Former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac faces prison for 'insulting' country's president

Merve Buyuksarac

     A former Miss Turkey could be jailed for two years for posting a satirical poem on social media that criticised her country's president.

     The arrest of Merve Buyuksarac, 26, follows a crackdown in the country on critical media in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris as well as a increasing curbs on press freedoms in the country. Miss Buyuksarac is the latest person to face trial for insulting Recep Tayyip Erdogan - who recently said women are not equal to men - amid fears that the country is in danger of coming under authoritarian rule. Emre Telci, who is representing the former Miss Turkey, said an Istanbul prosecutor is demanding that Merve Buyuksarac be prosecuted on charges of insulting a public official. If she is convicted she could face a two year prison sentence. 

     Her case comes amid further controls being placed on people in Turkey - with curbs on press freedoms and social media posts. Hundreds of people who have taken part in mass protests against the government have also been prosecuted. 
     Armed Turkish police last week stopped delivery lorries leaving a newspaper's offices to make sure that they had not included a section of the French satirical magazine that might be offensive to Muslims. Although officially Turkey is secular, 99.8 per cent of the population are registered as Muslim and there has been heated debate over freedom of expression in the wake of the Paris massacres. Now it appears the Turkish crackdown is extending not just to monitoring the media, but also to its readers.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan 

     Miss Buyuksarac, an educated young professional who works as an industrial designer and writer, was detained last month for sharing a satirical poem on her Instagram account, and has denied insulting the president. 

     The 26-year-old ended up in court in the Caglayan neighbourhood of the western city of Istanbul. 
Looking nervous and flanked by armed police, she told prosecutors that she 'may have quoted a poem' from the weekly humour magazine UykusuzBut she said she deleted it soon afterwards when one of her friends warned that such messages could result in a criminal procedure from Turkish officials.
     She said: 'I shared it because I found it funny. I had no intention to insult the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.' The Master's Poem, which was shared by Buyuksarac, satirically criticises Erdogan through verses adapted from the lyrics of Turkey's national anthem. The case is continuing and prosecutor Vedat Yigit demanded 'judicial control' for Buyuksarac before the next hearing, which obliges a suspect to regularly go to a police station to sign in. The judge, however, ruled to release Buyuksarac unconditionally, pending a date for the trial set to take place later in the year. 

     It came as a high school student who was jailed last month for allegedly insulting Turkey's leader was released from custody on Friday after his arrest caused uproar and intensified fears that Turkey was lurching toward more authoritarian rule under Erdogan.

     Turkey last week blocked access to the web pages of some online news portals for republishing the cover of the Charlie Hebdo magazine's latest issue that portrays the Prophet Mohammed, labelling it provocative. Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan also lashed out at cartoons featuring the Prophet, saying that targeting the sacred values of Muslims and publishing portrayals of the Prophet was an 'open provocation'.  

     (Buyuksarac represented Turkey at the 2006 Miss World pageant held in Warsaw, Poland)

Source: The Daily Mail, UK, February 25, 2015


Update on the bogus Lebanese-based pageant, Miss Universal Peace and Humanity

UPDATE: February 24, 2015. The Daily Star Lebanon published an article written by Mazin Sidahmed exposing Asra Shahid's husband, Dr. Mohammed Shahid Khan, as a fake goodwill ambassador who is not related with the United Nations Organization as he claims on his website. It also mentions Asra Shahid as the founder of a bogus pageant, Miss Universal Peace and Humanity, and mentions Critical Beauty as the pageant blog that "posted several complaints of potential candidates..." 

Read more.


Miss Universe Indonesia 2015 crowned

The new Miss Universe Indonesia 2015 (Puteri Indonesia 2015 is Anindya Kusuma Putri, 23, representing Jawa Tengah. She was crowned on February 20th at the Jakarta Convention Center. Assisting in her coronation was the current Miss Universe Paulina Vega. Anindya will represent Indonesia in the 2015 Miss Universe pageant whose date and venue have yet to be confirmed. 
The finalists were Chintya Fabyola of Kalimantan Barat who was named Miss International Indonesia 2015 and Gresya Amanda Maaliwuga of Sulawesi Utra who was named Miss Supranational Indonesia 2015. 


Miss Indonesia 2015 crowned

Photo courtesy: Miss World Ltd.

23-year-old Maria Harfanti,  Miss DI Yogyakarta, was crowned Miss Indonesia 2015 on February 16th in Jakarta. Harfanti was also the winner of the Beauty with a Purpose sub contest. Harfanti will compete in the 2015 Miss World pageant whose date and venue have not been confirmed.
Assisting in the coronation was outgoing Miss Indonesia 2014 Maria Rahajeng and Miss World 2014 Rolene Strauss who spent four days in Indonesia, taking part in a press conference alongside Miss World Chairman Julia Morley on Sunday as well as appearances on national television. 


Indonesia: Pageant contestant under fire for refusing to wear headscarf

A Miss Indonesia beauty contestant photo of Ratna Nurlia Alfiandini. (Ratna Nurlia Alfiandini’s Instagram page)

JAKARTA –- A contestant representing the devoutly Muslim Aceh province in the Miss Indonesia beauty pageant has been criticised for not wearing a headscarf, media reports said Monday. 
Ratna Nurlia Alfiandini's participation in the contest has not been approved by the Acehnese government, the Jawa Pos news website reported.
"We don't want the name of Aceh to be used by people who don't represent its values," provincial government spokesman Mahyuzar was quoted as saying.
"Aceh has no interest in a beauty contest and the like but since there is a contestant claiming to represent it, we have to make clear our stance so as not to create a polemic," said Mahyuzar, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province allowed to impose Islamic sharia law, as part of the central government's attempts to mollify desires for independence.
Jakarta signed a peace agreement with separatist rebels in 2005, ending decades of conflict that killed more than 15,000 people.
The Association of Pro-sharia Journalists of Aceh said Ms Alfiandini's participation in the pageant tarnished the image of the province, Jawa Pos said.
"Also we hear from the media that she is from Surabaya (in East Java province)," association chairman Muhammad Saman reportedly said.

