Category Archives: Beauty Pageants

Bittersweet Vindication: Thoughts on Bb. Pilipinas 2014, Part 2

 

The Top 15. Who's missing?
The Top 15. Who’s missing?

Having shed my general thoughts on this year’s production, let me now share my insights on the results. More or less, they fell within expectations. 4 out of my Top 5 picks ended up with crowns and the only one I missed was part of my Top 10 anyway. All in all, 11 out of the Top 15 were in my predictions list, with some surprises tossed in between.

UNLIKELY THANK YOU GIRLS. The first cut always sets us up for the first set of shockers. Pageant fans know this very well. This year, that axe fell prematurely on three candidates initially perceived to be major contenders. There was considerable buzz over Bb#9 Joy Antonette Diaz, whose resemblance to her aunt Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz was uncanny. Despite being one of this batch’s most eloquent speakers, the incoming law student was left in the ice. With her non-placement, we are left with this unsettling implication: Can the Gloria Diaz mould still succeed in this day and age?

Bb#15 Kimverlyn Suiza made a huge sacrifice by relinquishing her Miss Earth-Air title for a shot at BBP, but despite looking radiant during the evening gown competition with her swan neck and Audrey Hepburn-esque up-do, she was also shut out.

The most shocking exclusion, however, would have to be Bb.#17 Diana Arevalo. The two-time (2009 and 2011) semifinalist had already been working as a welcome ambassadress in a hotel in Macau, and came back home for a third and, presumably, final shot at a title. Fans were optimistic that the 25-year-old would secure her best placement yet, but alas, she didn’t even make the first cut. One might attribute this to her underwhelming styling during the pageant night, but I still believe that she deserved to at least place.

Coincidentally, when the non-placers were called back onstage for the crowning moment, those three mentioned women stood front and center. Was it a silent protest on the stage director’s part? One can only digress.

Surprising shut-outs: Bb#17 Diana Arevalo and Bb#15 Kimverlyn Suiza
Favorites Bb#17 Diana Arevalo and Bb#15 Kimverlyn Suiza smiling in anticipation during the swimsuit competition; only to be shut out of the Top 15.

THE LITTLEST MANALO. Among the candidates who made it instead, it was Nichole Manalo (Bb#23) whom I initially pegged most likely to crash the party. Lo and behold. She did prove that she could make it through her own merits apart from her pageant pedigree. The main highlight of her interview portion wasn’t her response, but rather, the cutaways to her Ate Bianca‘s frantic applauses.

DARK HORSES. Joana Romero (Bb#3), though initially not a favorite, looked her best that night and  delivered when it mattered. Same goes for Kenneth Santiago (Bb#20), whose strong performance in evening gown probably gave her the edge over Joy Gangan (Bb#30) as the statuesque-girl-most-likely.  She, however, earns the Merry Joy Respicio Award for citing shoes as the biggest thing she will sacrifice during her Q & A.

SEMI-FINAL SHOCKER. Zahara Soriano‘s (Bb#16) placement proved to be the most surprising. The 20-year-old Rochelle Barrameda dead-ringer was below virtually everybody’s pre-pageant radar and her fumbling semi-final interview left fans even more perplexed. Overheard: “Baka sa kanya napunta yung scores na dapat kay #15 at #17!” (In reference to her placement over eliminated favorites Suiza and Arevalo)

JUSTIFIABLE. On the other extreme, Julian Aurine Flores (Bb#1), Mae Liezel Ramos (#9), and Emma Mary Tiglao (#14) gave exceptional performances and sealed their semi-final placements, as expected.

PIA’S PAIN. The exclusions of Diana, Joy, and Kimverlyn from the Top 15 notwithstanding, the evening’s most devastating upset would  be Pia Wurtzbach’s (Bb#8) failure to earn a crown.

