New Zealand: When I chatted with Talia Bennett, she said that she feels very happy to be in Las Vegas and she never thought that her participation in Miss Universe would generate so much attention in different pageant websites. Talia is a very elegant and refined woman, with one of the most beautiful faces in the competition. Could Talia bring the second crown for New Zealand that Lorraine Downes won almost 30 years ago? We'll find out during the finals this Wednesday night.
Israel: Lina Makhuli is a very quiet, calm, but above all a very smart young woman. An interesting fact about Lina: she's Christian but her father is Arab, which puts her in a difficult situation but at the end of the day the most important thing is the love in her family, despite religious differences. She came to Las Vegas to promote peace and to give hope to her country. Let's remember that first Miss Universe from Israel was Rina Messinger back in 1976.
Jamaica: Chantal Zaky is a charming woman. As soon as I said hello to her, I told her that her best friend Miguel wanted to send her a kiss and a big hug. She then hugged me and I felt in her a genuine and sincere person. Chantal is statuesque, she has a well-defined body and she is eloquent, sweet and she prepared herself very well for this competition. For those who do not know, Chantal is an actress and studies Mass Communications and Broadcasting. Jamaica almost won the crown in 2010 when Yendi Phillips seduced us with her sex appeal and her amazing catwalk and placed 1st runner-up.
Spain: Andrea Huisgen is definitely a character, always cheerful, is flirty, flirtatious, funny. Her peers love her for her sense of humor and mischief. Andrea's case is very unique: she won the Miss Spain title under an new organization that always sent the Spanish candidate to Miss Universe, but after her coronation Andrea was abandoned by the pageant directors since they lost the franchise and she was left completely to herself, so Andrea and her family had to pay for all her preparations and expenses for Miss Universe.
After the Press Junket, I had the opportunity to speak with her mother who is a very nice woman and who is always dressed up in Spanish style. Despite what happened, they flew to Alaska and when they made a stop over in New York City, Andrea visited the MUO office to find out what had really happened with the franchise and to inform them that she was interested in competing. MUO finally allowed her to compete. Andrea's mother said that her daughter is a fighter and that is why she's in Las Vegas and that's what makes her a winner. When I asked the mother how she would describe Andrea in three words, she said that Andrea is a true fighter, with a very positive attitude, and if she falls 7 times she would get up 8 times. As a mother, she's very proud of her daughter. Spain has not won the crown since Amparo Muñóz won it in 1974. Amparo was the first Miss Universe who did not finish her reign and the first titleholder who did not crown her successor.
Peru: Nicole Faverón is part-French and part-Peruvian. Nicole's case is very unique. Nicole did not win the crown of Miss Peru; she was the first runner-up but due to the fact that the winner renounced the title and due to some restructuring within the Miss Peru organization, Nicole was appointed Miss Peru Universe 2012. Nicole has a very striking face, stunning hair and is very articulate. Peru has not won the Miss Universe crown since 1957 when Gladys Zender became the first Latina to win the most prestigious pageant in the world.
Colombia: Daniella Alvarez is definitely one of the sexiest candidates in this year's Miss Universe. She knows when to flaunt her sexuality and knows how to attract the eye of the photographers and reporters. During the preliminary night I had the opportunity to talk to her mom and told her that Daniela is emerging as one of the favorites to win the crown. When asked how she would describe her daughter, she replied: "I would describe her as an intelligent, sweet and authentic woman, and I find her very beautiful. I think she's natural and that's what sets her apart from the other candidates." Colombia has not won the Miss Universe crown for 55 years since 1958 when Luz Marina Zuluaga became the second Latina and the first Colombian to win the title.
Honduras: Jennifer Andrade candidate may be the shortest candidate in the competition, but what she lacks in height, she makes up for her great stage projection and amazingly fit body. Who said that Miss Honduras has to be 6 feet tall? It is important to remember that Jennifer was one of 12 semifinalists of the reality show "Nuestra Belleza Latina" in 2009 and stayed in the 8th position. When asked how this experience of having participated in Nuestra Belleza Latina had helped her, she said it was a very important step in her career, it gave her plenty of exposure that she could ever imagine, and it was the beginning of her dream to compete in Miss Universe. Regarding her short stature, she said that it doesn't bother her; perhaps she doesn't have the height to be a top model but she wants to prove to everyone and to her country that when you want something, when you dream for something and you work hard to attain it, then you will succeed. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Jennifer suffered from obesity and now at Miss Universe she possesses one of the best bodies in the competition.