Source: Bangkok Post, February 16, 2015


Amidst controversy, Mister International crowns a Filipino police officer

Touching moment: police officer Neil Perez of the Philippines gives a salute after winning the Mister International title. The salute is his gesture to honor  the 44 Filipino police officers who were killed last January 25th.

     Neil Perez (real name Mariano Flormata, Jr.), a 29-year-old police officer and a trained bomb and explosives technician from Manila, Philippines, won the 2014/2015 Mister International title at the Hotel Inter-Burgo Grand Ballroom in Ansan, Korea on February 14. He received his sash and trophy from the 2013 winner, José Anmer Paredes of Venezuela. Perez's victory marks his country's first win of the coveted male beauty pageant. His court includes 1st runner-up Rabih El Zein of Lebanon, 2nd runner-up Tomáš Dumbrovský of the Czech Republic, 3rd runner-up Rafał Maślak of Poland, and 4th runner-up Mitja Nadizar of Slovenia.

     Completing the top 10 were the delegates from Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Thailand. And completing the top 15 were the delegates from Colombia, Indonesia, Guam, Myanmar and Puerto Rico.

     Perez dedicated his victory to his fellow 44 Filipino police officers who were slain on January 25 in Mindanao during a search for a Malaysian terrorist, Zulkifli Abdhir who was eventually killed.

     The pageant sailed smoothly despite controversies that culminated in the withdrawal of fifteen countries that could not participate due to the fact that the date had been pushed out three times (October 2014, December 2014, February 2015), and that they were not reimbursed by the Korean organizing committee for the airfares that they had purchased for the original date. Read here for details on the controversy.




Ecuador director slams Mister International president Alan Sim & Korean director; defends Venezuelan director

On his Facebook page dated February 7, 2015, Oscar Leopold Espinoza accused Alan Sim, the president of the Mister International Organization (MIO), of being a thief, as well as incriminating Korea's national director (whom he did not name). He also defended Julio Matute Rodriguez, Venezuela's national director, whose franchise has been taken away by Sim after Rodriguez opted to expose the truth about what is happening in Sim's organization.

Here's a screeshot of Espinoza's tirade:

Here's my English translation:

"Who is this character in the world and especially in Latin America? It’s Julio Rodriguez Matute, from our brother country Venezuela, who really is the International Director for all Latinos. Now I wonder who would be foolish enough to quarrel with him; none of us Latino directors would do that, but there is a STUPID MAN IN ASIA, who did quarrel with him knowing that Julio is the one who mentors us and who advices us to which Asian events should we go with our candidates. That stupid man is the biggest thief; he assured us Latino directors that he would reimburse us for all the expenses caused by the other thief from South Korea, the director of Mister International South Korea; the expenses for the two flight changes that we had to make, and in other cases many lost their airfares and don't even have the resources to go to South Korea a to compete in the worst male pageant. After being the best male pageant in the world, it became the worst of Asia due to the lack of earnestness of its owner, Mr. Alan Sim, for whom the title of SIR is unsuitable because that title is only given to men who are well-behaved and who keep their promises. To my dear Latin American directors of the Mister International pageant, some of whom used to have the franchise and some still have it, let's unite to support our friend Julio Rodriguez Matute, whose Venezuelan franchise has been taken away just because he chose to tell the truth about what is happening in the Asian organization; they owe him money and they already told him that they will not reimburse him, just like they did to me and God knows to how many of you also.



     Meanwhile, Luis Trujillo, the director for Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, posted on his Facebook earlier today the following rant, though much milder than Espinoza's:

My translation:

"As many of you may already know, our candidates from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Haiti will not be taking part in the 9th edition of Mister International which is taking place in Seoul, Korea. Due to reasons beyond our control and the fault of the organizers in Korea, our 3 candidates, who are ready for the competition, have been forced - along with many other candidates - to skip this year's competition and must therefore remain in their countries. We wish the Mister International Organization the best n this edition and we wish to apologize to our candidates, their families, friends, fans and sponsors. We promise that we will be considering other options for our boys including a possible participation in the 10th edition of the pageant. We will analyze those options. The organizers in Korea have lost all our respect and we hope that 
the Mister International Organization will move out of Korea as soon as possible."

     A reliable source also notified me that Slovenia's delegate, Mitja Nadizar, arrived two days before the finals which is scheduled on February 12th, and that Sim's organization had paid for Nadizar's airfare. The organization also allegedly paid for the airfares of the candidates from Guam, Argentina, Poland and Puerto Rico - which alarmed other directors whose delegates were not given preferential treatment. I am sure this is just the beginning of a much larger story behind Sim's troubled organization and pageant, which considers itself to be the male version of Miss Universe.

By Rafa Delfin

***Update: Feb. 11, 2015, 6:05 AM (Boston time) - From Alan Sim's Facebook page: 

     A reader just e-mailed me and said that it was Mr. Slovenia's parents who paid for his airfare. Ahhhh... The advantages of blogging over print. You can always edit anytime! Sim might find this all amusing, but I doubt very much if he'll have the last laugh, especially how he enraged many national directors. And instead of original 60+ countries that were supposed to compete this year, the number drastically dropped to 29! No amount of bullshit excuse(s) can cover up Sim and his cohorts' fraudulent intentions.

***Update: Feb. 11, 2015, 8:37 PM (Boston time) 

     On his website, Belleza Venezolana, Venezuela's director Julio Matute Rodriguez posted an e-mail that Alan Sim had sent to all national directors in which Sim states that his organization will be "proceeding legal actions" against the Korean organizers for failing to fulfill their obligations, which included providing airline tickets to all directors. One wonders how Sim and his organization will be able to afford legal action since he is allegedly bankrupt.   

