1.10.2019

Former Miss Universe Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters Is Engaged!





Former Miss Universe 2017 from South Africa, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, got engaged today to Tim Tebow, the former New York Jets quarterback and current New York Mets minor-leaguer. On her Instagram, the beauty queen posted a photo of Tibow proposing to her at his family farm outside of Jacksonville, Florida.

According to People magazine:
The couple strolled along the property, and stopped next to a small lake, where Tebow had installed an arbor and a specially made bench that was engraved with the date the couple first met.

For about five minutes, Tebow and Nel-Peters talked about their relationship and its future in hushed tones before Tebow, 31, dropped to one knee. “Demi Leigh Nel-Peters, I love you,” he said. “Demi Leigh Nel-Peters, will you marry me?”

As Nel-Peters said yes, Tebow slipped a 7.25-carat solitaire ring on her finger. “This ring is internally flawless,” he said. “Just like you.”



Critical Beauty warmly congratulates the couple for their engagement and wishes them all the happiness in the world!



PHOTO CREDITS: INSTAGRAM




12.31.2018

End Of The Year Review 2018

Pageantry in 2018: Civil War in Miss America, Miss Universe Accepts First Transgender Contestant, Miss World Exposed?



PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

THE BATTLE OF MISS AMERICAS  The beginning of 2018 saw Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989, being elected as the new chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors. It was the first time that a former winner has served as the leader of the nearly 100-year-old organization. The announcement comes days after three board members resigned and former Miss America titleholders, including 2013's Mallory Hagan, called for the organization's entire board of directors to be replaced following a leak of derogatory and sexist emails from CEO Sam Haskell and others.  But Carlson's leadership has so far proven to be chaotic and dismal. She decided to drop the swimsuit competition, which irked many loyal Miss America fans. Not long after the announcement of the swimsuit decision, two board members - Jennifer Vaden Barth and Valerie Crooker Clemens, a former Miss Maine - said they were pushed out, while Carlson said they departed because their contracts were temporary. Then, two other board members - Kate Shindle and Laura Kaeppler Fleiss - also resigned. 


PHOTO CREDIT: MISS AMERICA ORGANIZATION


A few weeks before relinquishing her crown, outgoing queen Cara Mund (above) released a five-page letter addressed to "Miss America Sisters" and obtained by USA Today in which she called out Carlson and Miss America CEO Regina Hopper and accused them of bullying, silencing and marginalizing her. Carlson denies that she ever bullied Mund, and because of such "false" allegations,  scholarships worth $75,000 were withdrawn by donors. On August 8, eleven former Miss Americas demanded Carlson and Hopper's resignation. Despite Carlson's attempts to redeem herself, she and Hopper are now being sued by a former board member and four states that have had their licenses terminated "illegally" by the Miss America Organization. The Nielsen ratings for the September 10th telecast proved to be dismal: viewership was down 19% from last year. It seems that neither Carlson nor Hopper will have a great start for 2019.
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Digging Its Own Grave?   On December 9, an anonymous individual created a Facebook page entitled, Exposing Miss World Contest, which aims to expose the corruption that has been plaguing the world's most popular pageant.  The author/creator of the page claims to have worked with the Miss World Organization (MWO) for decades. This author also tagged Steve Douglas on the page to elicit a reaction from Douglas, who is the son of Julia Morley, the pageant CEO who took over the organization after its founder, her husband Eric Morley, passed away in 2000. The author makes several allegations: Steve Douglas is a felon, Eric Morley is a sexual predator, MWO sued an American pageant organizer for infringing on the word "World," the winner is predetermined, Venezuela and India will never win again, Mexico's current win is political, and that MWO has been engaging in charity fraud. The page garnered the attention not only of pageant fans who have always suspected something shady about MWO, but also of former contestants and national directors who feel deceived and exploited by MWO. Some pro-MWO individuals claim that the allegations are false and fabricated by a disgruntled former employee. It's interesting to note that the media have not reported the page and its contents, which makes you wonder if the allegations are nothing more but sordid rumors or fake news. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, new revelations have been posted by the anonymous author at the time this review was published. You be the judge if they're true or not.

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PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM

Osmel Sousa Retires:  Osmel Sousa, the indisputable beauty queen maker responsible for making Venezuela the most successful country in pageantry, announced in February that he decided to retire as president of the Miss Venezuela Organization (MVO) and he will continue to struggle and to work for a better country (whatever that means).  Sousa was rumored to have resigned due to unfounded allegations that he had pimped contestants to wealthy men to get sponsors. Due to the alleged corruption and prostitution scandals, the 2018 Miss Venezuela pageant was cancelled. MVO is now directed by former Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler

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PHOTO CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION

Don't Judge Me. Select Me:  For the first time in the history of Miss USA pageant, an all-female jury (read: sexist) was installed and selected Sarah Rose Summers of Nebraska as the 2018 winner. And for the first time in the history of the pageant, the word "judge" was thrown out and replaced by "selection committee." For some reason, the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) found the word "judge" rather unpleasant and trivial.  
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PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM

#WomenRuleTheUniverse:  Following Miss USA's footsteps, for the first time in the history of the pageant, Miss Universe has also decided to install an all-female jury to select the 2018 Miss Universe winner. And for the first time in a long time, these women judges (oops, I meant women "selectors") oversaw both the preliminary and final rounds of the competition. In the photo from left to right:  Liliana Gil Valletta, a Colombian-American businesswoman and entrepreneur;  Bui Simon/Porntip Nakhirunkanok, Miss Universe 1988; Monique Lhuillier, a Filipino-American fashion designer noted for her luxurious wedding gowns; Michelle McLean, Miss Universe 1992; Iman Oubou, a Moroccan-American scientist and entrepreneur;  Janaye Ingram, an American political organizer (Women's March) and Miss New Jersey USA 2004; and Richelle Singson-Michael, a Filipino businesswoman and architect. Miss Universe's decision to install an all-female jury reflects Miss America's earlier decision to install an all-female Board of Directors.

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PHOTO CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION

Pinching Pennies: For the first time in the history of the Miss USA/Miss Teen USA pageants, the mother flagship (Miss Universe Organization) - under its new management by WME/IMG - decided to hold both pageants at the same venue and only three days apart from each other. One can only assume that the reason behind this concurrence was that MUO was trying to stretch its budget. While the Miss version was broadcasted live on TV via FOX, the Teen version had to settle with a live stream via Facebook.  Could Miss Teen USA be on its way out? 
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PHOTO CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE SPAIN

Herstory MadeAngela Ponce, 27, became the first transwoman to be crowned Miss Spain last June. She also became the first transwoman contestant to compete in Miss Universe which started accepting transgender contestants in 2012. Even though Ponce did not place or win, her presence is historically (or should we say, herstorically) significant as it contributes to the advancement of LGBTQ rights and further promoted inclusivity in pageantry. However, some critics claim that MUO was forced to accept transgender contestants due to pressure from human rights groups.
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 Mr and Miss Albinism East Africa 2018 Emmanuel Silas Shedrack, 20, from Tanzania (seated) and Maryanne Muigai (seated right) and other finalists. Photo | Dennis Onsongo

Redefining Beauty:   The common saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," seems to hold true for the organizers of the first Mr. and Miss Albinism East Africa pageant that took place on November 30 
in Nairobi, Kenya. The event is groundbreaking as it celebrates people who were born with albinism, a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition that leads to a lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light, according to the United Nations. People with the hereditary condition - commonly called "albinos" - have faced discrimination, violence and even murder. Albinos have been attacked or even killed in some African countries for their body parts because of a primitive belief that they possess magical powers. Some ignorant people also dig up graves in the misguided belief that albinos will bring wealth and good fortune. These beliefs have no place in a civilized and tolerant society.

In America, there are countless special pageants that cater to contestants who otherwise would not qualify in traditional pageants. However, in the last decade or so, we have seen the likes of Miss USA and Miss America accepting contestants with disabilities (deaf, partially blind, mute, Parkinsons' disease, etc.). But no such contestant on a national level has ever participated in an international pageant (excluding the ones that are designed purposely for contestants with disabilities) - until Danish beauty 
Celina Riel - a woman born with left forearm missing - reached the top 25 in Miss Supranational 2018 pageant in Poland on December 7. Not to be dismissed is Marina Kere who suffers from vitiligo (
 long-term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment) and became a contestant at Miss Universe New Zealand last August. Unfortunately, for Paulett Rosales, her story does not have a happy ending; Rosales flew thousands of miles to Malaysia to represent Panama in Miss Tourism International on December 21. After competing in three rounds, the organizers banned her from competing further because she has vitiligo, according to Panama America's Twitter account:



Rosales was forced to stay in her room during the remainder of the pageant and took to her social media asking fans not to post bad things about her fellow Latina contestants who have been supportive of her. She also received love and support from Miss Universe Panama Rosa Iveth Montezuma who was competing in Miss Universe in Bangkok, Thailand. On her Instagram, Montezuma tagged Rosales with this comment (translated in English): “When we fall into stereotypes we can not see what is really beautiful, beauty is integral, it is the reflection of our hearts, in the 21st century we can not keep classifying people or deciding on the dreams of others, because it does not define you a condition, you define the desire of your heart. @ Paulettrosales.”
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Dethrone & Disqualify Her:  Pageantry wouldn't be as dramatic as soap operas if controversies and scandals did not occur. Take, for instance, the case of Veronica Didusenko who was crowned Miss Ukraine 2018 on September 20th. Pageant officials stripped her of her title after they found out that Didusenko was an unmarried mother of a 4-year-old boy. 

Natalie Paweleck was crowned Mrs. Scotland World in September but was forced to give up her title after a topless photo of her resurfaced on the Internet. She accused the organizers of "body shaming." 



