MISTER WORLD 2019: MASCULINITY REDIFINED; MAGNIFICENCE FULLY MANIFEST (CONCLUSION)

After the Father Rocky sequence, the 12 semi-finalists changed into tuxedos, but not all of them would get to parade their garb onstage–they have to await Mikael’s announcement if they made the Top Five and then they could go onstage, where their contestant introduction video would play and there would be another chit-chat with Megan.  After all five finalists were called out, there would be another Q&A round, this time questions culled from online fans (and the press presentation) before the winners were announced.

For most male pageants, there seemed to be an effort to keep interviews at a minimum as many times you get answers so mediocre or even embarrassing that you feel sorry for them.  It tended to confirm the stereotype that male pageants only attract guys who aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, so to speak–a himbo-fest.  But the thing about this group of contestants (even the ones who didn’t make the cut) is that they were subjected to a lot of interviews throughout their stay, and you discover these guys are intelligent and articulate, on top of being good-looking, sympathetic, compassionate, and likable fellows, and that quality helped make this group truly magnificent and shatter that long-established stereotype in the process.  And the Final Five delivered the strongest answers throughout, and never let up.  In other editions (except 2016 as Rohit Khandelwal is also such a strong interview on top of his stellar charisma) they could easily end up the winner.  Only the Top Five in Miss World 2013 you get a Final Five as epic as this one.

Another thing you would discover from the interview rounds is that four of the Final Five are fatherless, with three of them raised most of their lives without the presence of their fathers.  It made me wonder if this was a factor that made these men the compassionate, responsible characters that they are, but then again it can be argued that the one who still has his complete pair of parents ultimately fared the best, so perhaps it doesn’t really matter, but still, it’s an interesting point to ponder.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Alejandro Martinez.  He made a major splash in the Press Presentation as he was proven to be a very intelligent communicator, and with his versatile model-worthy good looks (he can rock beardless and bearded looks though he stuck with the former during most of his stay here) he was always in the radar as a possible overall winner.  He still delivered strong answers in all interview rounds, but it turns out there are others who delivered more memorable answers that he ended up being overshadowed.  In the Top 12 chit-chat, Megan noted that he’s a spinning/fitness instructor back home and asked him what made him decide to become one.  His answer is that it is a good way to transform people’s lives by doing fitness and exercise.  It’s a straightforward answer, but I was worried he could’ve been shut out of the Top Five since PHILIPPINES can take over his slot with his memorable “no more lube” answer.  But I think how he conducted himself and performed prior to this was taken into account and hence he got to still make the Final Five.

When called into the Top Five and his contestant introduction played, Megan observed he was muttering “My mom, my mom” and asked him about it.  His answer:  “My mom, she’s my biggest inspiration in my life.  I do everything I do today because of her.  She’s my role model, my example, she’s the true definition of ‘if you want something in life, you work hard for it, it doesn’t matter where you come from, your economic status, but as long as you believe in something, you work hard for it to make it come true.  Mami, te amo, I love you, Mami!”  Inspirational words, no?  His parents separated when he was young as his mother decided to move to New York to seek better opportunities that they wouldn’t have had if they stayed put in their home country and brought all her children along with her.  I have to note though in an interview he noted he had fond memories of his father working at a farm and how a visit to a juice joint gave him memories of how he also had to peel fruit when he was a kid.

For the final question, he got a question from a South African viewer:  “What have you learned in your Mister World experience in the Philippines?”  His answer:  “I have learned a lot.  We are 72 contestants, we are diverse and different but we share the same drink…dream… We share the same dream of hard work, dedication, we want to represent our country and talk about our cultures, but the most important thing is we all have an advocacy and I think this is the most important for everyone.  My advocacy is to advocate for inclusion for childrens [sic] in general and I hope I can do that with all my fellow contestants.”  It’s an otherwise great answer–the only quibble I have about his otherwise great answer is that it doesn’t seem to say something specific about our country, but a more “motherhood” statement that still rings true with the brotherhood developed among these 72 contestants.