     Rodriguez explains that  out of the 31 candidates who withdrew, four never officially registered (Fiji, Guatemala, Portugal and Tonga), while four others failed to arrive due to visa problems (Cambodia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria). Seven candidates withdrew because of the numerous date changes of the pageant (New Zealand, Switzerland, Vietnam, Germany, Peru, Macau and Latvia), and thirteen did not arrive in Seoul because they had never received their airline tickets as promised to them by the Korean organizers since September 26th last year. The countries affected by the missing tickets were Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Spain, France, Haiti, Honduras, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela. The delegates from Slovenia and Puerto Rico, who also had ticket problems. arrived in Korea barely two days ago because they had decided to buy new airline tickets at the last minute.

     Argentina's delegate, Daniel Cajiao, who had arrived in Seoul over a week ago, decided to withdrew officially from the competition last Monday. Meanwhile, Belgium's Fabio Ronti declined to compete for health reasons, and the U.S. representative Andrew Caban did not arrive either for unknown reasons.

     Directors and delegates express their anger, frustration and disappointment. Chile's national director, Felipe Toledo Gaete, outlined his complaints: repeated breaches in the committed dates for the arrival, finals and departure of Mr. Chile 2014; lack of information and itinerary; failure to provide airline tickets due to constant date changes on the part of the Mister Korea organization; failure to fulfill the contract which stipulates that the candidates would be lodged in 5-star hotels, would be taken to a city tour, be given gym privileges, and be provided with meals paid by the Mister International organization; lack of veracity in the information sent to all national directors; distrust towards the Mister Korea organization as far as providing basic hospitality towards Mr. Chile.

     Mr. Netherlands, Michael Glenn, posted the following status on his Facebook page, accusing the organizers of lying to him:

     Costa Rica's national director, Enrique Gonzalez, on his Facebook page, wrote:

     My translation : "Number of countries duped by Mister International, were charged with franchise fees, and who had their airline tickets - lost the tickets - because of the dirty trick that the director (Sim) played on a number of friends from other countries. It's sad how Mr. Alan Sim dropped his pageant and made enemies with many individuals who supported him, including Costa Rica!"

     And earlier today, he posted that Alan Sim is playing Russian roulette and believes that Sim's pageant is on the brink of falling apart, despite Sim's latest announcement that "the Mister Singapore Organization is now officially known as Mister International Organization!". Gonzalez refutes Alan Sim's claim that Mister International organization is not responsible for the contestants' airline tickets.

***Update: Feb. 13, 2015, 11:12 PM (Boston time) 

     The finals of the Mister International 2014 pageant, which was supposedly to have taken place yesterday, February 12, has now been moved to Saturday, February 14. This umpteenth change in dates has inconvenienced several individuals including China's national director, Adam Lee, who is pissed because he had already bought his departure ticket for the 14th. He posted the following on his Facebook page early today:

     Meanwhile, Ecuador's national director, Oscar Leopold Espinoza, deleted his February 7th posting in which he accused MIO president Alan Sim of being a thief and defended Venezuela's director, Julio Matute Rodriguez, whose franchise had been taken away by Sim after Rodriguez chose to tell the ugly truth about the organization. Why the deletion of the posting? Maybe because Espinoza's candidate, Eli Lopez Zamora, is allegedly one of the "favorites" for the title.

***Update: Feb. 21, 2015, 11:12 PM (Boston time) 

      The mentor/coach for Misters Australia and New Zealand, Tito Schmidt Stowers, sent me a copy of an e-mail that he had just sent to MIO accusing the organization of failing to provide reimbursement to his candidates. Judge for yourself:


Miss Universe says yes, she's willing to assist FARC peace talks in Colombia

Miss Universe 2015, Colombian beauty Paulina Vega, says that she is in the ready to help out in whichever way she can to foster peace in her home country.
In a statement to Fox News Latino, Vega responded to an invitation posted over the weekend by the FARC peace delegation headquartered in Havana, Cuba.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are a guerilla organization involved in a continuing armed conflict since 1964.
"We have read with interest your desire to contribute with your good works to reaching peace," the online statement read. "We salute your willingness to travel to Havana, and we invite you to … visit to update you about the development of the peace talks, the progress and the enormous contribution that you and the majorities who desire peace can make."
Vega's representatives told Fox News Latino that they were not certain about whether or not any such visit by Vega, 22, would be permitted by the pageant’s guidelines for a reigning Miss Universe. 
However, she is very much willing to lend a hand to her country.
"I remain ready and willing to assist in any and all areas that will help promote further peace, stability and progress," Vega said in her emailed statement to FNL.
“The security of my country and peace within our borders remains a very big concern for me, my family, and all Colombians," she added. 
"Throughout my year as Miss Universe, I will travel the globe and I plan to act as an ambassador for my country, promoting Colombian culture and all of the opportunities that it has to offer," the statement read. 
"That said, the main representative of Colombia is President Santos. If he and the Colombian government think I can be of any help, I remain ready." 
The negotiations began late in 2012 and have yet to see a major breakthrough.

Source: Fox News Latino, February 9, 2015


Puerto Rico wins Supermodel International 2014/2015

Stephanie Cruz of Puerto Rico (center), was crowned Supermodel International 2014/2015 on January 31, 2015.The 4th annual competition was held at the Hilton Convention Center of Grand Hilton Seoul in Seoul, Korea. Throughout the two-hour event, models from nearly 30 countries around the world competed in various categories, including swimsuit and evening gown. The other finalists include the delegates from Vietnam (1st runner-up), Colombia (2nd runner-up), Finland (3rd runner-up), and Korea (4th runner-up).
The pageant originally started in 2011 in Bangkok as Supermodel of Asia Pacific but became international in 2012. During its debut in 2011, it had 33 entries and peaked to 38 in 2012. In 2013, the number of entries dipped to 25 but increased to 28 in the latest edition. The contest is owned and produced by Pradit Pradinunt, the managing director of PDN Co., LTD.