Salwa Akar, Miss Earth Lebanon 2018, was stripped of her title after she posed for a photo with Miss Earth Israel 2018, Daza Zreik making peace sign with their hands, even though Zreik herself is a fellow Arab. The Miss Earth Lebanon organizers gave a statement saying that they, “categorically rejected the relationship with Israel."  Ofir Gendelman, the spokesperson of Benjamin Netanyanhu, the Prime Minister of Israel tweeted about the issue and condemns Lebanon for being an "apartheid" state.
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Juthamas Pothong, winner of the Miss Grand Thailand Lampang 2018 pageant, was disqualified for competing in another beauty pageant. Isn't there a word for this deed? Ahhh... it's called moonlighting! This directly violated the rules and policies of Miss Grand Thailand whose organizers banned Lampang from competing in any Miss Grand Thailand competition in any province and has been blacklisted forever.
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SCREENSHOT OF TEXT CHAT BETWEEN FELINE WONG XIN YI AND PAGEANT ORGANIZER


Feline Wong Xin Yi was crowned Miss Bikini Universe Singapore on September 15. Two weeks later, she turned to her social media to complain that she has not received her prizes. She even posted a screen shot of her private conversations with the pageant organizer. As a consequence, Wong was dethroned for violating the terms of the contract, one of which states that the titleholder should not be badmouthing the organizers behind their back.  Andrea Wong, a 20-year-old undergraduate, was announced the new winner and will represent Singapore in Miss Bikini Universe 2019. 
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Taylor Hamlin, 18, who was crowned the Maine Lobster Festival's Sea Goddess on August 1st, was forced to resign after "controversial" pictures from her private Instagram account were shown to the lobster festival leadership. In one photo, she was holding a vaping device called a Juul. In another picture, she is holding a joint. Since then, people involved in organizing the festival have received everything from mocking comments on Facebook to death threats.
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In October, Daniela Zivkov was stripped off her title as Miss Austria 2018 because she was making appearances scheduled by parties other than the one with whom she had signed her contract. She is the first titleholder to be dethroned in the history of Miss Austria.

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PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK

She is the dancing fainting queen: Seconds after hearing her country's name as the winner of Miss Grand International 2018 on October 25th, Clara Sosa of Paraguay was in state of shock, fainted, and fell on the stage floor while her first runner-up, Meenakshi Chaudhary from India, looked for help.  Eventually, first responders rushed to the stage to revive the new queen who managed to regain her strength, be crowned, and do her victory walk. 
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PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK


She's On Fire - LiterallyDorcas Kasindes, a 24-year-old model from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was crowned Miss Africa 2018 on December 27th. Seconds after she was announced as the winner, fireworks coming from the ceiling landed on her wig which caught fire. Her wig had probably been stylized with inflammable hair spray. After desperately trying to kill the fire, with the help of her runner-up and the emcee, the beauty queen managed to maintain her composure during her coronation. 

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PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK

In Hot Water:  In early October, Miss Colombia Valeria Morales (left), got in hot water with critics after she stated that she was not in favor of  pageants allowing transwomen contestants to compete - alluding to Angela Ponce (right), Miss Spain, who would be the first transwoman to compete in Miss Universe pageant. Morales later clarified that if Miss Universe accepts Ponce, then she would treat her "with respect and tolerance that a candidate deserves because she will be competing with me in the same contest." Neither women placed in the contes held in Bangkok, Thailand on December 17.

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PHOTO CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION

Guyana national director Jyoti Hardat (left) with Miss Universe 2017 Iris Mittenaere 
and the newly crowned Miss Universe Guyana 2017 Rafeiya Husain


Country Non Grata:  In January, the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) notified Jyoti Hardat, the director of Miss Universe Guyana, that Guyana is banned from competing  in 2018 and the next two years following the controversial coronation of Rafeiya Husain as Miss Universe Guyana 2017. A committee member revealed that after complaints were filed which indicated that Hardat had rigged the results of the 2017 contest, Hardat was fired. Disenchanted contestants complained of alleged mistreatment, sexual harassment, and disrespect by the organization.  Some also claimed that they did not receive their money’s worth from the US$2,500 registration fee that they were required to pay. Hardat said that the country is being barred because of the “nasty emails” and “death threats” sent to MUO (as well as to herself and Husain) in the ensuing controversy involving the selection of Husain. Hardat told MUO that she was no longer interested in the franchise. After the 2017 Miss Universe pageant, Husain took to social media to state that she received very little support from the national organization.
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Fair Distribution: Unlike in previous years when one country won at least two of the major beauty titles, 2018 saw winners from diverse nations. Miss Universe Catriona Gray is from the Philippines, Miss International Mariem Velasco is from Venezuela, Miss World Vanessa Ponce de Leon is from Mexico, Miss Earth Nguyễn Phương Khánh is from Vietnam, Miss Supranational Valeria Vasquez Latorre is from Puerto Rico, and Miss Grand International Clara Sosa is from Paraguay. The last four women have won their respective titles for their countries for the first time.


PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK

Mexico has been competing in Miss World since 1963 and has almost won the crown three times when its candidates placed second (2005, 2009, 2017). Lady Luck - or should we say, MWO Chairwoman Julia Morley - finally favored the country when she chose Vanessa Ponce de Leon as the 2018 winner. Lupita Jones, a former Miss Universe, used to own the Mexican franchise for Miss World but lost it in 2016 to the Miss Mexico Organization. Lupita's dream of producing a Mexican Miss World under her directorship never materialized.
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PHOTO CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION
Catriona Gray waves to the crowd after being crowned 
Miss Universe 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand on December 17.

COUNTRY OF THE YEAR:   For the 4th consecutive year, the Philippines has remained unbeatable in terms of pageant successes in 2018 - thus winning the title of "Country Of The Year" in pageantry.  The country won its fourth Miss Universe crown and its fifth Miss Asia Pacific International crown, numerous minor international titles (Miss Eco International, Miss Multinational, Miss Tourism Worldwide, Miss Landscapes International, Mr. Universe Tourism, Mr. Universal Ambassador, Mister Star Model Universe, Mister National Universe Ambassador), and several runners-up (Miss International, Miss Progress International, Manhunt International, Man Of The World, Men Universe Model, Miss Tourism International, Miss Cosmopolitan World, Face Of Beauty International), and semifinalists notably in Miss Globe, Miss Supranational, Mister Supranational, and Mister International. 

Honorable Mention: Thailand (top 5 in Miss Universe, 1st runner-up in Miss World, top 8 in Miss International, finalist spot in Miss Tourism Worldwide, Miss Landscapes International, Mister Global, Man Of The World, Miss Tourism Queen International)

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IN MEMORIAM


On September 8, the pageant world was devastated by the untimely passing of Chelsi Smith, Miss USA & Miss Universe 1995 from Texas. The cause of death was liver cancer. Chelsi was only 45, having left this world too soon. Read my tribute to her
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CREDIT: MANHUNT INTERNATIONAL

Beauty pageant veteran and founder of the Manhunt International competition, Alex Liu, died on Jan 22. He was 57. According to a spokesman for his company, Exclusive Resources Marketing, he died of a heart attack in a taxi en route to Tan Tock Seng Hospital from his house in Toa Payoh at about 2 P.M. Described as "the godfather of beauty pageants in Singapore," Liu organised women's beauty pageants such as Miss Singapore Universe and Miss Chinatown after he set up Metromedia Marketing in 1984. Noticing an increase in men's products at a department store, he came up with the idea of the first male model contest in Singapore. He settled on the name "Manhunt" because it was catchy, and organised the debut edition with 16 contestants at a local disco in 1988. Entertainment lawyer Samuel Seowwho had known him for 15 years, says that Liu was "always very driven." "He was very proud that he had built up Manhunt into the world's largest male pageant."
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Donna Axum Whitworth, the first woman from Arkansas to win the Miss America crown in 1964, passed away on November 4 from complications from Parkinsons disease. She was 76. “She made everyone she met feel like they were the only person in the room,” said former Miss America and Fayetteville, Arkansas native Savvy Shields on a Facebook post. “She lived as a role model to everyone who knew her name, and inspired so many more."
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 Beauty is truth's smile when she beholds her own face 
in a perfect mirror.  - Rabindranath Tagore

By RAFA DELFIN, 12/31/12018

12.29.2018

Video/Photo: Miss Congo's Wig Catches Fire After Being Crowned Miss Africa 2018


Miss Congo emerged winner Thursday night at the 2018 Miss Africa beauty pageant and shortly after she won, her wig caught fire on stage.
Dorcas Kasinde, 24, beat other contestants to win the crown. Miss Nigeria came second while Miss Zambia came third.
As Miss Congo celebrated her victory and hugged her predecessor, her wig caught fire. Thankfully, Ebuka, the host, came to her rescue before more damage could be done.
It is believed the fire was caused by the stage flame positioned at various corners on the stage but social media users have jokingly blamed the incident on Calabar witches.
Watch the harrowing video:
Source: MyJoyOnline.com, 12/28/2018

12.24.2018

Review of Miss Universe 2018 Telecast


CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION


Bangkok, Thailand, December 17, 2018 – Catriona Gray, a 24-year-old model from the Philippines with a degree in music theory, was crowned Miss Universe 2018 at IMPACT Arena, Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. The telecast aired live on FOX for the fourth year in a row.  However,  the show was not live streamed on Miss Universe's Facebook page, unlike last year. Thankfully, several pageant sites were able to do a Facebook live stream from the venue.


     The statuesque Gray was crowned by outgoing queen Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa. Gray's victory marks the fourth time that the Philippines has won the Miss Universe crown (Pia Wurtzbach won in 2015, Margarita Moran in 1973, and Gloria Diaz in 1969).  According to the Miss Universe website, "Catriona 
is an HIV/AIDS advocate at Love Yourself PH, and volunteers as a Teacher's Assistant to the students of Young Focus NGO." 


     Gray is a pageant veteran. She is the first woman in her country to have won two major national titles: Miss World Philippines 2016 - which gave her the right to compete in Miss World 2016 where she placed in the top 5, and Miss Universe Philippines 2018 which eventually led her to win Miss Universe 2018.