BRAZIL – Carlos Franco.  It dawned on me his looks is actually an amalgam of two awesome 2000s-era Mister World winners, 2003’s Gustavo Gianetti from Brazil and 2007’s Juan Garcia Postigo from Spain.  So it’s not surprising how some pageant sites rated him as the one to beat.  But there are occasions where I find his gestures a bit over-the-top and a bit too relentlessly perky that I was on the verge of finding him annoying (thankfully he didn’t step over that borderline) that I thought he’ll be edged out of the Final Five by, say, PHILIPPINES.  But during the finals, he revealed surprising gravitas in his onstage interviews that you started to appreciate the depth of character behind what was otherwise an outwardly chipper personality.  In the Top 12 chit-chat, he was the last to be interviewed and he closed this round in a somber note as Megan asked him during their Tuloy Foundation visit why he requested for a special hug from Father Rocky.  He noted that on that day it was Father’s Day back home and his father passed away two years ago, and that seeing the kids at the foundation made him recall the love he received from his father then.  My jaw dropped and saw that heartfelt side of him for the first time.

When called into the Top Five, Megan noticed the emotional sense of gratitude on his face then asked him about the fact it took him three years to prepare for this pageant and what was that like*3.  He answered,  “Oh, my God, it was very hard as I had to wait to be here for three years, and I need to work hard, but it’s really good for me as I had time to prepare, and that was my dream, and I am here today, and that’s enough for me, and… oh my God…” Megan rejoined “…And no words, right? No words to explain it?” and he added “It’s amazing!  Thank you very much, guys!  Mabuhay Philippines!”.

*5 Mister Brazil is staged on the year that a Mister World pageant is confirmed to being held for that winner to be sent to the next edition.

For the final viewer question, he fielded a question from a viewer from the Philippines:  “What is the greatest wish for the world, and why?”  He gave a timely and relevant answer:  “Everyone, please pray for the Amazonia.  We really need it.  It’s not just for Brazil but for the world”  He’s referring of course, to the ongoing fires on the Amazon rainforest*4, which if unabated, may wreak havoc on the environment worldwide.  There is genuine distress when he delivered his answer, upending my initial impression of him.

*6 I think it’s obvious we have the current president of that country, Jair Bolsonaro to blame.  He’s part of this idiotic populist wave that gave us Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, Boris Johnson, and so many others…

Classically handsome Mister World winners–R: Gustavo Gianetti (2003), L: Juan Garcia Postigo (2007)

As is customary, Julia Morley announced the two runners-up and the winner of this pageant.  Despite the good fight delivered by both BRAZIL and DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, it’s obvious that the ones in the Top Three were the ones who got their just honors.

 

Host Megan Young, Miss World Organization chairperson Julia Morley, and Miss World Philippines Organization head Arnold Vegafria

THIRD PLACE:  MEXICO – Brian Faugier.  Yes, some fans have labeled him Francisco Escobar 2.0, and I agree with them, except this is indeed a clear upgrade from the original model.  Yes, the original may have the athletic edge, but on all other aspects this guy is far superior.  I may not find him as “deep” as DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, but realizing that he is an industrial engineering*3 student, it does indicate he does have enough intelligence to hold his own against a medical doctor and a rocket scientist.  In the Top 12 chit-chat, Megan noted that his mom was not present to watch him live, so she asked him what message he would send her.  He first greeted the Araneta audience with “Mabuhay, everyone!”, then he answered, “‘Mama, te amo [Mama, I love you].  I wish you were here but I know you are watching me at home and are proud of me, as I am proud of you as you raised me alone.”  The “raised me alone” line in hindsight turned out to be a common thread with three of this year’s Top Five finalists, and tugged at many people’s heartstrings.  The emotional conviction as he delivered that message was moving.

*7 On a personal note, I graduated Management Engineering at Ateneo de Manila University, which is equivalent to an industrial engineering degree in most universities.

There is a significant number of fans he garnered during his stay here, that it’s obvious when he was called into the Final Five, he was greeted with the loudest cheers.  Megan pointed it out and said it’s almost as if he’s carrying the PHILIPPINES banner.  He humorously noted, “I’m now half-Mexicano, half-Filipino.”  She then asked him a question on why family is important to him.  His response:  “You know, for everyone here, family is everything.  Without my family, without the support they gived [sic] to me–I know my mom is watching me, my grandma, my parden [sic], my brother, my sister, everyone is watching me, and that is what makes me feel proud to be here this night.”  It’s so charming and heartfelt, like how he was throughout his stay that he is very much beloved by FIlipino pageant fans here.