 Photo credit: Pradit Pradinunt Facebook Page


Colombia is crowned the 63rd Miss Universe / Review of the Telecast

Photo Credit: Miss Universe Organization

     Paulina Vega, a 22-year-old model from Barranquilla, Colombia, was crowned the 63rd Miss Universe at FIU Arena in Doral, Florida on Sunday, January 25, 2015. Vega's victory marks the second time Colombia has won the coveted title, and it is long overdue since Luz Marina Zuluaga's victory in 1958. Vega was crowned by the 2013 winner from Venezuela, Gabriela IslerVega's court includes 1st runner-up Nia Sanchez of USA, 2nd runner-up Diana Harkusha of the Ukraine, 3rd runner-up Yasmin Verheijen of the Netherlands, and 4th runner-up Kaci Fennell of Jamaica.

     Making the top 10 were Valentina Ferrer of Argentina, Tegan Martin of Australia, Mary Jean Lastimosa of the Philippines, Desiré Cordero of Spain, and Migbellis Castellanos of Venezuela. Completing the top 15 were Melissa Gurgel of Brazil, Camille Cerf of France, Noyonita Lodh of India, Elvira Devinamira of Indonesia, and Valentina Bonariva of Italy.

     The Miss Congeniality award was won by Queen Celestine of Nigeria. The Miss Photogenic award was won by Gabriela Berrios of Puerto Rico. And Twitter users voted Indonesia's costume as the Best National Costume for her magnificent 40-pound outfit inspired by the ancient Buddhist structure, Borobudur.

     Even though the pageant took place in 2015, the winner is officially designated as "Miss Universe 2014." The Miss Universe Organization (MUO) officials, by downplaying the fact that the pageant has skipped a year of production, opted to promote the latest pageant as the "63rd edition of Miss Universe." 

The Top 5 finalists from left to right: Paulina Vega, Kaci Fennell, Diana Harkusha, Yasmin Verheijen, and Nia Sanchez, Photo credit: MUO

The judging panel consisted of ten celebrities from various industries:

  • Kristin Cavallari – American actress, TV personality, fashion designer
  • William Levy – Cuban American model and actor, previously named People en Español’s Sexiest Man Alive
  • Manny Pacquiao – Filipino world champion professional boxer, Fighter of the Decade
  • Louise Roe – English TV presenter, fashion journalist, host of MTV International's “Plain Jane”, STAR World Asia's "Fit for Fashion"
  • Lisa Vanderpump – Reality star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
  • Emilio Estefan – musician and producer
  • DeSean Jackson – Washington Redskins wide receiver
  • Nina Garcia – Creative Director of Marie Claire Magazine, Project Runway judge, and fashion industry expert
  • Rob Dyrdek – Entrepreneur
  • Giancarlo Stanton – Miami Marlins right fielder

     This is the third time since 2012 that the number of judges has been even (10), which makes me wonder who breaks the tie if there ever was one. This is also the second time that Lisa Vanderpump has judged the pageant since 2012. Eighty-eight countries were represented this year, even though seven more had originally signed up but ended up withdrawing, notably Vietnam and Denmark. Nine countries returned, including perennial favorites Kosovo and Albania, but neither country placed this time.

Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell during the question and answer phase. Photo credit: Miss Universe Organizaation)
     Okay, let's cut through the chase and let me tell you what I like and I did not like about the telecast. 

     What I like:

- The opening featuring all 88 contestants introducing themselves in their national costumes. I always look forward to this segment every year, and to me it is what truly makes Miss Universe a pageant in the theatrical sense of the word. Critics can say whatever they want, even questioning the national/cultural authenticity of each costume, or even joke about how ridiculous or crazy such and such costume is, but by critiquing too much they are missing out on the entertainment value. 

- The generous airtime provided to the city of Doral (I think most of us didn't know where it was before MUO chose it as the host city) and to the venue, Florida International University (FIU Arena). Damn those FIU professors for accusing Miss Universe of objectifying women and promoting sexual harassment: instead of deriding the pageant, they should be loudly protesting honor-killings, acid throwings, and female genital mutilations (FGMs) in countries governed by the barbaric Islamic Sharia Law and savage patriarchal misogynistic customs. I'm sure these "academicians" will be retracting their views when their class enrollments double after the school's huge global exposure.

Miss Colombia Paulina Vega, the eventual winner of the contest, Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell, and Miss Ukraine Diana Harkusha, who finished third, are seen with headphones during a question phase. (Andrew Innerarity/Reuters)

- It's refreshing to see a non-traditional beauty, Kaci Fennell of Jamaica, make the top 5. Yes, she has short hair which made her stand out. Yes, she has the most flawless skin and the most graceful walk, which made her look regal. And yes, she gave the best answer to the final question, which proves that she is a good listener. And the fact that the public booed her 4th-runner-up placement suggests that she is well-loved by the public. But people are forgetting that Miss Universe is also an enterprise, a business organization supported by sponsors who will want to work with a young woman who will promote/sell their product(s) and generate more money. Unfortunately, as much as Miss Jamaica is loved by the public, the judges/MUO believe that her look is just not "marketable" enough - at least not to the huge Latino market obsessed with beauty products designed and manufactured for consumers with long hair. Being cute and sassy just doesn't cut it. 

- It is equally refreshing to see an exotic beauty, Yasmin Verheijen of the Netherlands, make the top 5! The first time I saw Yasmin in person was at the Press Junket a few days ago, and I was immediately blown away by her charisma, her unique look, and her strong presence. Even though I hadn't predicted her to be in the final five, I am glad she proved me wrong. Her flirtatious and sexy projection during the swimsuit segment (when she was doing some hand signal to the audience and cajoling them to cheer for her) was definitely one of the best swimsuit performances of all time!