     For the fourth straight year in a row, Emmy Award winner Steve Harvey hosted the three-hour event with backstage commentary from "body activist" and top model Ashley Graham, style expert Carson Kressley, and walking coach and model Lu Sierra. Three-time Grammy-award singer Ne-yo provided the entertainment. 

      For the first time in the history of the pageant, an all-female panel of judges was installed that included two former Miss Universe titleholders, Bui Simon/Porntip Nakhirunkanok (1988) and Michelle McLean (1992); Janaye Ingram, an American political organizer and Miss New Jersey USA 2004; 
Monique Lhuillier, a Filipino-American fashion designer noted for her luxurious wedding gowns; Liliana Gil Valletta, a Colombian-American businesswoman and entrepreneur;  Iman Oubou, a Moroccan-American scientist and entrepreneur; and Richelle Singson-Michael, a Filipino businesswoman and architect.


      A record total of 94 countries were represented in the 67th edition of the pageant which was held for the third time in Thailand. The first time was in 1992 when Michelle McLean from Namibia was crowned, and the second time was in 2005 when Natalie Glebova from Canada was crowned. 


Final Results:


Miss Universe 2018: Philippines, Catriona Gray


First Runner-Up:  South Africa, Tamaryn Green


Second Runner-Up: Venezuela, Sthefany Gutierrez


Top Three: Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela

Top Five:  
 Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela; Kiara Ortega, Puerto Rico; H'Hen Niê, Vietnam


Top Ten:  Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela; Kiara Ortega, Puerto Rico; H'Hen Niê, Vietnam; Marta Stepien, Canada; Natalia Carvajal, Costa Rica; Akisha Albert, Curaçao; Manita Devkota, Nepal; Sophida Kanchanarin, Thailand.

Top Twenty: Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela; Kiara Ortega, Puerto Rico; H'Hen Niê, Vietnam; Marta Stepien, Canada; Natalia Carvajal, Costa Rica; Akisha Albert, Curaçao; Manita Devkota, Nepal; Sophida Kanchanarin, Thailand; Francesca Hung, Australia; Zoë Brunet, Belgium; Mayra Dias, Brazil; Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, Great Britain; Enikő Kecskès, Hungary; Sonia Fergina Citra, Indonesia; Grainne Gallanagh, Ireland; Emily Maddison, Jamaica; Magdalena Swat; Sarah Rose Summers, USA. 

Best National CostumeOn-anong Homsombath from Laos wowed the audience when she took the stage with her lavishly ornate costume, which gave the appearance of three figures walking in a straight line. The figures were inspired by the Kinnaree, "a half-bird/half-woman that features in the country’s diverse Buddhist and ancient Hindu-influenced alongside various tribal and animist spiritual beliefs," according to Laotian Times (Dec. 17, 2018). Steve Harvey appeared quite impressed by the costume ("This is absolutely incredible!") and attempted to make a light joke about it, telling Homsombath if she has friends whom she considers as "dead weight... people hanging on... who don't pull their own weight." LOL. Homsombath couldn't help but be cheerful, adding that "this is the first year" that her country is competing in Miss Universe - which is false. Last year, Laos sent its first representative to the pageant,  Souphaphone Somvichith. Homsombath was runner-up to Somvichith in Miss Universe Laos 2017 pageant, and since no national pageant was held in 2018, Homsombath was appointed to be her country's representative in Miss Universe 2018.



Miss Universe Laos's showstopping national costume. PHOTO: AFP

     It appears that MUO has done away with the Miss Photogenic or Miss Congeniality award for good, or it seems like it. This is the second consecutive year that a Miss Photogenic award has not been distributed. Either MUO is trying to cut corners, or that they would rather use the prize monies for miscellaneous expenses. 2015 was the last time that all three major awards (Best National Costume, Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality) were handed out. And since the national costume segment has become an extravagant spectacle all by itself, which has gotten even more exposure thanks to social media, it makes sense to keep this segment and to continue handing out the award. This segment also offers the most surprises, since many contestants would rather wait to reveal their costumes during the competition.
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THE TOP FIVE: After the Top 10 semifinalists competed in the swimsuit and evening gown competition, they were cut down to the top five: Venezuela, South Africa, Philippines, Vietnam, Puerto Rico. I wonder if the stage director purposely placed Philippines in the center because she was the only one who did not wear a silver gown. The competition just became even more intense when each finalist had to answer a different question. As usual, the questions centered around significant and relevant political issues. 




Philippines
Question: Canada recently joined Uruguay as the second nation in the world to make marijuana legal. What is your opinion on the regularization of marijuana? 

Answer: I’m for it being used for medical use, but not so for recreational use. Because I think if people will argue then what about alcohol and cigarettes? Everything is good but in moderation. (I didn't think that her answer was strong at all. She could have elaborated on the advantages of medical use of marijuana, but bringing in alcohol and cigarettes to the discussion is irrelevant. One would think that she favors smoking even if done moderately.)

