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End Of The Year Review 2023

And the winner is... Miss Drama. Runners-up are Miss Money and Miss Narcissist.

      2023 pageantry can be described easily in one word: self-conscious. Virtually anyone involved in pageantry has experienced some level of uneasiness caused by uncertainty or skepticism. All of a sudden, being conscious of one's appearance and behavior has been replaced by being conscious of what others may think of you. This phenomenon best describes the two most powerful and influential pageant bosses - Nawat Itsaragrisil, the president of Miss Grand International, and Anne Jakrajutatip, the owner of Miss Universe. Once very good friends, the couple has been competing with each other for grand and universal attention ever since the two split. They would do anything to extend their sphere of influence and pump up their power either by selling merchandise, exploiting the Israel-Palestine conflict or delaying debt payment. Both have strong personalities, both think outside the box, but also both possess fragile Thai egos. Other than that, some individuals rose to the occasion, beating the odds and manifesting their gospel truth - which was the only way to shatter the adverse perception of themselves by the critical public.


AGE-LESS:  R’Bonney Gabriel, Miss USA, was crowned Miss Universe 2022 on January 14 in New Orleans. Her victory marks USA’s 9th Miss Universe crown and makes her the oldest winner at 28 years of age. During the finals, Gabriel was asked: "Miss Universe made an inclusive change allowing mothers and married women to compete this year. What's another change you would like to see and why?" "For me I would like to see an age increase because I am 28 years old and that is the oldest age you compete. And I think it's a beautiful thing. My favorite quote is 'if not now then when?' Because as a woman, I believe age doesn't define us. It's not tomorrow, it's not yesterday, but it's now. The time is now that you can go after what you want." Eight months later, the Miss Universe Organization, inspired by Gabriel’s response, decided to remove the age restrictions. 


VICTORY FOR MISS FRANCE: On January 8, Paris court said that the Miss France contest was not discriminatory in the way it selected candidates. The judgment came in response to a case filed by a feminist group "Osez le féminisme" (Dare to be a Feminist), along with three failed contestants. The case was filed in October 2021 alleging that the contest was breaking French labor laws as the companies were discriminatory by asking contestants aspiring to be beauty queens to be more than 1.70 meters tall, single, and "representative of beauty". This is a big sigh of relief for private groups and companies who want to establish their own rules and regulations that would fit their brand and vision.  


HERE SHE IS, MISS AMERICA CEO: On January 26, it was announced that Robin Ross Fleming became the new CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of the Miss America Organization. Fleming used to direct the Miss Florida USA system for several years. Fleming made some changes within the system, such as replacing the word “candidate” with “delegate” or “contestant”. She also raised the Miss age limit from 25 to 28. Regarding the teen division, the age requirement will remain 13-18 years of age with the teen pageant now recognized as Miss America’s Teen” after removing the “Outstanding” reference previously branded.


WORLDLY EMBARRASSMENT: On February 13, 2023,  the Miss World Organization (MWO) whose CEO is Julia Morley, announced that the United Arab Emirates. Four months later, on 8 June 2023, MWO announced that the competition was moved to India instead of the United Arab Emirates. On September 28, 2023, MWO announced that the pageant will take place  on December 16, 2023 in Delhi, India. However, due to the elections in India, the pageant has been postponed until March 2, 2024. Finally, on December 19, MWO changed the date again. Instead of March 2, 2024, the contest has now been delayed for another week, for March 9, 2024.    The host city for the final has not been specified yet. 


BIGGER AND BETTER: Madison Anderson, who represented Puerto Rico in Miss Universe 2019 and placed first runner-up, won the third season of the  popular Spanish-language reality show, “La Casa de los Famosos” which was broadcasted by Telemundo on April 24.


BAD, BAD LADY: On April 28,  Mary Wickersham, 77, the former executive director of the Miss Florida pageant, has been sentenced to more than a year in federal prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization. Wickersham began serving as the executive director of the Miss Florida Scholarship Program in 2002.