For the final question, he fielded a question culled from the Press Conference:  “What was the best thing about the Philippines.”  He gave this charmingly animated answer:  “The best thing in the world are the Filipinos here this night, cheering everyone!  All the 72 contestants!  I’m so happy because all this time I was hearing, ‘Sir!’, ‘Sir!’ ‘Sir!’… You are so polite you make us feel at home because you are so dissimilar [sic] to where I come from, Mexico.  You have the same last names, like Gonzales, Lopez,…We all are a big family, now we are united here all from 72 countries.”  I love his answer.  Spanish colonization and the Galleon trade of course was the main reason why we have such a major connection.  Reminds me of this Flama video talking about our commonalities.

SECOND PLACE:  SOUTH AFRICA – Fezile Mkhize.  Ever since he won the Sports challenge and knowing his background as a medical doctor, there was no doubt he was always in contention for the crown, and would’ve easily made the cut with or without the fast-track win.  indeed he’s the one who held the fort for the whole African continent.  For the Top 12 chit-chat, Megan asked him about an embarrassing incident when he shopped here.  He relayed the story of him about to step out of the store and store staff calling out to him “Sir! Sir!”  He thought it was so sweet of them until it dawned on him that he forgot to pay for the shoes he was carrying.

When called into the Final Five, Megan asked him of all the professions, why did he choose to become a doctor?  He first narrated how he related being here in this country especially with his Zambales visit as he came from a small seaside village like that place and then answered “…and my father passed away when I was young and my mom had to raise us, she’s my biggest role model, and I saw her not just as a person but everyone around her–she’s a teacher, she helped my cousins and other people achieve tertiary education and I connected to that human condition and I said, ‘What’s the best thing you can do?’ like a superhero in this world–a doctor.  So I decided to become a heart surgeon and hopefully I’ll be able to help along.”  A bit verbose, but still, the most substantial answer out of the Final Five.

This continues on with the formal final question.  A viewer from India asked “What legacy do you want to carry on from the current Mister World, Rohit Khandelwal?”  His answer goes, “He embodied the principles of Mister World–it’s more than a pageant, it’s about unifying people.  And having spent my time along with these phenomenal 71 gentlemen who became brothers, I get what that means.  We all come from such different cultures, backgrounds–we all look different, every shade you can find back there but we are all unified and that is the biggest thing about Mister World, Miss World and pageants in general, it brings everybody from around the world and it says there is something that connects all of us, and that is what is most important.  So at the end of the day this organization does this better than any other organization and that is why I came to it, and that is why my heart is close to it, and to be honest with you, if I can get this mantle I would run with as fast as I did in the Sports challenge.”  If we based solely on the Q&A responses, I would handily have granted the crown to this guy.  But, let’s face it, Filipinos (including those in the panel of judges) are not inclined to favor black guys and the Miss World insiders have their eye on someone else who undoubtedly also delivered even if not at the same level as this guy on this night and took other factors into consideration.

MISTER WORLD 2019:  ENGLAND – Jack Heslewood.  I know pageant fans and pundits had a slightly lesser regard for him winning the plum prize than they have for, say, MEXICO, BRAZIL, or maybe even LEBANON.  Some might argue considering he failed to be called to the Final Five at Manhunt International last November, why did he end up winning it all?  Well remember that Manhunt International focuses primarily on looks and for me, the fact he made Top 15 there means he does have good looks, too.  But remember this pageant goes beyond that and personality is very important, and this is where this guy seized the opportunity to rise to the top.  In the Top 12 chit-chat, Megan talked about his love of karaoke and asked who is his partner.  He noted he partners with TONGA and humorously noted he basically mimes behind TONGA’s renowned golden voice and the punchline that when they do a duet, “it sounds incredible” was very amusing.

Of course once called into the Final Five, Megan had to touch on his background as a rocket scientist and what it takes to be one.  “To be a rocket scientist you need to study physics and maths, structural mechanics, analysis of fluids, aerodynamics… it’s quite intense.” Which Megan responded with, “My brain is exploding a little bit hearing all that… But you can teach anyone a thing or two when they need a little help in math, right?”  He answered, “I do maths lessons if anyone needs it.”

For the formal final question, he fielded this question from a viewer from China:  “What do you think is the most important message the world needs to hear right now?”  His answer: “Try to imagine yourself the best possible superhero you can think of–even if you can’t think it is possible for humans to achieve that–imagine that superhero, and that person happens to be you, and you can do that if you empower yourself to do that.  It is actually possible to become that superhero, if you imagine it.”  Some pageant fans and pundits may not be that impressed with that answer, and would believe SOUTH AFRICA delivered the best answers, but still this is a relevant answer since superheroes are prevalent in our pop culture these days, and we can turn to them for inspiration on what we can become.