Venezuela
Question: What would you say to someone who believes that pageants are archaic and against the feminist movement?

Answer (via an interpreter): Nowadays, we live in an era which we have advanced greatly. Beauty pageants are not just about beauty, they’re about sensitivity and having a heart. And in beauty pageants, we can show that women like me can achieve any dream that we may have in the world. (This is a basic, safe answer that virtually all pageant girls recite. Nothing extraordinary about it.)

South Africa
Question: Do you think countries should limit the number of refugees allowed across their borders?

Answer: I think that every country should have their own rules and regulations. But for a thriving society and for all of us to stand together, we have to understand that we are all human. And we are all more alike than we are not, so we should be open to loving each other, accepting each other, it doesn't matter where we come from. (She was trying to remain neutral with her response, but she ended up emphasizing humanitarianism over national sovereignty, thus resulting in an imbalanced response.)

Puerto Rico
Question: Hundreds of journalists across the world were jailed this year for writing stories that were critical of their governments. Why is Freedom of the Press important?

Answer (via an interpreter): The press is there to inform us. Their job is to give us the news about what's happening to the world right now. They should have total freedom to be able to report exactly what's happening, without forgetting that they have to have sympathy because there are a lot of people that are suffering from different problems in the world. (The best answer of all, enhanced by a good delivery.)

Vietnam
Question: The #MeToo movement has sparked a global conversation. In response, some have said the world has become too politically correct? Do you think the #MeToo movement has gone too far?

Answer: I don’t think that it has gone too far. Protecting women and women’s right are the right things to do. Women need protections and rights. Thank you. (Her answer is rather vague and I don't think she knows what the #MeToo movement is all about).

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      THE TOP THREE: Puerto Rico and Vietnam were eliminated after the Top 5 question round, which left Venezuela, South Africa and Philippines at the Top 3. All strong contenders coming from countries that have won the Miss Universe crown at least twice.



Final Question"What is the most important lesson you've learned in your life, and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?"

Philippines


Answer: I worked a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila. And the life there… it's poor, and it's very sad. And I've always taught myself to look for the beauty in it. To look in the beauty in the faces of the children, and to be grateful. And I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess, where I could give something, where I could provide something, as a spokesperson, and if I could teach also people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their faces. (She nailed it. She learned that poverty brings sadness, and that she would apply this lesson as Miss Universe - branding! -  to serve as the voice for poor children. Her delivery also sounded genuinely sincere.)


South Africa


Answer: Throughout my life, I've been exposed to both those who are privileged and underprivileged. And what I’ve learned is that we are all human. We all want to be loved, we all want to belong, and we all want to be seen, so we should treat each other that way. Thank you. (I didn't sense any sincerity in her response which was generic and uninteresting. I would have placed her as second runner-up instead of Venezuela).


Venezuela


Answer (via an interpreter): I grew up in a family filled with women and each one of them taught me something very important. But what I always remembered is that by working hard and chasing for our dreams, and by having courage and strength and willingness to achieve these dreams, we can achieve anything we want in this lifetime. And tonight I am proving this, I am here at Miss Universe. (Her answer was so much better than South Africa's because she referred to an actual personal experience that taught her whatever it takes to pursue her dreams. But her delivery sounded a bit calculated).

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After the Top 3 Final Question round, each top finalist had to sashay on stage for the final look while entertainer Ne-Yo sang his hit song, "Miss Independent."  Minutes later,  the official results were announced: a delighted Miss Venezuela was declared 2nd runner-up, which left Miss Philippines and Miss South Africa as the last two women standing. Finally, host Steve Harvey declares Philippines as Miss Universe and South Africa as 1st runner-up:  


CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION
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The opening number: When the pageant was held in Thailand back in 2005, the show was staged at the same venue, the IMPACT Arena. It looked big then, and it looked much bigger now. How so? Because the stage technicians added gigantic LED screens that magnified images flashing in the background. So even if you had the worst seat in the house, you could never miss what was being flashed on the humongous screen. The telecast began with a pre-recorded video showing a beautiful Thai dancer and all 94 contestants in a majestic Buddhist temple, while a feminine voice-over soothingly enunciated the opening words:




Cut to a group of Thai drummers properly aligned on the X runway beating drums, while the camera glides to the center stage featuring Thai classical dancers and entertainer Ne-Yo singing his hit song, "Nights Like These."  I love this fusion of Thai rhythm and English lyrics, a perfect example of East Meets West concept. And the synchronized choreography between Ne-Yo and the dancers is equally delicious.


CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION

 Seconds later, the contestants enter the stage from the back and sashay down the long runway as the audience cheer them. Compared to last year when a feminine voice-over introduced each contestant on the stage, this year's self-introduction was done via a pre-recorded video for each geographical region. The girls simply uttered one word: the name of their countries. It's a three-hour show; how much trouble would it be to add their actual names and their ages?  
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The opening statements: A new element has been added this year. Each contestant who made the Top 20 had to deliver a brief opening statement that summarizes her platform or goal if she wins Miss Universe. By adding this element, MUO is attempting to convince critics who erroneously think that only the surface matters, and that there's nothing between the ears. This segment proves that all women are accomplished in their own right. 


