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Miss Universe 2009

Venezuela wins sixth crown
and becomes the first country to win in consecutive years

STEFANIA FERNANDEZ, an 18-year old brunette was crowned as the new Miss Universe at the Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, in the Bahamas on Sunday night, August 23rd. Fernandez's victory marks the first time in the 58-year history of the pageant that a country has won its second consecutive crown and its sixth title in the beauty pageant. Only the United States has won more Miss Universe titles with seven. Fernandez was crowned by her compatriot Dayana Mendoza. The first runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic, Ada Aimee de la Cruz, the second runner-up was Miss Kosovo Gona Dragusha, the third runner-up was Miss Australia Rachael Finch, and the fourth runner-up is Miss Puerto Rico Mayra Matos Perez. The remaining top fifteen included the representatives from Iceland, Albania, Czech Republic, Belgium, Sweden, France, Switzerland, South Africa, USA and Croatia. Special awards were given to Chutima Durongdej of Thailand as Miss Photogenic and to Jingyao Wang of China as Miss Congeniality. Miss Turks & Caicos Jewel Selver withdrew from the competition the day before the finals, bringing down the total number of contestants to 83. 

     From a scale of 1 - 10, I give the production a solid 6. All this behind-the-scene talk about how great the production was going to be - proved to be exaggerated because what I saw was essentially similar in script and scenario of the productions of the last eight years. I understand the writers' objective to make the pageant relevant to modern times, but continuous attempts to glamourize the pageant - this time, by featuring talentless born-again-Christian-Britney-Spears-wannabe-reality-show-bimbette Heidi Montag and take-away-all-the-attention-for-a-few-minutes-from-Beyoncé ex-BFF Kelly Rowland who did her so-so spiel with I've-never-heard-of-this-nerdy-French-DJ David Guetta. It didn't help either to invite a rap artist like Flo Rida right-rounding the belles in their swimsuit. Rap music - which is one of the reasons for the dumbing down of American youth - has no place in a beauty pageant that seeks to promote excellence and sophistication. I miss those yesteryears when the girls performed in grand song and dance numbers and where the semifinalists were serenaded by world-class entertainers who could harmonize and enunciate clearly. Now, entertainment is provided by mediocre artists who can't tell the difference between a noun and an adjective. 

     Unlike her predecessor Dayana Mendoza whose victory was expected, Stefania's victory came as a big shock to many pageant fans, including myself. Virtually all my pageant friends expressed the same sentiment when Venezuela's name was called as the winner. The scores for the evening competition reveal that Venezuela was in fifth place with an 8.869 with the Dominican Republic as the leader with a 9.428. In the swimsuit round, Australia placed first with a 9.264, followed by the Dominican Republic with a 9.189, whereas Venezuela ranked fourth with an 8.760. The consensus among pageant fans - based on their comments on various message boards - is that Venezuela should have placed fifth; some claim that her finalist spot should have been given to France's Chloé Mortaud who was dazzling in her metalic silver gown. 

     In the swimsuit competition, the judges were not too kind to four Europeans who scored the lowest: Belgium (7.870), Sweden (7.830), Croatia (7.811) and Iceland (7.730). If my eyes don't deceive me, I swear that these four women look voluptuous, big-boned and healthy, compared to Dominican Republic (9.189), Kosovo (8.790), France (8.640) and Puerto Rico (8.533) who are runway slender. The preliminary judges must have preferred the Europeans' body type to advance them to the semifinal round, but that a different panel of judges (during the telecast) seem to have preferred the skinnier ones. In 2000, André Leon Talley judged the pageant and he gave Miss Spain and Miss Venezuela each a 7.00 in swimwear, even though the two women had incredibly fit bodies. Since the judges' names are no longer flashed on the TV screen, it's impossible to tell which judges this year gave low scores to the Europeans. The Europeans were out of the game, except for one still standing. 

