And the winner is... Miss Coronavirus! Runners-up include Ms. Lupita Jones, Miss Global, Miss Handicapable and Miss Racism.
2020 pageantry was dominated by cancellations, postponements, delays, and defiance caused by the Coronavirus pandemic that has so far killed nearly two million people around the world. It also triggered heated debates on personal liberties, tests, lockdowns, mental and emotional health and the availability of a vaccine. Despite the gravity of the pandemic, it has not stopped pageant aficionados from pursuing their passion. In fact, it has brought the pageant community much closer together through endless virtual meetings and social media interactions.
TROUBLE AT MISS GLOBAL The year began with a huge scandal that broke out at the finals of Miss Global 2020 pageant which was held in Oaxaca, Mexico on January 18. The woman representing Colombia, Jesenia Orozco, caused a scene on stage claiming that the pageant was rigged and confronted a man named Ramiro Gutierrez who was part of the Mexican hosting committee. Van Pham, the CEO of Miss Global, stated that Gutierrez “put pressure on the organization to favor the home country candidate, Miss Mexico. This violates our rules, integrity and ethics. When we informed Mr. Gutierrez of our unwillingness to compromise our integrity, he immediately pulled the plug on the telecast." You can watch the entire drama on Critical Beauty Salon.
CREDIT: LA MEGA
OUT ON A LIMB Ana Gabriela Molina de los Santos (above) is a 24-year-old psychology graduate, model and motivational speaker who was born without arms. She won the Miss Nanchital 2020 competition (a preliminary to the state pageant, Miss Veracruz) and has garnered international attention since. “When I wake up and look in the mirror, I see it, it’s there,” she said. “It’s physical. But, I’ve been living 24 years with this disability so, for me, it’s not a disability. I feel like any other normal person because I’ve lived my life like that. So, for me, my disability is not a limit… on the contrary.”
CREDIT: CNB MISTER BRASIL
PUTTING HIS BEST FOOT FORWARD Hendson Baltazar (above) representing Ceará, became the first amputee contestant to win Manhunt Brazil 2021 contest held on December 5. The 29-year-old personal trainer also won the Best in Swimwear award. He will now represent Brazil in the next edition of Manhunt International.
CREDIT: SAMANTHA KATIE JAMES INSTAGRAM
RACISM IN PAGEANTRY On June 1, former Miss Universe Malaysia winner Samantha Katie James (above) caused a furor online with her comments on the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, following the death of George Floyd. James, who won the title in 2017, posted her thoughts on her Instagram stories on Monday afternoon, reported the Malay Mail. She wrote: “I don’t live in America, it has nothing to do with me, but to me, it seems like the ‘whites’ won.”
“If you’re angry, you respond in rage and anguish and that means it has power over you. They have power over you,” she added. “Foolish humans.”
She later posted again on her stories, saying: “To the black people, relax, take it as a challenge, makes you stronger. You chose to be born as a ‘coloured’ person in America for a reason. To learn a certain lesson. Accept it as it is, till now hunger and poverty still exists. It is what it is. It’s inevitable. Best you can do is remain calm, protect heart, don’t allow it to crumble. That’s your responsibility.”
An upset online user rebuked James by saying, “No one CHOSE to be born a certain color. Black people have been protesting for YEARS and yet they still get racially profiled and killed because white privilege allows it. Perhaps don’t comment on things you don't have any clue of?" Shortly after James' posts, Miss Universe Malaysia Organisation (Mumo) issued a statement to condemn her remarks as "inappropriate, offensive, unacceptable and hurtful". Meanwhile, netizens Marcus Gan and Yee Heng Zeh were so enraged by James' remarks that they started a change.org petition to strip her of her Miss Universe Malaysia title.
CREDIT: RADIO J
April Benayoum (above), 21, who came second in Miss France 2021 pageant last December 19 representing Provence, became the target of anti-Semitic attacks which began when, in an on-stage interview, she called herself Italian-Israeli which then triggered a wave of abuse on Twitter. Some of the tweets invoked the Holocaust. One insult read "Hitler forgot about this one" and another "Don't vote for a Jew." Benayoum, who was born to a Serbo-Croatian mother and an Israeli father. "It is sad to witness such behavior in 2020," she told Var-Matin newspaper following the abuse. "But it does not affect me at all." Pageant organizers were swift to condemn the abuse, saying it was "totally contrary to the values of the channel, the production and the show." The Union of Jewish Students in France said that "Miss France 2021 is no longer a beauty contest, it is an anti-Semitism contest."
CREDIT: MISSUUPDATES INSTAGRAM
Unintentional racism? Miss Universe Romania 2020 Bianca Tirsin got herself in hot water with sensitive netizens when an artistic image of her wearing #blackface makeup surfaced on her social media on December 30. After receiving backlash from black pageant fans who were offended by the image, Tirsin was compelled to make a public apology to the "Miss Universe global community" via her Instagram stories. The beauty queen stated that she has been working with an artist that specializes in black and gold art and that the "offending" image was never an issue. She also said that it was an "unfortunate" incident for which she gave her sincerest apology. On its official Instagram page, the Miss Universe Romania Organization posted on December 31: "The images have unfortunately been released before we, as an organization, had the chance to review them. We assure you Miss Bianca and Miss Universe Romania 2020 organization are working on ensuring something similar never happens again. We apologize to everyone this has hurt or offended."