I still maintain I would prefer other guys to win this whole thing, but I’m satisfied with the choice of Jack Heslewood as the winner.  He’s a total package that this organization is seeking, and no doubt he’ll dispense with his duties well.

After the broadcast, they awarded team champions and continental winners.  For the team champion, it was announced there was a tie between the Red (ANGOLA to CURACAO) and Green (CZECH REPUBLIC to KAZAKHSTAN) teams, plus the continental champions were announced, which I previously discussed in my Results Reaction review.  There is a side of me that wished based on his onstage performance, that BRAZIL should be included alongside the photo ops with the Continental winners, but well, such is a tough break when someone formidable beat you for that Continental honor.

Mister World 2019 and the Continental Kings (image courtesy of Drew Francisco for Missosolgoy)

I have seen my share of male pageants and reviewed all editions of Mister World from its inception, and I now have the confidence to declare, that even if this production is clearly imperfect and lacks the staging grandeur of the inaugural 1996 edition in Turkey or the elaborate 2007 edition in Sanya, China, and yes, that this pageant couldn’t attract an audience size that could fill up the 10,000 seater Araneta Coliseum, and that I wouldn’t rate Jack Heslewood as the best Mister World winner ever, this is the best Mister World edition thus far.  I can even argue this is the best male pageant held across all male pageants, period, even if faced the formidable challenge posed by Mister Supranational.  Can future editions deliver this caliber of a pageant?  And definitely a gauntlet is thrown that other male pageants must take notice as Mister World has proven yet again that this is THE premier male pageant around.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

All solo summer wear shots courtesy of Andy Cayna for Sash Factor; other photos courtesy of Miss World Organization unless otherwise indicated.

MISTER WORLD 2019: MASCULINITY REDIFINED; MAGNIFICENCE FULLY MANIFEST (PART 2)

Before I discuss who I speculate would make the Top 12 instead of IRELAND, NEPAL and TONGA, I have to make a special note about CZECH REPUBLIC (Jakub Kraus).  I love this guy to bits, especially with my fond memories of his stint at Mister International 2015, where he became 4th runner-up.  But to be honest, considering the interview strengths of other guys in this group, I think he didn’t make as strong an impact that would’ve catapulted him to the Top 12,.  If he competed three years ago alongside eventual 1st runner-up Fernando Alvarez*2, he would’ve made more serious inroads*3.  Such is the caliber of this year’s batch that this is as far as he could go.  But he still loomed large in the next round as he ended up becoming a topic of discussion in the Top 12 interview.  More on that later.  Anyway, it should be a badge of honor that he is part of two magnificent male pageant batches at least in this decade.

*2 A big favorite in Mister International 2015 from Puerto Rico who was shut out of the Top Five there.

*3 It’s unlikely he’ll beat his Puerto Rican colleague but he could’ve easily knocked out the likes of Brazil and El Salvador out of a Top 10 spot.

Three guys I felt bubbled under the theoretical Top 12:  ARGENTINA (Leonardo Diaz) for his hip vibe (aided by his asymmetrical haircut), buffed physique, handsome features, and strong communication skills; CHILE (Shawn Mendes, er Felipe Rojas) for his overall classic Latino charisma and his background as a dentist; and ITALY (Marco D’Elia) for his unique vibe with his loose long locks and outgoing personality.

 

Now, who are the ones most likely to have been Top 12 instead of some of the fast-track champions?  For me, they are…

KENYA – Robert Cula Budi.  Needless to say, this guy is a major bundle of energy and enthusiasm, a strong and intelligent communicator, and he has a proud African sense of style to boot.  As it is only SOUTH AFRICA made the Top 12 for all of Africa, but if we lose those fast-track champions, I believe there would’ve been room for him to advance.

NETHERLANDS – Ashley Peternella.  It’s not simply because he’s the default representative for LGBTQ+ that he deserves inclusion in this lofty company, but because he has proven his mettle in those “manly” sports pursuits by making the short list in both Sports and Extreme Sports.  And he is a strong communicator, so he probably fell short in interview by very little to make way for those fast-track champions.

VENEZUELA – Jorge Nuñez.  His unique Jheri-curl look is the main hook, but I can sense he’s also strong in interview too, or that the “Venezuelan pageant mystique” cannot be discounted.