- Miss Indonesia Elvira Devinamira advancing to the top 15 and being the only contestant to place and win a special award at the same time.

- It's very seldom for Miss Universe to gather former titleholders, so it was quite exciting to see many of them appear in cameos briefly sharing how winning has changed their lives. 

- Pop star Nick Jonas singing his hit song "Jealousy" during the evening gown competition and then gets off the stage and approaches and sings to his girlfriend, ex-Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, who was sitting in the front row. A sweet and tender moment.

- A video clip of Gabriela Isler sharing how her visit to the Philippines to reach out to the victims of typhoon Yolanda has changed her life.

- Color commentator Jeannie Mai intercepting a happy Miss Australia and Miss USA on the backstage after they had just been called to the top 10 and Miss USA doing a taekwondo pose:

- Co-host Thomas Roberts videobombing Jeannie Mai's interview with Miss Australia and Miss USA while Jeannie scolds Thomas for stealing the light from her (too funny!):

     What I didn't like:

- Announcing Colombia's Paulina Vega as the new Miss Universe first before announcing USA's Nia Sanchez as the first runner-up. Stop doing this, MUO! You're depriving the first runner-up some precious TV air time and you're diminishing the surprise element that many of us pageant fans have become accustomed to. Sheesh.

- The shocking exclusion of heavy favorite Desiré Cordero of Spain from the top 5. What went wrong? One judge must have really disliked Spain that it was enough to bring her down. 

- There was new twist regarding the Q & A segment of the competition. Each of the five finalists had to respond to two sets of questions: first, a question asked by a judge and picked out of a bowl. Nothing unusual about that, but what annoyed me was that the questions were asked by foreign-born judges whose accents were barely understandable, or who articulated poorly (yeah, I'm talking to you, Manny Pacquiao and Emilio Estefan.)  If a judge's accent was not bad enough, the terrible audio in the arena also made the question hard to understand. The execution of this phase felt awkward, as each finalist struggled with her response. Actually, none of them came close to even answering their respective question. When Pacquiao asked Miss USA the question, "If you were given 30 seconds to give a message to the global terrorists, what would you say?" - Sanchez responded by saying that she would do her best by spreading "a message of hope, love, and peace". As soon as I heard her response, I nearly spewed my glass of lemon water on my keyboard! LOL. I can't blame Nia, though, or any contestant for that matter. Each finalist had only 30 seconds to respond, and it is simply not possible to give - much less elaborate - a substantial response in just 30 seconds. So to avoid controversy (note that Pacquiao said "global terrorists" and not "Islamic global terrorists" (even though virtually every terrorist act is committed by Islamic jihadists.) Don't you just love pageants when they try to be controversial yet politically correct at the same time? Ha! But when you ask a politically correct quesiton, expect a politically correct answer. Watch the individual questions on YouTube and you be the judge:


     Next time, MUO, please, please, please just have the questions read by the co-hosts themselves! You're wasting precious airtime by having these foreign judges repeat the questions while annoying music is playing in the background. Enough already.

      Second, all five finalists had to answer the same question that had been submitted by a Twitter user: "What is the greatest contribution of your country to the entire world?" Though it was admirable of MUO to engage online users by allowing them to submit questions, the question itself proved disadvantageous to contestants from countries that have not yet contributed anything "great" to the world. Nevertheless, based on their responses, Colombia gave the worst response; not only was she rambling, but her response did not make any sense - even with the help of the interpreter. She says, "I believe that my country has been an example to be followed by the rest of the countries.We are a persevering people, no matter what obstacle we have on our way and we continue fighting for that which we want to accomplish,  not withstanding many difficulties that we have gone through. Today, we are world leaders in many different matters. And I am quite proud to represent it before all of you."  Really? She could have talked about her country's rich cultural heritage or exceptional biodiversity and landscapes or Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, but no, Instead, she gave a totally canned response, which makes you wonder if she is even culturally or historically literate.

     Miss Ukraine's response was equally senseless and bizarre. Through an interpreter, she says, "We have a very difficult situation in our country. And right now the very most important contribution is to direct all our energies to support our army and our people. We have to restore schools, we have to restore kindergartens and orphanages." Clearly, her answer was a subtle (and yes, politically correct) commentary on the Russian incursion into her country (she must have been ecstatic that Miss Russia - even with her $100,000 Elie Saab gown - failed to make the cut). But still, she could have at least mentioned the great medical and scientific contributions of her country to the entire world (and there are many!).

     Miss USA's response was slightly better, though rather vague: "I’m very proud to live in the USA, and am honored to represent it. We have a wonderful influence on the world, and we can always help other countries if they need our help, and we can give back as much as we can."  She gave a safe answer by not specifying what kind of "wonderful influence" her country has brought to the world, yet mentions her country's strong tradition of generosity and kindness.

     Miss Netherlands' response was more specific, but poorly delivered: "I’m born and raised in Amsterdam, and Amsterdam is one of the most tolerant cities of the world...  a lot of art and history, and I’m very proud of that."

     But Miss Jamaica's answer topped the others with specifics and great delivery: "We have the home to the legendary Usain Bolt, Bob Marley, who [has] contributed such great music to this world. And we have the fastest man who has been trailblazing the Jamaican flag."  (heavy applause from the audience)

     Watch the video and judge for yourself:

     Based on each contestant's response, it seems that Miss Jamaica delivered the best one. No wonder her supporters booed her (unjust) fourth runner-up placement. If the selection of the winner were going to be based on the quality of each response, then Jamaica should have won, followed by Netherlands, USA, Ukraine and Colombia. Eventually, Jamaica had the time of her life - and the love and affection of the other delegates who congratulated her!