CREDIT: PHILIPPINES LIFESTYLE NEWS
FIGHTING QUEEN Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray (above) has demanded the tabloid newspaper Bulgar to pay a P10 million settlement and issue a public apology for spreading fake topless photos of her. The photos were posted on Bulgar's Facebook page on July 18, and were featured in a print article on July 19. Catriona's camp said that the photos were digitally altered and the beauty queen herself went to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on July 21 to file a complaint against those who spread the photos. Catriona's legal team sent a demand letter to the Bulgar office on July 30. In the letter, they said that the photos have caused "immeasurable damage" to Catriona, and calling the photos "malicious, defamatory, and libelous."
CREDIT: LUPITA JONES INSTAGRAM
MEXICO MAY BAN PAGEANTS Lupita Jones broke the silence after announcing that beauty pageants could be banned in Mexico, since the Chamber of Deputies' Committee on Gender Equality considers that they are a type of symbolic violence against women and cannot be considered entertainment. Through a post on her Instagram account dated July 9, the former Miss Universe posted a video to express her annoyance at this possible measure. Lupita wrote (translated into English): "Trying to typify these platforms as Symbolic Violence seems to me completely wrong and without any support. How can training, training, training and strengthening women be considered violence against women, both internally and externally? Teach her to cultivate her self-esteem, self-confidence and security. Provide you with professional opportunities so that you can stand out in what you are passionate about. Where is the violence?" Watch my reaction to this proposed ban on Critical Beauty Salon.
LUPITA VERSUS SOFIA On November 16, Mexicana Universal 2019 (Miss Universe Mexico 2019) Sofia Aragon posted a video on her social media saying that she was not invited by her national director, Lupita Jones, to crown her successor. The video prompted pageants fans to speculate on the reasons for the non-invite. Sofia later went live on her social media to reveal the reasons. Sofia claimed that she is the first Miss Universe Mexico in history to have not received financial support, and blamed Lupita for not reaching out to her in her time of need. Sofia had to pay for her own food, gas, and other essentials while living in Mexico City. Lupita defended herself from Sofia's allegations on a video where she is seen addressing the contestants of the Mexicana Universal 2020 contest. Lupita stated that it was TV Azteca's job to pay for Sofia's regular expenses as she was contracted with the TV station, but that Lupita ended up paying for Sofia's liposuction, nose job and trip to New York out of her own pocket. Lupita, who has earned the reputation of being strict and sometimes cruel to her contestants, also denigrated and belittled Sofia in public, calling the beauty queen an ingrate, fake and ugly - which angered Sofia's fans and caused Lupita to apologize in a lengthy video that was panned by critics for sounding insincere and scripted.
CROWNED BY CORONA
Several beauty queens and other pageant personalities have contracted COVID-19. Miss Ecuador, Cristina Hidalgo, announced on her Instagram account on March 28 that she has contracted the Coronavirus. Hidalgo wrote that she had been experiencing symptoms of the virus in the last few days - coughing, body aches, high fever, fatigue, difficulty in breathing, among others.
Former Miss Mississippi Toni Seawright posted on her Facebook page dated March 16 that she has tested positive for the Coronavirus.
Jeanné Kapela, who was crowned Miss Hawaii 2015 and competed in the Miss America pageant the following year, wrote on Facebook on March 20 that she had contracted the Coronavirus during a recent trip to New York City.
Sydney Taylor, 19, Miss Louisiana Teen USA 2020, tested positive for COVID-19 in June, along with her boyfriend Laine Hardy, winner of American Idol 2019.
On June 26, Miss Florida Michaela McLean posted on her Instagram that she had tested positive for the Coronavirus.
On July 15, Miss Alabama Tiara Pennington announced that she and her mother have tested positive for the Coronavirus. Pennington made the announcement on the Miss Alabama social media channels.
Miss Universe Philippines 2020 candidate and front runner Isabela Galeria (above) posted on September 27 that she had contracted the virus, which forced her to withdraw from the competition. Isabela said that after 14 days, she was supposed to be released but still had some of the symptoms. On October 11, she and her dad, who also tested positive for COVID-19, survived the virus.
On March 26, Magali Febles, the national director for Miss Universe Dominican Republic, has announced on her Instagram account that she has been infected with COVID-19. Three weeks later, she announced that she survived the virus.
THE EFFECTS OF THE CORONAVIRUS ON PAGEANTS
Practically all the major pageants that were supposed to take place in 2020 such as Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss International, Miss Supranational and Miss America have been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic and are scheduled to resume in 2021. Several pageants were held either virtually, or physically but with several required restrictions to comply with safety guidelines. This was the case with Miss South Africa 2020 held on October 24 in Cape Town, Miss Universe Philippines 2020 held in Baguio City, Philippines on October 25 and Miss USA 2020 held in Memphis, Tennessee on November 9. All the contestants had to wear mask while rehearsing and on stage when social distancing was not possible. In Miss Universe Canada 2020, the contestants had to wear a face shield during the entire show.