TRANS-FORMATIONAL HISTORY: On July 8, Rikki Kollé became the first transgender woman  to be crowned Miss Universe Netherlands. On October 5, Marina Machete became the first transgender woman to be crowned Miss Universe Portugal. Both women competed in Miss Universe 2023 in El Salvador on November 18 where Machete ended up as a semifinalist. Trans activist Federico Barbarossa entered the Miss Italy 2023 pageant after its organizer said trans women were not allowed. His protest went viral and more than 100 trans men signed up.


MOTHERS RULE: Ever since Miss Universe updated its entry requirements by allowing married/divorced mothers and pregnant women, countries have been aggressively recruiting women who carry any of these traits to enter national pageants. On August 10, Michele Cohn, 28, became the first married mother to win Miss Universe Guatemala.  On September 2, Camila Avella, 28, became the first married mother to win Miss Universe Colombia. On July 8, one of the top 7 finalists was Renata Guerra, a married mother. On December 7, Ileana Marquez,  a 28-year-old mother of an 11 year-old girl, was crowned Miss Venezuela 2023. Though not a mother yet, Juliana Morehouse, Miss Maine USA 2023, got married on April 29 which instantly made her the first contestant to be officially recognized as a married woman to compete in Miss USA.


SIGNIFICANT VICTORIES:  On February 2 in Dubai, Valentina Sanchez of Venezuela was crowned as the first Universal Woman winner; she was Miss Supranational Venezuela 2021 and Miss New Jersey Teen USA 2014 . On February 16, Luma Russo of Brazil became the first woman and the first Brazilian woman to be crowned Miss Charm. Athenea Perez became the first black woman to win Miss Universe Spain held on July 1. Natasha Joubert, who had competed in Miss South Africa 2020 placing second, returned to compete again in 2023 and won the coveted crown on August 13. The 25-year-old model and entrepreneur was trying her luck for the second time as new rules to enter the pageant were  introduced earlier this year.  On September 14, Erica Robin became the first Miss Universe Pakistan; due to Pakistan’s anti-pageant politics, Robin was crowned in the Maldives. She then competed in Miss Universe 2023, wore a kaftan during the swimsuit segment and managed to place in the top 20, giving Pakistan its first ever placement.

On September 29, Noelia Voigt of Utah became the first woman of Venezuelan descent to be crowned Miss USA. Luciana Fuster, an artist and brand ambassador with 5 million followers, was crowned Miss Grand International 2023 on October 25 in Vietnam, making Peru the first country to get its second crown in the pageant’s 11-year history. On November 18 in El Salvador, Sheynnis Palacios became the first Nicaraguan woman to be crowned Miss Universe and the only second Central American winner after Justine Pasek in 2002. On December 22 in Vietnam,  Drita Ziri made history by becoming the first Albanian to win Miss Earth and the first Albanian to win a major international pageant. 


CONTROVERSIAL QUEENS: Following her appointment as Miss Grand U.S. Virgin Islands 2023, Heather Marie Thompson was heavily bullied online by the islanders who claimed that she is not a true representative of the islands because she was not born and raised or even lives there. Mileidy Materano was also viciously attacked on social media by the citizens of Trinidad & Tobago when she was crowned as the country’s representative to Miss Grand International 2023. Materano was born and raised in Venezuela and has only lived in the islands for six years. She agreed to resign from her post, but her lawyer claims that her decision to resign was not a result of public pressure but due to financial constraints. Miss Universe Nepal Jane Dipika Garrett made history by becoming the first plus-size contestant to place in Miss Universe. However, her critics argue that forced inclusion was the only reason she earned a spot. Also, videoclips of Garrett behaving badly during the competition surfaced on social media, which prompted fans and some contestants to question if bad behavior is rewarded in the pageant. On December 16, Eve Gilles was crowned Miss France 2024; critics slammed the 20-year-old because of her short hair and androgynous look, stating that she does not represent the classic French beauty with long hair and curvy figure. Gilles clapped back at her haters by saying that “No one should dictate who you are” and that every woman is unique.