Photo credit: Miss Universe Organization

- I really don't pay much attention to musical entertainers invited to perform during the telecast, but I have to say that Prince Royce's performance during the swimsuit segment has been one of the most pathetic performances I've seen. It's bad enough that his lip-synching was obvious, but that machismo vibe that he was trying to project was anything but macho. Girl... please...

- Many fans are complaining that no black girl made the cut this year. Even though Miss Jamaica is part-black, she is just not black enough, some would say, Many see the 63rd edition as a repeat of the 2002 pageant where stunning black girls were eliminated and none advanced to the finals. And many more would claim that Miss Universe is a racist pageant. Obviously, this claim is not only absurd but it is also baseless, since Miss Universe has crowned black beauties before. Though I must say that I share the sentiment of these fans regarding the exclusion of black girls, particularly Miss Guyana Niketa Barker who, to me, is the most beautiful black girl this year. Neither can one deny the sultry and chiseled features of Miss Gabon Maggaly Nguema who was 2nd runner-up in Miss Supranational 2014. No one knows exactly how these two beauties did during the interviews with the judges, but both of them certainly made a good impression on me during the Press Junket and the preliminaries.

 - A three-hour show was not necessary. Overall, the pace felt tedious, made worse by the lengthy Q & A segment and the dull performances by the musical guests (except Nick Jonas).

- Scheduling the pageant in winter in the United States! As I write this review two days after the pageant, I am still stuck in Miami because my return flight to Boston has been cancelled due to the blizzard in the Northeast region, which means incurring extra expenses for extended hotel stay, food, and transportation. But I can't complain. Covering the pageant for Critical Beauty has been both exciting and rewarding.

     And here she is... the new Miss Universe with the new crown. According to MUO: "The new crown was designed to blend the Czech roots of D.I.C. with the beautiful skyline of New York City, home of the Miss Universe Organization and its titleholders. Craftsmen spent over 3,000 hours to create this beautiful and timeless crown with a very unique infrastructure, inspired by design elements of various royal crowns throughout history. The crown symbolizes and expresses the beauty, stability, confidence and power of women around the world."

After a remarkable reign by Gabriela Isler, Paulina Vega has big shoes to fill. 
Photo credit: Miss Universe Organization

     Many fans have expressed on social media that they hate the new crown, that it looks cheap and plastic and heavy and that it is not elegant enough. But aren't these remarks similar to those made regarding the past crowns? Eventually, we learned to accept and appreciate every one of them. The new one should not be an exception. And the winner? She is not everyone's cup of tea, but surely many of us would love a good cup of Colombian coffee once in a while.

By Rafa Delfin, January 27, 2015


Review of the Press Junket & Preliminary Show of Miss Universe 2014/2015 pageant


     Last January 19th,  I attended the Press Junket of the 63rd edition of Miss Universe pageant (a/k/a Miss Universe 2014, even though it's being held in January 2015) that took place at the Crowne Plaza Miami International Airport Hotel in Doral, Florida. It was a chance for members of the media (print, digital, television, radio, etc.) to interview the 88 contestants who have come from four corners of the earth to compete in the most coveted beauty pageant title in the world. I wish to thank the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) for inviting Critical Beauty to cover the event. My plane had just landed at Miami International Airport at 2:30 PM and the event was supposed to start at 3:30 PM. I took the airport shuttle which brought me directly to the hotel. When I arrived at the hotel at around 3:15, there was already a long line of media people waiting to get into the ballroom to interview the girls. Moments later, I found myself with media heavyweights like NBC, Telemundo, Teletica, Caracol, GMA Network, and Primera Hora which is represented by my dear friend, Héctor Joaquín Colón-González. While the heavyweights were well-equipped with massive videocams, tripods, microphones and well-coiffed attractive female interviewers, I came with my new Panasonic Lumix camera, my three-year-old iPad, and my two little digital cameras. 

     Finally, I made it to the ballroom. I had thought that we would get to interview 12 to 15 delegates face to face as it had been originally arranged, and that there would be chairs and tables everywhere where we could sit comfortably with each delegate and ask her several questions, similar to the set-up from the 2010 pageant in Las Vegas. However, because of the huge number of media outlets this time, the event became a  round-robin type of interview consisting of several one-on-one interviews, panels or a combination of both. See photo below:

Miss Italy Valentina Bonariva poses for the camera

     Before coming to Doral, I had prepared specific list of questions that I wanted to ask 15 countries that I had previously selected, and that I was hoping to interview each delegate in a more relaxed setting, but alas, it didn't happen the way I would have wanted to. An MUO staff led me to my spot. There was barely enough space between media outlets which bothered me, especially when you're next to a major Spanish-language TV station. Then one by one, the contestants walked in. Any media outlet could just call out any delegate they wanted to interview, followed by photo ops. Some of these media outlets, I swear to God, have little concept of time-sharing as they ended up monopolizing much of the interview time allotted for each girl. Actually, there was really no time limit given to each media outlet; they could interview any girl as long as they wanted, and this is what made the press junket a little unpleasant. One media outlet in particular interviewed Miss Philippines for nearly 20 minutes. Several outlets interviewed Miss Venezuela for an average time of 15 minutes or so. I'm sure Miss Venezuela was getting tired of responding to the same questions, as well as the other girls in her situation. But if you're a beauty queen, you should be prepared to answer any type of question thrown in by the interviewer, and it doesn't matter if it's repetitive, annoying or personal. 

     So instead of waiting for any of the 15 countries on my list to walk in, I did what most everybody else was doing  - yell the name of the country (India! Colombia! Belgium! Bahamas! Mexico! Turkey! Ecuador! etc.) and as soon as its representative caught my attention, I just coaxed her to say a simple greeting to her countrymen or to readers of Critical Beauty. To members of the Critical Beauty Fan Page who were nice enough to submit interview questions to me, I apologize for not having had any chance to ask any of them. Everything felt rush and uneasy. Instead, I just took endless photos of the girls. I took photos of them posing for others. I recorded videos of them being interviewed by other outlets. Yes, I was a parasite. LOL. But this critical parasite came up with some of the most interesting photos taken (you can view them at the Critical Beauty Facebook Page). 