Great Britain's Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers wants to be remembered for being an advocate for victims of acid attacks and for equal pay. I would have wanted to see her advance in the top 10 because her statement sounded compelling and she spoke with so much conviction.
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The continental drift: After a rigorous preliminary competition where the contestants were judged in swimsuit, evening gown and interview, they were trimmed down to 20 semifinalists based on the region they came from, just like last year (although four more were added this year).  From Africa/Asia-Pacific region, the top five scorers included South Africa, Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal and Thailand. From Europe were Poland, Belgium, Hungary, Great Britain and Ireland. From the Americas were Puerto Rico, Curaçao, Costa Rica, Canada and Jamaica. And the Wild Cards included USA, Venezuela, Indonesia, Brazil and Australia. I am not liking this selection format because I feel that the European girls were rather weak and flat compared to stronger girls from the Americas (Ecuador, El Salvador) and from Asia (India, Kyrgyzstan). Eventually, I would prefer that the judges focus on the girls themselves and not on the country that they represent. No more sash factor, please.
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The joke that won't go away: Steve Harvey returned to host Miss Universe for the fourth time. If he thought that his infamous gaffe from 2015 (announcing the wrong winner) would go away, well he thought wrong. While introducing the top 20, Harvey asked Miss Costa Rica Natalia Carvajal (who is a TV host in her country) for any tips for the night.  Carvajal teased: "I think you're doing good, the outfit is fine. The smile is always great. But I have to give you one advice just for the future, just in case. Come closer because I don't want anyone to hear. If they give you like a really, really important envelope, try to read carefully, okay?" As the crowd roared in laughter, Harvey replied: "Y'all just won't let it go, huh?"  Carvajal, who was not on my list of favorites, proved me wrong with her wit and personality. And with a strong top 20, she was smart to use humor to set her apart from the rest of the pack, and the judges took notice.

Miss Costa Rica Natalia Carvajal's cute sense of humor surely helped her 
to advance to the Top 10. CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION

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He's wearing the universe:  Host Steve Harvey boasted about his glittery jacket featuring featuring the names of all 94 countries represented in the pageant. How cool is that? 



Designer Sherri Hill, one of the pageant's major sponsors, provided the dresses for the opening number and Top 20 interviews. Most of the dresses looked like they have been recycled to death. I would have wanted to have seen all 94 contestants dressed in identical Thai-inspired outfits instead. Kudos to Vietnam for sporting a two-piece ensemble (a cropped glittery long-sleeved top and a fabulous pair of trousers).


CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION
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Special Tribute: In 2015, the pageant paid a tribute to Miss Slovenia, Ana Haložan, who had to withdraw from the contest after suffering from an accident which occurred in Las Vegas for which she was hospitalized. She had suffered a seizure and part of her face was paralyzed. Even though she was unable to compete, she decided to stay in Las Vegas and was allowed to walk on stage during a live telecast. In 2017, Sarah Idan was recognized for being the first contestant from Iraq since Wijdan Burham El-Deen Sulyman competed in 1972. And in 2018, Angela Ponce of Spain makes Miss Universe history by becoming the first transgender contestant. In its goal to practice inclusivity, MUO decided in 2012 to accept transwomen, albeit with pressure from civil rights groups. Ponce strutted in the runway, removed her sash, and proudly raised it high like a flag. She received a standing ovation from the crowd in attendance, including from the judges. "I don't need to win Miss Universe. I just need to be here," she said after the competition. Watch the touching tribute to her:


CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION
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Jamaica's Jitters:  The Jamaican delegate Emily Maddison - cute as a button - was lucky to have gained a top 20 spot but the 19-year-old's luck was short-lived when she froze twice onstage while speaking about overcoming insecurities. She looked like a deer in the headlights. Her statement was: "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." Oh, well, let's hope she can help young women overcome their stage fright.  


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 Thai Thighs: What made the swimsuit competition a joy to watch is that the 10 finalists were all wearing different swimsuit styles designed by a Thai princess. Two accessories complimented the attire: a pair of wings used by classical Thai dancers and a rainbow-colored chiffon cape. I love how Thai elements were incorporated in the segment which was ruled by Puerto Rico, Philippines and Vietnam.


CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION
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 It's all about the gown,,, and the girl... and the Lava Walk:  The stunning gown worn by Miss Philippines Catriona Gray, designed by Mak Tumang, was inspired by the hot lava flowing out from the erupting MayonVolcano located in her home province of Albay. Mayon is noted for its near perfect cone. Can you say, "Wow?!!!"  I give this look a 9.5 only because I hate those nude stripper heels that accessorized the dress. I would think that her team could have designed a special pair of red heels to go with the gown, in the same way that they had designed a special pair of shoes to go with her amazing national costume. Other than that, Catriona ruled the runway with a glamorously sensual walk and magnanimous stage projection. And here's an interesting trivia: Catriona said that her mother had dreamed that her daughter would win Miss Universe in a red dress! How freaky is that?!!!