WILL THE REAL OWNER PLEASE STAND UP: On August 22, three influential pageant portals (Critical Beauty, Global Beauties, Missosology) released a joint statement recognizing Thailand’s Pradit Pradinunt, the CEO of Mister Global, as the sole and legal proprietor of Mister International, and not Manuel Deldio, the self-proclaimed lawyer who claims that Alan Sim, the founder of Mister International, had assigned him to be Sim’s successor even though Deldio could not provide legitimate evidence for his claim. On September 25, the Thai court ruled in favor of Pradinunt. Deldio organized an illegitimate version of Mister International in October; not only did he fail to produce a top-notch show (with less than 30 contestants many of whom were male models already living and working in the Philippines), he also managed to scam the Argentine delegate, Angel Olaya, by not reimbursing the money that Olaya had spent to travel to the Philippines (the note posted above by Olaya shows that Deldio had promised to pay him back.)


JUSTIFIED CONDEMNATION: On her Instagram post published in October 16, Miss Israel 2013 Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, who is of Ethiopian descent, slammed activist groups such as Black Lives Matter for not supporting the Jewish people terrorized by Hamas during its surprise attacks on innocent Israeli civilians on October 7. “I am so shocked by the response of Black Lives Matter regarding the terror attacks here in Israel. I remember you screaming in the streets, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I want to inform you right now … [it’s Israelis] who cannot breathe.” She invoked some 200 Israeli hostages held in Gaza — including babies, children, women, entire families and the elderly. Two months later, Another Israeli ex-beauty queen Linor Abargil, who was crowned Miss World 1998, slammed the United Nations Organization and women’s groups for not condemning Hamas violence against Israeli women during an appearance on Fox News on December 7.  ‘It’s not about which side you are on the map,’ said Linor Abargil, herself a rape survivor. ‘To use rape as an act of war is unbearable’. Abargil was raped and stabbed in Italy just weeks before she was crowned Miss World.  


MOST BITTER PERSON OF THE YEAR: On her Facebook post dated January 16, 2023 which had already been deleted, Miss Universe Puerto Rico Ashley Cariño’s mother, Arline Cariño, blames her daughter’s loss to MUO’s favoritism towards Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel, saying that Gabriel’s victory was part of the deal under the new ownership. Arline also said that neither the Dominican Republic nor Venezuela deserved to be in the top 3 and that Puerto Rico was excluded because she was the biggest threat. Arline also stated, among several things, that the pageant should not be the platform to seek equality for different genders, which was the first message that “Aunt Anne” (referring to the new owner who is a transgender woman) sent and that she has nothing against other communities who already have their own contests. She ended her lengthy post by spewing the F-word and insulting missosologists (pageant experts): “I don’t know where the hell they got that ill-founded title that doesn’t exist since to obtain a title you have to study and become a professional and nothing to do with all these hypocrites and more, ours only want guidelines and benefits and if I continue, I will not stop.”


NOT CRYSTLE CLEAR: On September 29, a documentary entitled “How To Fix A Pageant,” was shown on FX channel. The documentary features several Miss USA 2022 contestants who alleged that the Miss USA organization was guilty of  everything from sexual harassment by its Vice President Max Sebrechts, the husband of Miss USA President Crystle Stewart, to rigging - claiming that there was big favoritism towards eventual winner, R’Bonney Gabriel from Texas. The complainants, headed by Miss Montana USA 2022 Heather Lee O’Keefe, said that Stewart had “something to hide” after the 2022 rigging scandal erupted. Stewart appeared stiff throughout her interview and often glanced toward her lawyer, Nathan Sheffield, who once had to step in to coach her on how to respond. The broadcast of the documentary took place on the same day that Miss USA 2023 coronation night was being held in Reno, Nevada. Stewart denied that the pageant had been rigged and claimed that the results had been verified by an accountant other than Ernst & Young, the accountants that Miss USA had been using before Stewart took over the organization. 