Contestants for Miss International Queen 2020 pose wearing mask during rehearsals. The pageant was held in Pattaya City, Thailand on March 7, 2020 during the peak of the pandemic in Asia. Credit: Lehtikuva
Some pageant organizations handpicked/appointed their 2020 representatives, and some did virtual casting/pageant like Miss Universe Ireland. Miss Venezuela 2020 was held on September 24 at the Estudio 1 de Venevisión in Caracas; there were two pageants during one night - Miss Venezuela World 2020 and Miss Venezuela 2020.
Return to normalcy? Miss Universe Thailand 2020 took place on October 10 at the True Icon Hall in Bangkok; the audience members were seated close to each other and no one wore mask. The Miss Globe 2020 pageant took place in Tirana, Albania on November 12 despite a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases. Luckily, none of the contestants or the staff was infected by the virus. Similar situation with Miss Universe Myanmar 2020 and Miss Universe Nepal 2020.
An informal pageant "celebrating" the pandemic was held on June 22 in an outdoor patio in the Guatemalan municipality of Santa Catarina Mita Jutiapa. There were only three candidates and the winner was appropriately crowned "Miss Covid-19."
Miss Earth, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020, decided not to follow the steps of its rival major pageants of cancelling a real pageant but instead proceeded to produce a virtual pageant that surprisingly turned out to be well executed and intriguing.
On December 19, the Miss Universe Great Britain 2020 pageant in London was shut down by police hours before the city entered Tier 4 of Covid-19 restrictions. The organizers were allegedly told the event was "not in the spirit of Covid" – even though they claimed to have been social distancing and wearing masks. The pageant team is going to wait until February "when things are more clear" to continue the competition. Great Britain will need to have selected a representative by April in order to compete in the next edition of Miss Universe.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: 2020 pageantry was also filled with fake news, speculations, and uplifting stories. Fake news: Top model Halima Aden, who made history by being the first hijabi contestant in Miss USA (Miss Minnesota USA 2016 to be specific), announced in a series of Instagram stories that she had quit runway modeling as it compromised her Islamic beliefs and that she would participate in Miss Universe 2020 representing her native homeland, Somalia. Pageant websites - except Critical Beauty - were too quick to "confirm" Halima's participation in Miss Universe even though no official announcement has ever been made by the Miss Universe Organization (MUO). MUO later stated that Somalia does not have a license to send a representative.
Vicente Leonel Rodriguez Almeida, a hair stylist who used to work for CHI (who used to sponsor Miss Universe) had posted on his social media in early December that a new owner would be taking over MUO. The post generated a lot of buzz among pageant fans who speculated that the owner must be very rich and passionate about pageants. Two entities came up frequently - Chavit Singson, the Filipino billionaire who partly sponsored the Miss Universe 2016 pageant when it was held in Manila, and the Kardashians who became global household names due to the tremendous popularity of their reality show. However, MUO President Paula Shugart - responding to an inquiry by a fan on her Instagram account on December 30 - dispelled the rumor of new ownership by stating that MUO is still owned by Endeavor/IMG.
CREDIT: MISS EARTH
On a positive note, USA's Lindsey Coffey (above) won her country's first Miss Earth crown via a virtual pageant. Mississippi's Asya Branch won her state's first Miss USA title. Miss Universe Nepal accepted its first transgender contestant, Angel Lama. Cheslie Kryst makes history by being the Miss USA with the longest reign, from May 2, 2019 to November 9, 2020 - a record of 18 months and one week. Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants separated from Miss Universe and will be now directed by Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart. The winner of the Miss USA 2021 competition will move to Los Angeles instead of living in New York City like previous winners.
We honor pageant royalties who have left us in 2020
CREDIT: MICHELLE MCDONALD FACEBOOK
Michele McDonald Boeke , who was crowned Miss USA 1971 representing the state of Pennsylvania, passed away on January 24, 2020. Her daughter, Shana Boeke, posted on Facebook the sad passing of her mother who was 67.
CREDIT: NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Jenny Polanco, a well-known Dominican fashion designer and former Miss World Dominican Republic 1978, died on March 24 from Coronavirus which she contracted from Spain where she was promoting her line of clothing. She arrived in Santo Domingo on March 4 and told a reporter that she was feeling fine and did not have any symptoms, but on March 9 she started getting ill. Her health worsened as she suffered from respiratory failure.
CREDIT: NEW YORK TIMES
Navajo Nation mourned the loss of former Miss Western Navajo and tribal employee, Valentina Blackhorse, who passed away on April 23 at the young age
of 28 to COVID-19.
Phyllis George, Miss America 1970 who became a female sportscasting pioneer on CBS's “The NFL Today” and served as the first lady of Kentucky, died on May 14.
She was 70.
Miss World 1960 Norma Cappagli died at the age of 81 on December 22 in Argentina from complications suffered from a skull fracture after being run over by a bus on December 17. She was sent on induced coma before her passing.
By Rafa Delfin, 12/31/2020
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