There CHI is... Miss Universe?
By Armin Amari for Critical Beauty
XIMENA NAVARRETE, a 22 year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, edged out 82 other hopefuls to capture the title of Miss Universe 2010. Her victory marks the second time in history that Mexico has won the crown, the first being in 1991 when Lupita Jones led her country to victory. Coincidentally, both women were crowned in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Did anyone else feel that they were watching the Miss America Pageant instead of Miss Universe this year? The stage looked like something one could find at a "So You Think You Can Dance" audition in San Antonio, Texas - cheap, neon and flavourless. There was nothing remotely "Las Vegas" about the décor and the generic visuals during the telecast could have been used for any live American television broadcast. In addition, those stairs were complete eyesores when they were not in use, which was 90% of the time. Compare this year's stage to the opulent ones used in Thailand (2005) and Panama (2003) or the simple yet tasteful design executed in Puerto Rico (2002). It is clear that there was no distinct artistic vision for this year's edition of Miss Universe and while we often hear that MUO wants to make the delegates the star of the show, it would help to grant them more airtime if this were the case. The only parts of the show that made me realize I was watching an international pageant was the parade of nations at the very beginning and when the Mexican fans started to unanimously boo Miss Philippines, Venus Raj for butchering her final question.
The musical selections also reminded me of something Miss America's production team would have come up with. I was mortified during the swimsuit competition to see flamboyant Elvis impersonators dressed in fluorescent unitards and plastic hair molds break dancing on stage. My guess is these men were rejected from Chippendales for being too effeminate. But I digress. Perhaps my disappointment stemmed from over-expectation but when I heard Cirque du Soleil would be highlighting this year's swimsuit segment, I naturally assumed that I would see aerial dancers, performers on stilts and anything but what was shown on my television screen. The lame music and dancing almost made me forget about the non-existent choreography and ill-fitting Dar be Dar swimsuits. Perhaps this is why Miss France, Malika Menard, sprinted across the stage in what looked to be a tinge of humiliation. John Legend's serenade during the evening gown competition was not memorable either. But this could have been because he was sitting down and did not let cameras capture how aroused he gets around the ladies.
However, the most bowel churning aspect of this year's telecast had to have been the shameless promotion of Farouk Shami's CHI hair care line. Never has so much pageant airtime been reserved for a sponsor's homemade commercials and amateurish how-to segments. It was impossible to watch the pageant without hearing or seeing the name CHI every 3 minutes and it was absolutely sickening! These promotional attempts seemed desperate at best and the fact that more than half of this year's delegates were coiffed like Chia Pets during the presentation show makes me want to pull a Sinead O?Connor and shave my head.
WHERE DID CHI GO WRONG? - The most disappointed contestant this year has got to be Miss USA, Rima Fakih. She now joins a very special sisterhood with Barbara Peterson (Miss USA 1976), Kimberley Pressler (Miss USA 1999), and Shauntay Hinton (Miss USA 2002) as the only American representatives failing to place in the semi-finals at Miss Universe. But Rima is definitely the most shafted of this group because her own boss, Donald Trump, did not even select her as 1 of his personal 6 choices. To add insult to injury Rima was quite vocal about how she thought she was going to be victorious on the Miss Universe stage due to her ethnicity right after she bagged the Miss USA crown. So what went wrong? Was it weak styling in her red Reem Acra gown? Was it her incoherent interview skills? Was it because she posed topless as a Muslim woman in her Fadil Berisha glamour shot? Was it that pointless letter she wrote to President Barack Obama regarding her tin foil national costume? It will remain a mystery, but what is evident is the fact that MUO does not seem to be taken by Fakih as they have been with previous Miss USA winners. I remember watching Rima's on-stage interview segment at Miss Teen USA 2010. When the camera panned out into the audience, one could see Paula Shugart, President of the Miss Universe Organization, giving Rima a look as if she were a complete bozo. You either love her or hate her and unfortunately for Rima, Trump fell into the latter category. Happy Ramadan, habibi!
WHERE DID CHI COME FROM? - Every year, there is at least one delegate at Miss Universe who surprises us all with her charm, refreshing personality and poise and this year that woman is definitely Miss Australia, Jesinta Campbell. Overlooked by most pageant pundits, Jesinta, with her beachy keen looks and aura, remained cool as a cucumber all night and ultimately found herself in the Top 5. Her answer to judge Nikki Taylor's question was the best all around in content and delivery. In fact, her answer was so good compared to her competitors that I expected her to walk away with the title or at least finish as 1st runner-up to the stunning Yendi Phillips, Miss Jamaica. Jesinta ended the evening as 2nd runner-up much to the delight of her supporters. Perhaps Jesinta would have won had she promoted Farouk Shami's new jheri curl serum for the modern afro instead of mentioning Tala Raassi in her final answer. Oh well!