UNIVERSAL WOES: Last March, Pranome Thavaravej, who was hired by the Miss Universe Organization to be the official chauffeur to Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel and finalists Andreina Martinez, and Gabriëla Dos Santos during their trip to Thailand in February, said that she has not been paid for her work. “Miss Universe doesn't pay their employees. I have been waiting for 3 months for my payment.” 

On November 9,  JKN Global, whose CEO is Anne Jakrajutatip, the owner of Miss Universe, filed for “debt rehabilitation” to seek to adjust interest rates and to extend its debt repayment period. “JKN will receive financial support from new investors or financial institutions to provide working capital. Non-productive assets would be sold to generate income to repay debts,” according to Jakrajutatip. JKN, which bought the Miss Universe Organization for $20 million in October last year, has delayed some payments for its bonds, citing global and domestic economic challenges.  


GRAND GLORIES: In late January, Miss Grand International filed an IPO (Initial Public Offering) which allows MGI to list its shares on a stock exchange, making them available for purchase by the general public. On December 13,  MGI  officially became a  public company and celebrated the opening of its stock trading for the first time on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. The entire MGI 2023 team was present with Miss Grand Thailand 2022 Engfa Waraha ringing the bell. The first trading day immediately proved to be a big success. MGI closed the market with 8.5 bahts to 4.9 bahts (71.72%).


FRANCHISES LOST: On February 8, Miss Universe Organization took away the Indonesian franchise from Yayasan Puteri Indonesia (YPI) and gave it to Poppy Capella, allegedly a good friend of MUO owner Anne Jakrajutatip. According to YPI spokesperson Mega Angkasa, YPI offered more money to MUO to keep the franchise, but it was rejected and MUO gave the franchise to Capella instead. Angkasa also said, "We felt there was an injustice because YPI was only given 3 working days while national directors from other countries got a grace period of 5-10 days. We were not given a proper bidding format, while other countries get detailed bidding formats." Capella was also awarded the Malaysian franchise. However, six months after acquiring the franchise for two countries, MUO cut ties with Capella after allegations of six Miss Universe Indonesia contestants alleged that they were ordered to strip to their underwear for “body checks.” Five of the contestants said they were then photographed topless. MUO released a statement condemning the allegations. “In light of what we have learned took place at Miss Universe Indonesia, it has become clear that this franchise has not lived up to our brand standards and ethics,” the Miss Universe Organization said on X (formerly known as Twitter).

On February 10, the Miss Universe Ghana Organization released a statement announcing that they would not renew the franchise because MUO's new business model no longer conforms with theirs.  Vietnam, Belize, Mauritius, Seychelles followed suit. On March 2, the Miss Universe Cambodia Organization released a statement announcing that their franchise application has not been approved by MUO, making them the fourth group from Southeast Asia to lose the franchise (after Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam). 

Lupita Jones, who had been directing Miss Universe Mexico for over 20 years, has lost the Mexican franchise to big-time entrepreneur Raul Rocha Cantu. Meanwhile,  Cynthia de la Vega, a former Miss World Mexico 2010 (who represented the state of Nuevo León) whom Lupita had dethroned for having gained weight before competing in Miss World 2011 contest, will be the new national director. In August, MUO decided to cut ties with Miss USA President Crystle Stewart. On December 29, Henrique Fontes, the director of Concurso Nacional de Beleza (Miss Brasil), announced on his Instagram page that the Brazilian franchise for Miss Grand International had been taken away from him and given to someone else who had placed a higher bid. Under Fontes’s directorship, Brazil made the top 5 of MGI for four consecutive years, culminating in the 2022 victory of Isabella Menin whom many fans think is the most beautiful winner so far.