Time to discuss the actual Top 12.  Basically, Megan simply had a chit-chat with these guys about some personal tidbits.  Here’s how I would’ve ranked them based on the onstage chit-chat.

LEBANON – Jean-Paul Bittar.  I feel sad I have to rank him at the bottom of this list as basically his chit-chat with Megan was about his “hidden talent” and it turns out it’s about him being able to snooze in 10 seconds, and demonstrated it.   I think this line of questioning is supposed to showcase a lighthearted side of this serious fellow, but the punchline fell flat.  With a different line of questioning (plus a catwalk segment), no doubt he would’ve fared much higher.  It cost him a chance to fight for the Mister World – Asia & Pacific prize and made it easier for his main rival for the honor to take it.

IRELAND – Wayne Walsh.  Basically the topic of their chit-chat was CZECH REPUBLIC’s snoring.  He acknowledged that yes, “there were a few issues” but they still get along fine as “we’re still talking”.

NEPAL – Akshay Ramayajhi.  Megan ask him basically what superpower he wants to have.  He gave a sincere answer about the power to fly as he wants to travel around the world, and Megan asked if he wants to visit this country again with that superpower and Akshay enthusiastically said yes and did a flying pose.  Very solid answer.

TONGA – Mikaele Henry Ahomana.  Based from his chit-chat, it’s obvious he has a very religious background.  His opening line after Megan asked him about when did he realize his gift for singing was to give glory to God for without him he wouldn’t be there and expresses pride that he’s the first Pacific islander to go far in this milieu, before noting that since he was three he just love to sing hearing the songs sung in their church.

NORTHERN IRELAND – Adam Steenson.  Megan asked him about his phobia, which turns out to be cats.  He noted an incident during the Extreme Sports event when he saw a kitten there and ran the other way at the sight.  He delivered it in a charming way, so I rank him higher here than, say, poor LEBANON.

AUSTRIA – Alberto Nodale.  Basically they played up his half-Filipino background, and this guy no doubt was beaming with pride about his heritage.  He noted how his mom went “bananas” upon learning Mister World would be held here–and having seen her up close after the pageant, the description was pretty apt–and proudly declared that his family comes from Laguna.

PHILIPPINES – JB Saliba.  He succeeded where hunky John Spainhour and Sam Ajdani failed because of his gift of gab (buttressed by his excellent command of English), his confidence in the way he carries himself (even if he’s shorter and let’s face it, a tad plainer than the beefily buffed and handsome stunners out there) and outgoing personality.  Megan asked him about the most fun he had throughout the Mister World experience and he cited the slippery step climb in Eat Bulaga where they were slathered in lots of lube and had to swim in lube-laden steps that he “doesn’t want to see lube in a long, long time.”  I can see some campy folk going into Beavis & Butthead-style snickers when they hear that line…  Anyway, he also noted that what is great is that the prize money they raised from the game went to the worthy Tuloy Foundation charity.  Clearly with his confident and spontaneous delivery he missed out of the Final Five by very little.

After the Top 12 chit-chat, all the contestants changed into their designer barongs as they pay tribute to Father Rocky and the Tuloy Foundation culminating with the kids of this foundation singing the song “You Raise Me Up“*4 popularized by Josh Groban in 2003.  Sentimental folk would view this as an emotional highlight of this programme and since the main activities of the winners of this (and Miss World) is to raise funds for worthwhile charity causes, I understand the necessity of including this segment.

*4  Another Eurovision connection:  the song was composed and originally performed  by Irish-Norwegian band Secret Garden, who won Eurovision 1995 representing Norway with “Nocturne” and singing lead on their version was Brian Kennedy, who represented Ireland and made Top 10 in Eurovision 2006 with “Every Song is a Cry for Love“.

There are a few quibbles I have with the Top 12 segment.  First, interviewing contestants in beachwear harkens back to a bygone era when Miss World contestants were interviewed (and crowned) in swimsuits.  Second, people clamor for a catwalk presentation of the Top 12.  Third, in 2012, 2014 and 2016 editions, there are video clip segments for all of the Top 10 then but it seems now that is now only meant for the Final Five.  I understand they need to budget their time as they want to keep this a 2 1/2 hour programme but I have a couple of suggestions–after the Top 29 were announced, have them change into their barongs and run the Father Rocky segment, then call out the Top 12 so at least we can see them interviewed in their barongs instead of beachwear, and maybe then have them do a catwalk presentation in their barongs.  Something they can consider for future editions.