During the preliminaries a few days earlier, Catriona's "slo-mo twirl" while competing in the swimsuit segment became an Internet sensation, even catching the attention of supermodel Tyra Banks who tweeted: "I mean... Pinoy power to the max!!!" After Catriona replied to Tyra with a combined crying and ecstatic emoticon, the supermodel replied back, “You did it! And that walk and confidence? I mean . . . next-level fierce!” 

 Catriona's outstanding trainers made sure that no stone was left unturned. She was the most prepared contestant, as evidenced by her nearly two-year training that has been thoroughly documented on her social media and that of her trainers. Never before has a pageant contestant made a series of videos explaining the inspiration behind her national costume. From the day she arrived in Bangkok looking like a Thai royalty, to the moment the Mikimoto crown was placed on her head, it was her destiny to win. The fiery lava-inspired gown was just one of many factors that made Catriona stand out from the other 93 contestants. Her sensual and "hot" Lava Walk (also inspired by the lava oozing out of the Mayon Volcano) has now become Catriona's signature walk and will always be associated with her. It even generated a mention in Vogue magazine.  Watch Catriona's full performance during the finals:



Other gowns that caught my attention were those of Curaçao - who demonstrated classic and timeless elegance in her sequined silver gown. To quote color commentator and stylist Carson Kressley, "This is a high impact nude illusion look... and Curaçao, Cura-wow!"  Vietnam's long-sleeved and well-fitting gray silver gown enhances her curves and earthy complexion. Canada dazzled the crowd with a spectacular couture gown by Michael Cinco complimented by a five-tiered crinoline overskirt (she wore the same dress during the prelims without the overskirt).


CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION
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My predictions are getting worse: And I kid you not! I have been making pageant predictions for almost twenty years and I usually get more than half of my guesses right. But in the last three years, my predictions have gotten worse, and this year is the worst of all! Out of the 20 semifinalists that were actually called, only 10 from my list actually made the cut.  Unless you're a staff member of MUO who interacts with and observes every contestant  on a daily basis, there is simply no way for us pageant fans to know everything about the contestants - how they behave with the staff or with the other contestants, what they think about the pageant and their fellow contestants - unless it's posted online. 

Before the advent of social media, we picked our favorites based on the bios, photos and videos on the Miss Universe website before and after the preliminaries. Now with the huge popularity of social media - and with everyone owning a smartphone that allows them to post countless selfies, YouTube/Instagram/Facebook/Twitter videos and comments in an instant - all that must now be taken into account when selecting your favorites. Pageant organizers are now realizing the power of social media, and even though it is an unwritten rule, they know that girls with huge social media following are also the most influential and useful in promoting the pageant's brand. But honestly, who had time to follow each of the 94 contestants and scrutinize every photo, video and comment that they post? Certainly not I! They would have to pay me to do that! LOL

As usual, every year, there were a few surprises mostly from Europe: Ireland, Belgium, Hungary and Poland. None of these countries made my list. I thought they were weak and they took the places of four countries from other regions, like India, Ecuador, El Salvador and sensational Kyrgyzstan. And lastly, I would have removed USA (especially after she stirred up controversy when she seemed to mock Misses Vietnam and Cambodia for not speaking English - for which she later apologized) and replaced her with Kyrgyzstan whom I thought was phenomenal during the prelims. As much as I am fond of Sarah Rose Summers, she has become one of the most underwhelming U.S. representatives since Chelsea Cooley from 2005.



Between color commentators Carson Kressley, walking coach Lu Sierra, and backstage host Ashley Graham, only Ashley included the Philippines on her top 3 list. During a backstage interview minutes before the evening gown competition, Ashley interviewed Catriona and told her that she was rooting for her to win. Do you think this interview was scripted? LOL


Overall Rating: So from a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), how would I rate the 2018 telecast? I would give it an 8 - two points higher than last year's. The production was outstanding and generously showcased Thai culture. A three-hour show is still too long, but it did give the girls plenty of air time to express themselves, which then gave the judges more time to assess the contestants' performance before a live audience. The huge X-shaped runway allowed for more circulation and visual interest. 

If some feminist critics  still think that the pageant is outdated and regressive for women, then they think wrong. On its website it says, "The Miss Universe Organization is a company run by women for women, built on a foundation of inclusion and continues to be a celebration of diversity." The decision to install an all-female jury suggests that women will be judged by other women, and that women call the shost. Notice, too, that the color commentators hardly made references to a contestant's body, or height, or weight - issues that may be too sensitive to many women to talk about. Instead, they focused on the contestants' bios, choice of gown, communication skills, and runway walk.

  And more significantly, the contestants were given plenty of time to speak and to promote causes that are dear to their hearts. If this is not true feminism, then I don't know what is.

#MissUniverse #ConfidentlyBeautiful

By Rafa Delfin, 12/24/2018