     Every year, we pageant fans love making our own list of favorites even before watching the preliminaries. Sometimes, we base our list even without having yet seen any of the contestants in person. So we mostly rely on still photographs, videos, or social network commentaries to help us assess each candidate. People are asking me if my list of favorites has changed now that I have seen most of the contestants in person. I say most because there were several countries that were missing at the Press Junket like Lebanon, South Africa, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, Slovak Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia, St. Lucia,Turks & Caicos, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Uruguay, Nicaragua, New Zealand (I honestly do not know the reason for their absence). So to be fair to these countries missing from the Press Junket and to other countries who were present but whose presence I missed (Germany, Guam, Guyana, Angola, Slovak Republic, Kosovo, Kenya, Tanzania), I will suspend my judgment until after the preliminary show.

So who impressed me at the Press Junket? In random order:

Turkey - for such a tender young age of 19, Dilan Çiçek Deniz impressed me with her natural beauty, eloquence and warmth. I just wanted to hug her like a daughter I never had. :)

Spain -She is currently my favorite to win the title. Desiré Cordero is undeniably gorgeous!

Netherlands - Tall, exotic, and vivacious, Yasmin Verheijen is in for the win!

Philippines - What can I say? Mary Jean Lastimosa exudes warmth and poise and a million-dollar smile! If looks could kill! But the girl is short. She was wearing 6-inch heels with 2-inch platforms, without which she would probably be around 5'4" in stocking feet.

India - Noyonita Lodh's beauty is rare as black gold. She's just as short as Mary Jean, but she is so full of charisma and energy! India is back in the game!

Mexico - Josselyn Garciglia wasn't on my original list, but with her Audrey Hepburn look at the event, she automatically got my attention (and Audrey is one of my favorite beauty icons of all time!)

Argentina - Valentina Ferrer probably stayed the longest in the ballroom, grabbing every opportunity to be interviewed. For that, I give her high points for her boldness! And she has the most incredible physique!

Serbia - Andjelka Tomašević is simply stunning! I didn't see any flaws whatsoever! I love that she wore her hair straight and made her look slightly taller.

Trinidad & Tobago - Jevon King is the ebony queen of the pageant! Tall, graceful, and exquisite!

Jamaica - Kaci Fennell is perhaps the most polished and the most recognizable candidate this year. She also has the most flawless skin! To me, she is the best candidate from the Caribbean.

Ukraine - If I had to choose the girl that resembles the Barbie doll the most, it has to be Diana Harkusha! She was wearing a ponytail and she would pull it playfully sometimes for the pictures!

Venezuela - Say what you want about Migbelis Castellanos, her hideous attire (a poor imitation of Chanel jacket and a purple mumu dress), or her "voluptuous" (a/k/a "fat") physique, but I found myself mesmerized by that undeniably gorgeous face!

Ecuador - Alejandra Argudo could very well be her country's first Miss Universe! This young woman is stunning, articulate, energetic, friendly and stylish.

Singapore - Rathi Menon is not pageant material, but she is definitely a modeling material! She was the best-dressed and the most entertaining girl at the event. She even managed to show me her amazing catwalk! 

Puerto Rico - Gabriela Berrios has the most beautiful eyes and the sexiest legs! This girl could easily win her country's sixth Miss Universe crown!

And now the disappoinments from the Press Junket. These girls are some of the favorites to crack the top 15, but I'm not sure anymore:

Russia - Yulia Alipova is tall and has a great posture, but she looks like a vampire with a bit of color.

Australia - Tegan Martin looks pretty from a distance, but up close is a different story.

Colombia - I don't understand the hype about Paulina Vega. To me, she came across as strange, with all that hair-tossing and over-the-top posing. Not my cup of tea.

France - Like Colombia, Camille Cerf only looks good from a distance or in photoshopped images, but up close her beauty is ordinary.

So there you have it. My impressions on the Press Junket.

And now the preliminary show!

     The prelims were held yesterday, January 20th, at FIU Arena. But before I give my impressions, allow me to gripe about getting to the venue. Who knew that there is both an FIU Stadium and an FIU Arena. The former is an outdoor football stadium and the latter is an indoor basketball stadium. It is easy to find the former as there are signs everywhere and the structure itself is obvious. But the latter one is not. My Uber driver had to stop and ask me to Google-Map the correct address, but it was not coming up on my iPhone GPS. So we ended up going in circles. We saw a golf-cart load of athletes and asked them to direct us to the arena, which we finally found!  It was already about 1:30 PM. Hector Joaquin was already inside the arena and was waiting for me. MUO had sent an e-mail to the media stating that a press center would be set up. Since HJ and I were both starving, we asked a friendly female student to direct us to the nearest eatery, so she led us to a food court on the campus itself. 

     After a late lunch, we headed back to the arena, and the MUO staff notified us again that the press center was not yet ready. Instead of waiting for the set-up, HJ and I just grabbed a couple of folding chairs and set up our own press center on the second floor, just around the corner near the elevators used by the production crew. It was already 3:45 PM, almost 3 hours before the prelims. I started writing my review on the Press Junket, but I could not finish it because we were being told that all members of the press had to officially check in at the lobby, which took almost an hour. As soon as HJ and I got our VIP/Media seats located on the left side facing the stage, we just started taking photos and videos. A pair of Thai fans showed up wearing traditional Thai costumes. Several Filipino men showed up wearing the barong. As usual, you had  eccentric and flamboyant individuals fluttering from one place to another wanting to get attention. And of course, the most passionate pageant fans from the Philippines, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico came bearing their country's flags. As usual, the Latin fans are the most boisterous; they can cheer and boo as much as they want to their hearts' content. On the other hand, the Filipino fans - even if they are the most brutal online - are the most behaved in public. 