COMING UP:  THE FIVE FINALISTS

All solo summer wear shots courtesy of Andy Cayna for Sash Factor; other photos courtesy of Miss World Organization unless otherwise indicated.

MISTER WORLD 2019: MASCULINITY REDIFINED; MAGNIFICENCE FULLY MANIFEST (PART 1)

 

Before this pageant, there were two male pageant batches that I would collectively label as magnificent.  The first was Manhunt International 2012, with its bevy of hot, buffed, handsome gentlemen (.  The second was Mister International 2015, with its set of handsome gentlemen with dashes of personality.  I would now include this epic batch of contestants at Mister World 2019 with this lofty label, as even if there is no way most of these men can generate the steamy hotness of Manhunt 2012, they deliver with other compelling qualities.  I have to go back to Julia Morley‘s opening address in the Press Presentation, as her message seems to be a call to create a new movement–while most other male pageants are content to showcase the physical aspect of desirability, she intends to redefine it by also showcasing the characters of these men, that to be masculine also includes the concepts of compassion, humaneness, and sensitivity.  Moreover, this pageant over the years has been fighting the good fight destigmatizing most people’s stereotypes about male pageants, that it’s not a himbo-fest but a showcase of a positive presentation of humanizing masculinity.  I’m totally behind this goal, especially since we live in a world that lately seems to see a resurgence of toxic masculinity.  Like in Miss World where she lately wants to foster sisterhood, she creates an atmosphere of cooperative international brotherhood amongst these contestants–and by all accounts this is working wonderfully.

Now, the question is, would this pageant deliver a production worthy of the men competing in it?  Manhunt 2012 was a threadbare production held in a movie theater, while Mister International 2015 has some glaring glitches that though somewhat successful, doesn’t quite meet the challenge in hindsight.  Let’s see if the final of Mister World 2019 delivers…

Moments from the opening costume parade

The opening number proved to be very promising, with an opening national costume parade that Miss World observers can compare to the now-beloved “Dances of the World” segment in the distaff pageant.  It’s wonderful for these contestants to showcase their cultures with accompanying music.  It’s a quantum leap improvement from prior editions, where basically they simply danced shirtless in denim (though in 2016 they had unbuttoned white shirts on), and that was cringe-inducing while here, it delivered a sense of grandeur.  This obviously should be a standby in future editions.  Now, I have to note that obviously not all of the guys could dance, so they ended up simply walking forward in their costumes, but I don’t mind that at all–especially if you can walk with flair like the way ENGLAND (Jack Heslwood) did it.  It’s also interesting the choice of music used to showcase their countries’ cultures–INDIA (Vishnu Raj Menon) has “Jai Ho” from the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, and POLAND (Robert Kapica) used the 2019 Eurovision entry from Tulia, “Pali się (Fire of Love)“*1.  Now I wonder if ESTONIA (Henri Keskkula)‘s national director is trying to troll us with their choice of music, as the song chosen for his sequence was actually a parody of James Brown‘s 1986 hit from Rocky IV, “Living in America“–I know most people wouldn’t get that, but being the pop music buff that I am, this detail doesn’t go past me.  This is the only part of this sequence that made me raise my eyebrows.  I know Estonia is a highly musical country and they should’ve had something better than that song, right?

*1 Adding to the Eurovision connection, the opening song played prior to the individual dances was Darude‘s timeless 1999 global hit, “Sandstorm“.  Despite his global reputation, Darude had an unsuccessful showing in this year’s Eurovision, placing last in the first semifinal representing Finland with “Look Away” (featuring Sebastian Rejman).

Dancing to a James Brown parody, really? ESTONIA (Henri Leskkula)

Like in Miss World, I think the intention was the costume parade was like a segment that broadcasters can omit, as the next sequence can also be deemed as an “opening” number, with the contestants organized into their respective teams (Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue) as they dance to Walk the Moon‘s 1980s-throwback 2014 smash “Shut Up and Dance“.  It should’ve been a cringeworthy hot mess as the dances were obviously not well-synchronized, but somehow I don’t mind the ramshackle quality of the choreography as there was this infectious exuberance that won me over.  As glaringly imperfect as it is, I actually enjoyed the sequence and it left me grinning from ear to ear.