China: Xu Ji Dan is very quiet, sober but during the press junket she always had a smile for everyone. WIthout doubt, she is an elegant woman with porcelain skin, very intelligent and very confident about herself. She said that the best inspiration in her life - and the most important person - is her grandmother who raised her along with 11 cousins, who made a lot of sacrifice to give her a good life. Her grandmother was always with her, supported her in everything she liked such as dance and piano. China has never won the Miss Universe crown, and the closest the country has won it was back in 2002 when Zhuo Ling came in as 2nd runner-up in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Guatemala: Laura Godoy Calee has been one of the big surprises inMiss Universe 2012. I had the honor of meeting Laura a few months ago when we both judged the Miss Latin U.S. International 2012 pageant in Orlando, Florida. I have to be very honest, when I first saw it I did not see anything special. I thought she would be just one more candidate in the contest. But now I have to accept and acknowledge that Laura has left me quite surprised because her change has been from heaven to the earth with very little help from others. But luck came to Laura when several "little angels" came to her rescue and helped her to prepare for Miss Universe. One of these angels is Mr. José Gregorio Leal who made every effort to make sure that Laura was well represented at Miss Universe. When I asked Laura about this experience, she remarked, "Hector, you know very well what I had to go through to arrive where I am now, but I give thanks to God because I am sure that those who have helped me did it from the heart and we see the results. God always puts people in your life, good people who have helped in my preparations in all aspects of the competition. Today, I can tell you that I am very happy; very happy because of all the people and fans who support me and who give me good vibes. I already feel a winner but I can assure you that I will be one of the semifinalists in Miss Universe because I have worked so hard and with much passion." Guatemala has had three semifinalists in Miss Universe: Maria del Rosario Molina who placed sixth in Miss Universe 1956, Julieta Urrutia in 1984, and Jessica Scheel in 2010 right here in Las Vegas. Laura, thanks for your friendship, for your honesty, for your beauty and for being divine.
Netherlands: Nathalie den Dekker was the winner of Miss Tourism International in 2010, then was appointed by the national director Kim Kotter to represent her country at Miss World where she was one of the 15 semifinalists. Nathalie is a very sweet girl, not too tall but that's not a problem because her cool personality and innate elegance make up for it. The only time that the Netherlands won the Miss Universe crown was in 1989 with Angela Visser's victory. The two other Dutch women who placed include Pauline Huizinga who was first runner up in 1991 and Kelly Weekers who was one of 16 semifinalists in Sao Paulo last year.
Bulgaria: Zhana Yaneva is a very simple girl, quiet and above all patient. She said that her greatest wish is to be one of the semifinalists in Miss Universe since her country has never made the cut.
British Virgin Islands: Abigail Hyndman is extremely sweet, spontaneous and very real.
Estonia: Natalie Korneitsik was the first runner-up in the Miss Estonia pageant which gave her the right to represent Estonia in Miss Universe 2012. Natalie has been modeling since she was 16 models when she was discovered by Elite modeling agency. After she finished highschool, she moved to Milan to begin her studies and to continue with her modeling career. Natalie speaks Estonian, English, Russian, Italian and she also loves to play piano. When asked about her Miss Universe experience so far, she replied, "I am enjoying it a lot. It's one experience that I will never forget and I am very proud to represent my country in the most important pageant in the world. It's definitely an honor for me to be in Las Vegas and to carry this great experience with me and share it with my country, my family and in the future, with my children." Estonia has never won the Miss Universe crown. In 1997, Kristiina Heinmets reached the 7th position which was equaled by Evelyn Mikomagi in 2000.
Great Britain: Holly Hale is a psychology student at the University of Cardiff. When I asked her how she felt representing her country in Miss Universe, she said: “I have to be honest with you. I have never been interested in competing in pageants, nor has it ever crossed my mind. I competed for the first time in a beauty pageant which I won, and even though I did not believe it, here I am enjoying all this experience and with the great satisfaction that after the pageant, I will have 88 new friends from all over the world. This, for me, is the true spirit of Miss Universe.”
Malaysia: Kimberley Leggett is beautiful, precious and knows how to express herself very well. You just have to look at her to appreciate her porcelain face and that star quality that very few girls have in this pageant. Kimberly is determined to make an impact and to make sure that her country enters the semifinals. The last time Malaysia placed was 42 years ago when Josephine Lena Wong Jaw Leng made the semifinals in 1970.
Indonesia: María Selena is a young woman with whom I had been communicating via Twitter since her coronation as Miss Indonesia, and everytime I wrote to her she would always respond in a friendly manner. Maria Selena is very feminine, subtle and a lady in all sense of the word. If I were to describe her in one word, I would say “doll” because she does look like a living doll. She has classic beauty and appears very young; sometimes she looks like a teen candidate and you fall in love with her sweetness. Maria Selena was born in Palembang, South Sumatra; her family comes from Semarang, Central Java and she currently finishes her studies in Bandung Institute of Technology majoring in Business. The only Indonesian candidate who entered the semifinals was Artika Sari Devi Kusmayadi in 2005 when the pageant was held in Thailand.