     To me, Miss Kosovo Gona Dragusha (photo) was the most beautiful, the most elegant, and the most radiant of all the finalists, and as soon as she sashayed on stage in her gorgeous shimmering purple dress and with her hair in a bun, I was in total awe. In the many years that I have been watching the pageant, I have never seen a contestant so exquisite, so polished, so perfect as Gona Dragusha. Observers noticed her Audrey Hepburnesque styling - and like Audrey - Gona projected serenity, elegance and sweetness - as if Audrey had been reincarnated in this stunning Kosovar model. Gona's critics may not appreciate her Audreyness, but Gona is exactly the type of beauty queen that many of us - who are sick to death of silicone-stuffed Latin glamazons - crave for. And critics who bash Gona's updo coiffure are just plain ignorant; the bun is the preferred hairstyle of women of royalty (i.e. Thai monarchy, European princesses, Queen Victoria), and has been worn by several titleholders (mostly from the 1960s) and even by Lara Dutta in 2000. This year's Miss France contestants all sported an updo during the evening gown segment. And during the prelims, even Stefania wore her hair in a bun, both in her evening gown and national costume - which resembles the costume that Audrey Hepburn wore during the horse races in the Lerner & Lowe musical, "My Fair Lady." So yeah, Audrey's influence was très remarquée.

     Now as far as Gona's response to her final question asked by judge Dean Cain ("Pop superstar Justin Timberlake once said, 'The worst thing about famous is invasion of your privacy. What is it about fame that makes many people, including you, want to be famous?'") - Gona's response - through an interpreter - was: "All the experiences I've had so far have given me fame, and I feel famous. There are, though, other ways to feel famous and to be famous and those are intelligence and also beauty. Thank you." If there's one thing that bothers me the most about the Q & A segment is not so much the contestant's response as much as the interpreter's mediocre attempt to translate the answer. It appears that Gona's woman interpreter did not fully understand Dean Cain's question herself. Some may dislike Gona's seemingly humdrum delivery, but her delivery is typical of finalists from several decades. Review your Miss Universe tapes between 1964 and 1990 and you'll notice that nearly most of the finalists spoke in a ponderous, uninspiring tone. Generally speaking, Europeans are not as expressive, suggestive or gregarious as the Latins, and this could be a reason European girls do not advance far enough in the competition. It's a cultural "thang." We have become so conditioned to believe that the Latin "thang" is a prerequisite to winning, thus we are quick to punish a non-Latin contestant for not having enough chispa (spark), such as Miss Albania Hasna Xhukici who barely smiled in her bikini. 

     But who really cares how Gona and the other finalists answered their questions, as long as they answered them? No one choked, no one got nervous, and no one walked away with a half-complete answer, except Venezuela's Stefania Fernandez. Through an interpreter, Stefania's response to judge André Leon Talley's question - "In many parts of the world, obstacles still exist that impede women from achieving their goals in some corporations. What can women do to overcome this?" - seemed like an abstract cliché: "I believe that nowadays, we women have overcome many obstacles and I do believe that we have reached the same level as men have. We must realize that there are no longer any barriers amongst us." I've heard this response a million times, and it's a common one made by contestants who are not worldly or enlightened enough to elaborate on the still existing - and serious - issues that face women in developing countries. In theory, the Q & A segment is not always the determining factor in selecting the winner, especially if none of the five finalists this year gave an outstanding answer - which begs the question, "How did Venezuela win?" 

     The howls of protest from aggrieved fans - be it via online petitions, forums or sound bites - will not change the fact that Venezuela was declared as the winner. But these howls of protest could potentially be beneficial in influencing MUO to review its selection process and to remind them once and for all that even though Trump is the pageant owner, he doesn't own the Miss Universe culture. 

The Judges

  • KEISHA WHITAKER, former model and wife of actor/director/producer Forest Whitaker
  • TAMARA TUNIE, U.S. actress who appears on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
  • GEORGE MALOOF, JR., U.S. hotelier
  • FAROUK SHAMI, Egyptian-born founder and chairman of Farouk Systems, Inc.,
  • RICHARD LeFRAK, president of LeFrak Foundation
  • HEATHER KERZNER, ambassador for Kerzner International and their resorts
  • MATTHEW ROLSTON, U.S. photographer
  • DEAN CAIN, U.S. actor famous for playing Superman
  • COLIN COWIE, U.S. interior designer
  • VALERIA MAZZA, Argentine model
  • ANDRE LEON TALLEY, U.S. writer and editor-at-large for Vogue magazine
  • GERRY DEVEAUX, U.S. songwriter, producer & stylist

Text by Rafa Delfin   8/27/2009

Photo credits: The Miss Universe Organization 


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