought she exuded a lot of charisma during her pre-finals stay that I thought she could be the likeliest to land in the Top 15.  As I previously mentioned, I was stuck choosing between her and her pre-1993 countrywoman from CZECH REPUBLIC for te 15th slot, and I chose her.  But then, she looked washed up in her white lacy evening gown and that probably made her lose her slot.

RUTH OCUMAREZ AWARD 1ST RUNNER-UP:  ROMANIA – Andreea Coman.  With her Top 10 finish at Miss Supranational, many had pegged her as a near shoo-in and one to sustain the 3rd runner-up finish of her predecessor.  I don’t find fault with her performance at all, so I would chalk it off to the taste of the Japanese judges, who may not be into her looks.  Interestingly, the Romanian ambassador was in this year’s panel of judges–apparently the diplomat’s choice was overruled by the Japanese judges hence that advantage was lost.  Most pageant fans and pundits would probably list her as their choice for the Ruth Ocumarez (or El Tocuyo) award, but I think there is one more compelling choice for that dubious honor…

RUTH OCUMAREZ AWARD – WINNER:  JAPAN – Tomomi Okada Sevaldsen.  I thought she has the looks to be a shoo-in, and that since this pagenat is held on her soil, she would have a slot reserved for her.  But in a major upset, she was deprived of that slot and could not join her six other Asian compatriots to the next round.  I wonder, what gives?  Sure, some might not be that into her styling choices.  Or is there another factor that was taken against her–the fact that she’s Eurasian (based from her surname, Norwegian or Danish, perhaps)?  But then again, during this decade this host country did not make the cut half the time, so perhaps it’s simply the judges felt the other Asians are just simply more compelling than her.  Reportedly this outcome was too upsetting for her that she refused to show up from the Top 15 round onwards.  Sad, but I don’t blame her…