Majority of fans attribute this controversial loss to judge Sen. Sonny Angara, more specifically, his decision to conduct Pia’s interview in Filipino. Yes, it’s only polite for to respond in the language used in addressing you, but it’s also unwise to alienate non-speakers  of the language (in this case, the foreign judges) from the discourse – something which Pia realized too late, as she scrambled for a last-minute, watered-down English translation of her response.

It broke my heart seeing her compatriots from the Golden Batch crown other girls, as she stood applauding in the background, but kudos to her for handling it with grace.

For now, we can only ponder: Is fate simply patterning her journey after MJ Lastimosa’s? Can she finally clinch the crown if she gave a third try? Or is she really done with pageants, as hinted in her Instagram post? Only time will tell.

Pia's botched Q & A: Who's to blame?
Pia’s botched Q & A: Who’s to blame?

UP NEXT: My take on the winners’ circle.

Bittersweet Redemption: Thoughts on Bb. Pilipinas 2014, Part 1

The words “determination” and “vindication” echoed across the Twitterverse last night, as Mary Jean “MJ” Lastimosa bagged  the highly-coveted Miss Universe Philippines title at the 51st Bb. Pilipinas Pageant held in Smart Araneta Coliseum. This is hardly the culmination of a journey for the 26-year-old North Cotabato native, who already saw action in this pageant twice before. She will now undergo heavy training in preparation for Miss Universe 2014, which will be held later this year in a yet-to-be-confirmed venue.

From L to R: 2nd Runner-Up Hannah Ruth Sison (#Bb27), Bb. Pilipinas-Tourism Parul Shah (Bb#4), Bb. Pilipinas-Intercontinental Kris Tiffany Janson (Bb#13), BB. PILIPINAS-UNIVERSE Mary Jean Lastimosa (Bb#25), Bb. Pilipinas-International Bianca Guidotti (Bb#22), Bb. Pilipinas-Supranational Yvethe Marie Santiago (Bb. #35), and 1st Runner-Up Laura Lehmann (Bb.#11)
MJ flanked by her extended royal court

Save for a few shockers , this year’s results were more or less within the realms of expectation. All five winners were touted as  crown favorites at one point or the other. The other new titleholders are:

Bb. Pilipinas-International: Mary Anne Bianca Guidotti (Bb#22) Bb. Pilipinas-Intercontinental: Kris Tiffany Janson (Bb#13)
Bb. Pilipinas-Supranational: Yvethe Marie Santiago (Bb#35)
Bb. Pilipinas-Tourism: Parul Shah (Bb#4) 

Rounding up the circle of winners are Laura Lehmann (Bb#11), who finished 1st Runner-Up, and Hannah Ruth Sison (Bb#27), who finished 2nd Runner-Up.

Completing the Top 15 were Pia Wurtzbach (Bb#8), Emma Tiglao (Bb#14), Mae Liezel Ramos (Bb#19), Julian Aurine Flores (Bb#1), Nichole Marie Manalo (Bb#23), Johanna Romero (Bb#3), Kenneth Santiago (Bb#20), and Zahara Soriano (Bb#16).

The stage: a magnificent sight to behold
The stage: A magnificent sight to beholdI

It was my second time to watch the pageant live. The first was last year’s celebrated Golden batch, which yielded our country’s best international results in recent history: 2 winners, 1 Top 5 finish, and 1 Top 10 semi-finalist. Surely, expectations for this year were high, and fortunately, they did carry on with that momentum. From the strong roster of candidates and magnificent stage to the colorful production numbers and fiesta-themed swimsuit portion, this year’s pageant was an eye-popping visual feast.