     Now I know why some pageant fans would rather watch the pageant (prelims or finals) at home in the comfort of their living room and on giant flat screen TV. Why? Because you can see the girls up close and the cameras pick up the right angles. But if you were watching the show in the arena from your seat, you get a totally different perspective. Oh, and another thing... there were no big flat screens in the arena, which prevented us from seeing a close-up of the girls' faces and attire. However, what televiewers are missing is the incredible amount of energy permeating in the arena, and of course, the thrill of being in the same room with passionate and highly enthusiastic pageant fans.

     Okay, so let's cut through the chase and let's talk about the girls that continue to impress me after the preliminaries. In random order:

France - Yes, Camille Cerf had the personality of a jellyfish at the Press Junket, but on stage she was anything but flat! She was styled to perfection, from head to toe. And that simple yet elegant white gown simply enhanced her already perfect look.

Ukraine - Diana Harkusha's performance and looks have been very consistent, and I want her to crack the top 15.

Ecuador - Alejandra Argudo remains consistent throughout the competition. She could certainly equal or surpass her compatriot Constanza Baez's second runner-up position in 2013.

Philippines - Mary Jean Lastimosa's most powerful weapon is her captivating nature! She captivates the audience with those swaying hips, that effervescent smile, and those amazing curves!

India - Love her or hate her, but Noyonita Lodh delivered to the hype! So what if she's petite? At the prelims, she was giving a Celina Jaitley vibe - full of energy and phenomenal stage presence! 

Jamaica - If singer Alicia Keys and legendary icon Josephine Baker had a daughter, she would look like Kaci Fennell! Kaci is just the epitome of grace, coolness, and sensuality that is rare among beauty queens. 

Mexico - Josselyn Garciglia's impeccable styling and aristocratic bearing, coupled with a beautiful gown and sultry catwalk, makes her a shoo-in for a top 15 position.

Puerto Rico - Gabriela Berrios, in my opinion, is the best delegate from her country since Mayra Matos in 2009. She is a fierce competitor and I would be shocked if she didn't make the top 15.

Argentina - Valentina Ferrer is the best representative from her country in a very long time. She is one hot, amazing young woman with an incredible physique and stage presence.

SpainDesiré Cordero is the girl to beat! She would make an excellent Miss Universe.

***Girls that did not impress me at the Press Junket and/or that I missed at the Press Junket but impressed me at the prelims:

Dominican Republic - Some people ridicule Kimberly Castillo's nose job, but it's really not that bad. LOL.  She looked and presented herself like a true beauty queen on stage. I wouldn't be surprised if she entered the top 15.

Thailand - Pimbongkod Chankaew. Her name is forgettable, but certainly not her performance at the prelims! This young woman did her homework. She simply beamed on stage with her radiant aura and exquisite movement.

Guyana - Niketa Barker is the best representative from her country. And the stunning green gown just complimented her gorgeous ebony skin and face! Could the crown not be too far from her reach?

Russia - Although she looked like a vampire with a little bit of color during the Press Junket, Yulia Alipova looked like a billion rubles in her stunning red dress and perfect pulled back coiffure. 

Indonesia - Elvira Devinamira wore a stunning and expensive-looking gown during the Press Junket, which was over the top and inappropriate for the informal occasion. She also seemed aloof. But at the prelims, her inner fierceness just exploded on stage in her exquisite gown and dazzling catwalk.

Colombia - Paulina Vega projected herself on stage like a true beauty queen, and now I see the hype about her. She's in it to win it!

Kenya - Forget that she resembles actress Lupita Nyongo. Lupita doesn't have Gaylyne Ayugi's spunky personality and fierce catwalk. Gaylyne could very well be the first delegate from her country to make the semis.

Kazakhstan - If Aiday Issayeva were wearing a Philippines or Thailand sash, she would get unlimited amount of attention, but unfortunately she's not because her country is not yet a pageant powerhouse. But if you took away her sash and just focused on her performance at the prelims, you would perhaps contend that she's in the same league as Miss Philippines or Miss Thailand. An amazing body, a sexy catwalk, and a flawless face - all traits of a real beauty queen.

***Girls that impressed me at the Press Junket but disappointed me after the prelims:

USA - I loved Nia Sanchez when she competed in Miss USA. But at the Miss Universe prelims, I felt that she has lost that spark that made her win Miss USA. Her red Michael Costello gown is to die for and it fit her like a glove, but I just don't see her making the top 5. Though I could be wrong.

Trinidad & Tobago - I was expecting more from Jevon King. This young woman wowed me at the Press Junket with her eye-catching outfit and regal demeanor, but that white gown she wore at the prelims did not compliment her lovely figure at all. She looked like she was wearing a silk bed sheet. Poor choice for a gown.

Venezuela - Migbellis Castellanos's saving grace is her undeniably beautiful face and the huge support that she receives from the huge Venezuelan population in Doralzuela, er, Doral. But the girl also has the worst physique among the favorite contestants. 

     So who do I think could be the 63rd Miss Universe? Only 15 semifinalists will be chosen this year to advance to the final round, but this year has become even more competitive than last year;  so instead of top 15, we're going to have a Top 20 Critical Beauty favorites, regardless whether or not they performed well during the preliminaries. Please also consider that we don't know how each contestant did during the one-on-one interviews with the preliminary judges, which leaves room for either elimination or advancement.

The Top 20 CB favorites for the 63rd edition of Miss Universe (in random order)





If you missed the live streaming of the preliminary show, you can watch it on YouTube:

By Rafa Delfin / Photo credit: Miss Universe Organization