FRANCHISES GAINED: Just a few days after Lupita Jones lost the Mexican franchise for Miss Universe, she was offered the Mexican franchise for Miss Grand International which she accepted. Multimedia personality and pageant coach Evandro Hazzy hinted on his Instagram stories that he is the new Brazilian franchisee for Miss Grand International and intends to bring the pageant to Brazil in the future. Señorita Panama Organization regained the Miss Universe license after the outgoing licensee Miss Universe Panama Organization - claiming that MUO is a fraudulent organization -  decided not to renew it for 2024. Concurso Nacional de Belleza Ecuador, led by siblings Tahiz and Miguel Panus, gained the Ecuadorian franchise for Miss Universe after placing a higher bid than outgoing franchisee Miss Ecuador Organization. Magali Febles, the long-time director of Miss Universe Dominican Republic, acquired the Dominican franchise for Mister and Miss Supranational.


BEHAVING BADLY: Véronique Michielsen, who was originally crowned as Miss Grand Ecuador 2023 last May and was supposed to compete in Miss Grand International 2023 finals in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on October 25, was stripped of her title because she got pregnant. In July, Jennifer Barrantes was dethroned from her title as Miss World Peru 2022, according to a statement released by the Miss World Peru Organization. Barrantes, who was crowned last September 2022, has not been preparing herself for Miss World 2023 and has been unable to fulfill her obligations that include promoting social causes. Elena Correa, who was Miss Costa Rica 2017 and represented her country in Miss Universe 2017, was arrested in June for computer theft and allegedly stealing more than $40,000 dollars, valuables, luxury watches and even the passport of her elderly husband, Carlos Rodríguez.  


RESIGNATIONS & RETIREMENTS: The acquisition of Miss Universe by JKN Global resulted in several administrative changes that included a bidding war among potential franchise applicants, which resulted in the departure of several directors who did not agree with the new agreement. Structural changes within MUO also materialized, beginning with the departure of franchise director Carlos Capetillo in February, followed in March by talent manager Esther Swan (who had been with the company for 22 years), and in November by Paula Shugart who announced during the Miss Universe 2023 preliminary show that she would be resigning as president after 23 years. On December 8, the Miss Panama Organization (MPO) released a statement announcing that it will not renew its license with MUO after only two years. The organization believes that the recent changes in the organization under JKN Global no longer conform to MPO’s values.

On December 12, Karen Celebertti announced that she was stepping down as Nicaragua’s national director, less than a month after Miss Nicaragua Sheynnis Palacios was crowned Miss Universe 2023. Her decision comes on the heels of the oppressive government of Nicaragua, led by longtime dictator Daniel Ortega, who has banned Karen from returning to the country after she and her husband were accused of being traitors against the government. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Miss USA by Laylah Rose in August led to the departure of the state directors for seven states in the first week of December. All of them share the same sentiment expressed by Melissa Proctor-Pitchford that “recent changes within the organization, controversial incidents that have taken place, and an unpredictable future, no longer align with both my personal and professional standards, integrity, and ethics.” 


GRAND STORIES: The preliminary swimsuit competition of Miss Grand International 2023 attracted huge viewership - and harsh criticism - because it was held outdoors during a rainy day in Da Nang. Some of the girls slipped and fell on their buttocks as they reached a wet and slippery station. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt. The organizers decided to annul the competition and to replace it with another one held indoors on dry floor. Kathryn Fanshawe, Miss Grand Wales 2020 turned national director for Miss Grand United Kingdom, published in her story that several 2023 contestants  had been arriving late (sometimes an hour). She warned them that their every  move was being watched and noted by MGI president Nawat Itsaragrisil and tardiness could cost them a placement. During the preliminary interviews, Miss Grand Greece 2023 Ioanna Skoula boldly stated that she would not win because none of the contestants supported her. Itsaragrisil selected only thirteen girls for a private interview, and all of them made the top 20 during the finals.  After competing in Miss Grand International 2023, Miss Grand Venezuela 2023 Valentina Martinez took to her Instagram page  to explain her sudden weight gain caused by a mysterious medical condition. When she didn’t make the top 20, Venezuelan fans started attacking her on social media. The Top 10 finalists of Miss Grand International 2023 took to their social media to defend the MGI organization from attacks by toxic fans. The posts came on the heels of the video featuring former Miss Universe Philippines Mary Jane Lastimosa asking a Filipina trans woman celebrity Maki Gingoyon what the worst pageant in the Philippines is and Maki replied,  “Miss Grand.”