Candidates sashaying during the upbeat opening number
Candidates sashaying during the upbeat opening number

Adding even more prestige to the proceedings was the presence of reigning Miss Universe Gabriela Isler in the judging panel. There was an initial rumor that her trip here together with MUO President Paula Shugart would lead to an 11th hour announcement of our country as this year’s Miss Universe host country, but it turned out to be just that: a rumor, instigated by fans who hoped that our  20-year hosting chain would continue this year (The Philippines hosted MU in 1974 and 1994, if you may recall). Nonetheless, that didn’t make the Venezuelan beauty queen’s visit any less fruitful. Prior to pageant night, her 4-day itinerary included a press conference and a visit to Yolanda-ravaged Coron. The icing on the cake for Pinoy pageant fans (including myself) was when “Molly” shared the stage with two other reigning international titleholders, Miss International Bea Rose Santiago and Miss Supranational Mutya Datul, during the crowning moment

Queen Molly flanked by her "boss" Paula Shugart and Madame Stella Araneta
Queen Molly flanked by her “boss” Paula Shugart and BPCI chairperson Madame Stella Marquez-Araneta

The pageant was generally fast-paced, but not without its share of lulls. Look, it isn’t hard to fathom why they flew in Russian pop star Emin as musical guest, despite being a relative stranger to Philippine shores. His wife’s family, after all, was instrumental in bringing last year’s Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, hence his now-strongly established ties with the MUO. Obviously, he was part of Shugart’s contingent. But while his post-evening gown serenade was adequate, his second performance had “filler” written all over it.

Russian pop star Emin serenading the delegates after their evening gown parade
Russian pop star Emin serenading the delegates after their evening gown parade

Fortunately, Anne Curtis and Xian Lim did a decent job as hosts. Same goes for former queens Venus Raj (stunning with short hair), Shamcey Supsup, and Janine Tugonon as co-hosts.They all managed to manoeuver through the lulls smoothly without steering the attention away from the candidates. Even Anne’s impromptu reprise of Heart‘s Alone became an entertaining distraction during the deliberation gap.

Anne and Xian perking up the proceedings
Anne and Xian perking up the proceedings
Special commentators Shamcey Supsup and Venus Raj
Special commentators Shamcey Supsup and Venus Raj

Anyway, I know a lot of fans are extremely elated over MJ’s victory right now. It was a crowning moment 4 years in the making; her rampaging emotions were palpable when her name was announced. I shall elaborate my take on the results in a separate entry. For now, it’s back to the daily grind for me. Later!

My Bb. Pilipinas 2014 Wish List

In a few hours, I’ll be making my way to Araneta to watch the coronation night of Bb. Pilipinas 2014, so I might as well cram my pre-thoughts. Looking at the front-runners of this year’s line-up, it almost feels like the pageant pundit’s equivalent to  Survivor: Fans VS. Favorites. On one corner, we have two exquisitely stunning newcomers who lived up to their favoritism as the competition progressed. And on the other corner, we have heavy favorites from past editions yearning at a shot at redemption. I’m almost certain that at least four of the alluded beauties will walk away with a crown. But which title goes to whom is everybody’s guess at this point. So without further ado, here is my wishlist:

Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas
Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas

 

 

THE FRONT-RUNNERS.
From L to R: #35, #8, #13, #25, #4

BB. PILIPINAS-UNIVERSE
#35 - Yvethe Marie Santiago
Though a Bb. Pilipinas first-timer,  Yvethe is actually no stranger to the international stage. She represented our country in World Miss University 2009, where she won Best in Costume. Now, she is looking more competitive than ever – with her impeccable catwalk and striking facial features, among other worthy qualities. If they’re looking for somebody who has a shot at ending our 41-year Miss Universe drought, this Bicolana stunner can put up a good fight.

 BB. PILIPINAS-INTERNATIONAL
#8 – Pia Wurtzbach
Her official portrait may be underwhelming, but her subsequent appearances proved that she’s still a force to be reckoned with. This former Star Magic talent will deliver when it matters and she will claim the crowning moment that once eluded her.

 

BB. PILIPINAS-SUPRANATIONAL
#13 – Kris Tiffany Janson 
In my reckoning, this former Miss Cebu possesses the most beautiful face in this year’s batch. She looked enchanting in her National Costume – no wonder she bagged that award - and I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins Miss Photogenic as well. Her exquisite Asian beauty should make her a surefire frontrunner in either Miss International or Miss Supranational.