The “Shut Up and Dance” number (images courtesy of Rappler)

Hosting the proceedings were Miss World 2013 Megan Young and her long-time boyfriend Mikael Daez, of course with off-screen announcing from Stephen Douglas and judges’ table commentary by Mister World 2012 finalist Frankie Cena.  Being experienced presenters, both Megan and Mikael were utterly flawless and terrific.

Before I discuss the next sequences, I have to note the guest entertainers who come in during some intermission sequences.  Two of them are current Miss World Philippines title holders, Alyssa Muhlach (Reina Hispanoamerica Filipinas) and Kimi Mugford (Miss Multinational Philippines), and in between the final interview and announcement of winners was Filipino R&B star Kris Lawrence, who sang a medley of Bruno Mars hits from his last album, 24K Magic, Versace on the Floor and That’s What I Like.  Though a YouTuber mislabeled who sang what, Alyssa  sang “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman while Kimi sang Adele‘s song “One and Only“.  Needless to say, both ladies are professional-level singers and did great renditions of those songs.

Just like in Miss World, they did a recap of the fast-track events, and clad in their group dance outfits the first three fast-track winners received their awards.  First two were the Sports and Extreme Sports challenge events won by SOUTH AFRICA (Fezile Mkhize) and IRELAND (Wayne Walsh).

This is followed by the announcement of NEPAL (Akshay Ramayajhi) as the Multimedia champion.

Then, they presented TONGA (Mikaele Henry Ahomana) as Talent champion, and he performed “Bless the Broken Road“.

This year, they made Top Model the main highlight of the fast-track event, with the five finalists–DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (Alejandro Martinez), ENGLAND (Jack Heslewood), VENEZUELA (Jorge Nuñez), PHILIPPINES (JB Saliba) and MEXICO (Brian Faugier)–sporting olive-green-and-white board shorts with blue stripes awaiting the announcement of the fast-track champion.  To the surprise of no one, it went to MEXICO.  Bench CEO Ben Chan was on-hand to award the fast-track trophy to the winner.

After all five fast-track winners are known, all 72 contestants then march in their summer wear to the strains of LA hip-hop group 7kingz‘s 2017 song “All Eyes on Us” and announced a Top 29–the five fast-track winners alongside the 24 judges’ choices from preliminary interview.  They were announced alphabetically by continent.

Eight were selected from the Americas and Caribbean: ARGENTINA (Leonardo Diaz), BRAZIL (Carlos Franco), CHILE (Felipe Rojas), DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, MEXICO, PUERTO RICO (Jose Cotto), UNITED STATES (Andresito Germosen de la Cruz) and VENEZUELA.

Africa had five advance:  GHANA (Bright Ofori), KENYA (Robert Cula Budi), MAURITIUS (Alexandre Curpanen), NIGERIA (Prince Nelson Enwerem) and SOUTH AFRICA

For Europe, 10 made the cut:  AUSTRIA (Alberto Nodale), CZECH REPUBLIC (Jakub Kraus), ENGLAND, IRELAND, ITALY (Marco D’Elia), LATVIA (Edvīns Ločmelis), NETHERLANDS (Ashley Peternella), NORTHERN IRELAND (Adam Steenson), POLAND (Robert Kapica) and RUSSIA (Denis Khadyko).

Finally, six were selected from the Asia & Pacific region:  CHINA (Zhang Zhiyu), INDONESIA (Radityo Senoputro), LEBANON (Jean-Paul Bittar), NEPAL, PHILIPPINES, and TONGA.

I have a feeling the announcement of an initial cut of a Top 24 was originally not in the programme, but there was clamor from the public and sponsors to add this as announcing only a Top 12 seems too unfair and brutal with the plethora of worthy gentlemen in this year’s batch.  In Miss World, they already had it set up that the fast-track champions would make this initial cut, but no guarantee they’ll advance to the next round.  So if this was the format from the get-go, I have a feeling up to three of the fast-track champions wouldn’t make the next round, so it’s interesting to speculate who would advance in their place.  Since I have already discussed the Top 29 in-depth in my Homestretch review and Results Reaction article, further discussion will be about their performance during the finals and who I believe would’ve advanced to the Top 12 in lieu of three fast-track champions (IRELAND, NEPAL, and TONGA).

COMING UP:  TOP 12 (PLUS WHAT-IF NON-FAST_TRACK TOP 12)