Eight years since the most controversial crowning moment in Miss Universe history that occurred on December 20, 2015, Miss Universe Philippines 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and Miss Universe Colombia 2015 Ariadna Gutierrez reunited, much to the delight of pageant fans all over the world.  “The reunion you’ve all been waiting for,” Wurtzbach wrote on September 26, alongside photos with Gutierrez as they walked the streets of Paris, France. The two were in the country for Paris Fashion Week.  Gutierrez also shared her happiness in seeing Wurtzbach again. “It’s been almost eight years since the last time we were together. So happy to see you again,” she wrote. In a separate Instagram story, she added: “When time makes sure you meet the right people once again.”


Winners of Significant International Pageants Held in 2023

Miss Aura International - Thailand - Ketwalee Phonbodi

Miss Charm - Brazil - Luma Russo

Miss CosmoWorld - USA - Shelby Howell

Miss Earth - Albania - Drita Ziri

Miss Friendship International - China - Zhu Zi-Ying

Miss Grand International - Peru - Luciana Fuster

Miss Intercontinental - Thailand - Chatnalin Chotjirawarachat

Miss International - Venezuela - Andrea Rubio

Miss International Queen - Netherlands - Solange Dekker

Miss Supranational  - Ecuador - Andrea Aguilera

Miss Tourism International - Thailand - Tia Li Taveepanichpan

Miss Universe 2022 (held on January 14, 2023)  - USA - R’Bonney Gabriel

Miss Universe 2023 - Nicaragua - Sheynnis Palacios

Reina Hispanoamericana 2022 (held on March 25, 2023) - Arlette Rujel

Reina Internacional del Café - Colombia - Isabella Bermúdez 

The Miss Globe - Malaysia - Manvin Khera

Caballero Universal - Dominican Republic - Leonardo Mendoza 

Man of the World - Korea - Jin Wook Kim

Mister Friendship International - Cambodia - Leav Veng Hour

Mister Global 2022 (held on February 13, 2023) - Cuba - Juan Carlos Ariosa

Mister Global 2023 - India - Jason Bretfelean 

Mister International  - Thailand - Kim Woodburn

Mister Supranational - Spain - Ivan Alvarez Guedes



On March 19, Marisol Malaret Contreras, the first Puerto Rican woman crowned Miss Universe in 1970, died from complications of a pulmonary condition. She was 73. Her homecoming to Puerto Rico after winning Miss Universe was considered one of the biggest ever at that time, with around 50,000 attending to see her in person. After her reign, she appeared on several commercials and did modeling work before becoming the editor-of-chief of Caras Magazine for several years.

Jerry Springer, the former Cincinnati mayor who rose to tremendous fame as a syndicated talk show host, died on April 27 from pancreatic cancer. He was 79. Pageant fans will remember Springer as the host of Miss World 2000 and 2001 as well as a co-host of Miss Universe 2008.

Bob Barker, American media personality and animal rights advocate who was a long-time host of the game shows “The Price Is Right” and “Truth or Consequences”, as well as  Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants, died on August 26 from Alzheimer’s Disease. Barker stepped down from hosting the Miss USA 1987 pageant when the producers refused his request to remove fur prizes.

 Geneviève de Fontenay, also known as The Lady In The Hat (because she was rarely seen without one) who was responsible for directing the Miss France Organization from 1981 to 2009, died on August 1st at the age of 90.  Defending a conservative image of femininity, she gradually became ostracized and withdrew from public life. She was charged in June with insults and incitement to transphobic discrimination. Under her directorship, Miss France became a popular annual television event seen by millions around world.

Sherika De Armas, Miss World Uruguay 2015, died on October 13 at the age of 26 after her battle with cervical cancer. 

Text by Rafa Delfin, 1/1/2024


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