BB. PILIPINAS-INTERCONTINENTAL
#25 - Mary Jean Lastimosa 
Clearly, she still has the competitive edge and clearly, she wants this. I just have this gnawing feeling that sending her to Miss Universe at this point will only subject us to Maricar Balagtas* flashbacks. I think her prospects are now much brighter at the Intercontinental (or even Supranational) stage. Either way, it’s high time they gave this three-peater her due.

* NOTE: The highly-regarded candidate who won Bb. Pilipinas-Universe after her third try, only to end up clapping in Miss Universe 2004

BB. PILIPINAS-TOURISM
#4 – Parul Shah
While the Number Four is believed to be a bad omen for Bb. Pilipinas contestants, I think this returning stunner can break that curse. I’m still clueless about her prospects if she gets sent to Miss Tourism Queen International. Heck, we’re not even sure if that pageant will still push through. I just find her dusky, exotic beauty worthy of competing an at international level.

Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas
Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas


RUNNERS-UP/POSSIBLE UPSETS
From L to R: #22, #17, #15, #14, #19 

#22 – Mary Anne Bianca Guidotti – Her ability to speak Portuguese could be an advantage, granted she gets sent to Miss Universe, which will reportedly be held in Brazil this year. The chances of this  trilingual first-timer usurping one of the crowns is high. If not, they’ll probably push her to join again in subsequent years.
#17 – Diana Arevalo – Just like MJ Lastimosa, this is also Diana’s third try in this pageant, having previously placed both in 2009 and 2011. She has a good chance of sustaining that streak, and even securing her highest placement.
#15 – Kimverlyn Suiza – The prospects of last year’s Miss Earth-Air may not be as stellar in this pageant, but she is still worthy of securing a semi-final placement, at the very least.
#14 – Emma Mary Tiglao – Ditto for this doe-eyed Mutya ng Pilipinas 2012 1st Runner-Up. 
#19 – Mae Liezel Ramos – She was a clapper in Miss World Philippines 2011, but she has blossomed into a stunning contender since then. I think a semi-final finish is within reach, and ,depending on how the Q & A would transpire, might even secure a runner-up finish.

Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas
Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas

 

TOP 15-WORTHY
From L to R: #1, #27, #9, #11, #30

#1- Julian Aurine Flores – Her exquisite Asian features make her another semi-final shoo-in on my watch.
#27 - Hannah Ruth Sison – This college instructor made a positive impression in last year’s Golden batch, but was sadly shut out of the Top 15. It looks like she can place this time around.
#9 - Joy Antonette Diaz – Her resemblance to her aunt Gloria Diaz is almost uncanny. So uncanny,  that it’s almost as if the teen Gloria Diaz time-traveled to our era to compete again.  Apart from that impressive pedigree, this incoming law student also possesses excellent communication skills that can help her go further.
#11 – Laura Victoria Lehmann – Here is another articulate stunner to keep an eye on.
#30- Joy Marie Gangan – She comes from the same province as the reigning Miss Supranational Mutya Datul. Her excellent posture and polished presence are also hard to miss.

 

Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas
Photo Credit: Bb. Pilipinas

ALTERNATES 
From L to R: #23, #7, #38, #24, #18

#23 – Nichole Marie Manalo – Well, now it looks like the Manalos really are on track to becoming this pageant’s equivalent to Macau‘s Pedruco Sisters*. I’m placing Nichole outside my Top 15 only because I have other favorites, but I’m not discounting the possibility of a semi-final finish (or even a crowning shocker). * NOTE: The Pedrucos are 4 sisters from Macau who represented the former Portuguese colony in Miss World in 1989, 1993, 1995, and 1996, respectively. That record has yet to be broken. 
#7 - Aiza Faeldonia - Pageant boards bombarded this Sultan Kudarat belle with hype during the pre-screening stages, but she was inexplicably shut out of the initial roster. Luckily, she is back in the game and making the right impression. A semi-final finish is still conceivable.
#38 - Janine Asanion – She comes across as a duskier version of that more iconic Janine who finished 1st runner-up in Miss Universe 2012. 
#24 - Ednornance Agustin - She probably possesses the most seductive pair of eyes among this year’s candidates. This subtle dead-ringer to Ara Arida should not be counted out.
#18 - Ellore Noelle Punzalan - Her pleasing personality was probably accountable for her surprising semi-final finish last year. Whether or not she will sustain that streak remains to be seen.

