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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


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