WHAT DID CHI SAY? - Every year, there is at least one awkward moment at Miss Universe. This year the torch has been carried on by Miss Philippines, Venus Raj. When asked by judge William Baldwin what one major mistake she had made in her life and what she did to correct it, Raj responded, "Thank you so much sir, for that wonderful question. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Good evening, Las Vegas! [laughs nervously]. You know what, sir, in my 22 years of existence, I can say there is nothing major, major - I mean, problems - that I have done in my life, because I am very confident with my family with the love that they are given to me. So... Thank you so much that I am here! Thank you, thank so much!" I have not heard so many "thank yous" at Miss Universe since Lu Parker mouthed out a hail of them like bullets back in 1994! Supporters of Raj were quick to defend her by saying that at age 22 Venus had not made the biggest mistake of her life BUT the question asked about a major mistake, not the biggest. Furthermore, her supporters have also tried to suggest that the question posed to her was the most difficult. I beg to differ. This question is one of the most over-practiced questions in the beauty pageant industry and one that any queen who reaches the Miss Universe pageant should have and most likely would have rehearsed prior to being asked it. The important thing is that Venus did not have a complete meltdown like Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007, Caitlin Upton. However, I do not blame anything except for Raj's interview coaching by the infamous Miss Philippines Universe franchise holder, Stella Marquez de Araneta.
WHAT DID CHI DO? - During her final walk as Miss Universe 2009, Venezuela?s Stefania Fernandez pulled out what I had initially thought was a multi-coloured bra from the top of her dress and started to flash it around on stage. It was only after a few moments that I realized the piece of textile was actually the Venezuelan flag and she was paying homage to her country. Like everything else in the pageant world, this act was met with mixed reviews. While some found it patriotic, others thought it was far too pretentious, since Miss Universe is supposed to represent all people, not just a single nation. Furthermore, observers noted that Stefania used the democratic version of Venezuela's flag, not the new design enforced by dictator Hugo Chavez. Will she be punished by having to wear Dar Be Dar swimsuits for a lifetime? We will have to wait and see. But I found the flag idea compensated for the fact that this year's Venezuelan representative to Miss Universe, Marelisa Gibson, was shut out of the semi-finals and was consequently unable to showcase her blue evening gown, which was to complete the third and last installment of the Venezuelan flag colours by designer Gionni Straccia (Dayana Mendoza wore yellow in 2008, Stefania Fernandez wore red in 2009).
A TAD TEPID FOR MARIACHI? - Mexican culture is full of life and flair. From their food to their music, Mexicans have a zest for fiestas anywhere they go. However, I honestly found Navarrete far from zesty during the telecast. She decided to sport nude make-up, which completely washed her out on stage and while I do think she is facially attractive, I found her no match for Miss South Africa, Nicole Flint, or Miss Ireland, Rozanna Purcell, who are both facially more stunning and memorable. In swimsuit, Navarrete looked on the shorter side and her evening gown looked like something one could find in the clearance section of Sherri Hill's website. However, the most disheartening moment was Navarette's reaction to winning. Although she initially held her hands up to her face in disbelief, she did not look overwhelmingly excited or elated. This was one point in the show where I wish we had seen an element of Miss America, since no one can beat their winning reactions. As a matter of fact, Ximena's national director and former Miss Universe 1991, Lupita Jones, reacted much more emotionally to the final results, which I enjoyed watching more than the happenings on stage:
Overall, I would rate this year's Miss Universe telecast a 3/10 and that is generous considering I will be having nightmares of break dancing Elvis muppets styling their plastic hair with CHI products for months!
Till next year!
- CHAZZ PALMINTERI, American actor
- CHYNNA PHILLIPS, American singer and actress
- CRISS ANGEL, American performance artist and musician
- EVAN LYSACEK, American 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist and 2009 World Figure Skating Champion
- JANE SEYMOUR, British-born actress
- NIKI TAYLOR, American top model
- SHEILA E., American musician
- TAMRON HALL, American anchorperson, "MSNBC Live"
- WILLIAM BALDWIN, American actor, writer and producer
Photo credit: The Miss Universe Organization