Aruba: Liza Helder was the only candidate to respond to the casting call by the new organizers of the Miss Aruba pageant, and subsequently she was appointed as her country’s representative to Miss Universe. As many of us have noticed, Liza has undergone tremendous changes since then, which even shocked skeptics. She looks absolutely phenomenal, thanks to her discipline and hard work. Liza is a very educated, refine and classy young woman. Her catwalk is amazing. Even though she may seem quiet off stage, she transforms into a goddess on stage. Sometimes she looks like a candidate from Venezuela, thanks to the big influence she received from various Venezuelan experts. Liza said that she is enjoying every moment, every activity, and is only thinking of representing Aruba well because she knows that she has the qualities and the tools necessary to enter the top 16 semifinalists. Aruba has done quite well in Miss Universe: Maureen Ava Vieira was 4th runner-up in 1974 and Taryn Mansell was 1st runner-up in 1996 when the pageant was held in Las Vegas.
Venezuela: Irene Esser has got to be the candidate that has the most spunk in this year’s contest. You never see Irene sad; she’s always happy, saying hello to every one, and contrary to what everyone has claimed, she is not imitating anybody, in reference to comments that Irene is imitating the behavior of past Venezuelan queens like Alicia Machado, Dayana Mendoza or Stefania Fernandez. I have seen her, have spoken with her and I can assure you that she is not imitating anyone. She is who she is – a real, honest person living life to the fullest. Personally, I find Irene beautiful with one of the best bodies in the competition. She could easily be the next Miss Unierse. She has the complete package, she’s well-prepared, and we are witnesses to her outstanding preparations during her reign as Miss Venezuela. Venezuela has won the Miss Universe crown six times: Maritza Sayalero in 1979. Irene Saez Conde in 1981, Barbara Palacios Teyde in 1986, Alicia Machado in 1996, Dayana Mendoza in 2008, and Stefania Fernandez in 2009.
Hungary: Agnes Konkoly is one of those candidates that when you see heron stage, she seems she could take it all, but when you see her in person as I have, she’s a very quiet, passive and timid girl. She has classic good looks, speaks eloquently and is intelligent. Hungary has only had two semifinalists in Miss Universe: Adrienn Bende in 2006 and Jázmin Dammak in 2008.
México: Without a doubt, Karina Gonzalez has one of the most beautiful and attractive faces in the pageant. When I asked if she will change her evening gown for the finals after all the controversy caused by her sexy red dress in the prelims, she replied: “I know that the dress was scandalous, so we’re still considering other possibilities, but the people are talking about the red dress and my performance, and that’s all that matters.” Karina may seem aloof, distant and a little serious, but she has classic beauty and she definitely knows how to exploit it. Mexico won the Miss Universe crown on two occasions: Lupita Jones in 1991 and Ximena Navarrete in 2010. Both women were crowned in las Vegas. Will Karina have the same luck?
South Africa: Ever since Melinda Bam was crowned Miss South Africa, I fell in love with her and I’ve always said that Melinda is Miss Universe from head to toe. As many know, Melinda renounced her right to compete in Miss World because from the moment that she won her national title, she has always expressed her desire to win Miss Universe. Despite a slew of commentaries she received especially from die-hard Miss World fans, Melinda had her reason and that is to concentrate her preparations only for Miss Universe. When I approached her to say hello, she stared at me as if she knew me from somewhere. When I told her who I was and that we have been communicating via Twitter for over a year now, she immediately gave me a big hug and we all became very emotional. Melinda is so down-to-earth, humble, sincere, honest. When I asked her about her preparations, this is what she said: “Hector, first of all it’s a pleasure for me to know you. You don’t know how happy I am to meet you in person, to communicate with you on Twitter and how I feel very blessed with the support of all my fans who give energize me here in Las Vegas. My preparations have been arduous, intense and full of setbacks, but I’ve always held my head up high and I want to give the best of me because I am an honest and responsible person. I want to do things well. I am a perfectionist because I owe that to the public, to the organization who expects the best from me. I know that there have been a lot of negative comments since I said that I did not want to compete in Miss World, but I have to be honest, I did it because I wanted to dedicate all my time for Miss Universe. My country has not won in a long time and it’s my goal to bring the crown back to my country. That’s why I have been training hard in all areas of the competition with an excellent team who has given me all the confidence to be myself at all times. I feel very happy to be here in Las Vegas. You cannot imagine the how much happiness I feel. It’s a dream come true.
Melinda is definitely an impressive, precious young woman and I cannot deny that after Bodine, Melinda is my big favorite for the crown of Miss Universe. You have to meet her in person to feel that good vibe that she emits, the perfection that she is, her manner of speaking, of walking, her sense of style, and that spark that only a few have. Melinda has that star quality that you notice right away. It’s highly likely that she can duplicate Margaret Gardiner’s victory back in 1978 in Mexico.