 HONORABLE MENTIONS

#2 – Mary Ainjely Manalo – photogenic, underrated
#5 – Hanna Mariz de la GuerraLovi Poe dead-ringer
#10 – Shauna Indira Salina Curran – Radio DJ, excellent communication skills
#28 – Carla Janina Lizardo – former Mutya ng Pilipinas titleholder, former Miss World Philippines semi-finalist, excellent communication skills
#31 – Angelique Celine De LeonShamcey Supsup Version 3.0 (Version 2.0, Angel Villafuerte of Bicol, competed last year)

Anna Litvinova, 1983-2013

uni20061822piu5ox6Sad news on the pageant circuit yet again.

Anna Litvinova, a former Miss Russia and Top 20 semi-finalist in Miss Universe 2006, died last January 22, 2013 after battling a yet-to-be-specified form of cancer. According to reports, she was diagnosed only one year ago. She sought further treatment in Germany, where she would spend her final hours. She was only 29.

Anna is notable for bringing her country back to the Miss Universe semi-finals 4 years after Oxana Fedorova’s dethronement. During the Top 20 swimsuit round, she was fondly called “From Russia With Legs” by commentator Carson Kressley. She also made a memorable impression during the national costume presentation, where she wore a skirt that revealed a different colorful pattern each time she made a twirl. In my reckoning, it as was one of the best costumes ever worn by a Russian delegate in that pageant.

Anna is now the second from the class of 2006 to pass away. In 2011, Mofya Chisenga, who represented Zambia, died of complications from childbirth.

Now for the eerie coincidence: Their respective counterparts from Miss Universe 1999 are no longer with us either. Alexandra Petrova (Miss Russia) was shot by an unidentified gunman in 2000. While Esanju Kalopa (Miss Zambia) perished in a car crash in 2005.

We hope that a similar coincidence won’t occur again anytime soon.

May they all rest in peace.

russiazambiaRIPs

Bonus birthday wishes from a beauty queen

The closest thing I’ll have to a birthday surprise came during lunch today:

A completely spontaneous photo-op with Mafae Yunon-Belasco, who still looks every inch the stunning, foxy woman who represented our country in Miss World 2003 (She finished 5th).

She was seated next to our table in TGI Friday’s, Bonifacio High Street along with her hubby and two kids and it was my friend Barny who approached her and arranged this whole thing. :)

Here’s to more pleasant surprises today. Thanks, Barny! :-P

She likes turkey because she is from Turkey

I’m a fan of crazy, out-of-the-box TV commercials and equally crazy puns, so I wonder why they didn’t think of this before!

To promote the health benefits of eating turkey, fast food chain Carl’s Jr. hired the reigning Miss Turkey, Gizem Mimec, to endorse their latest line of charbroiled turkey burgers.

Here’s the TVC, courtesy of ever-dependable Youtube:

Memic represented her country in Miss Universe 2010 (where her Lady Gaga-inspired national costume drew mixed reviews) and Miss World 2010.

So. Anyone craving for turkey yet?

Adios, Amparo

The universe has lost one of its celestial beings.

Amparo Munoz, the stunning Spanish beauty who was once crowned Miss Universe 1974, passed away Sunday night after a long battle with an unspecified terminal illness. She was only 56.

She is notable both for being Spain’s first (and so far, only) Miss Universe and for being crowned in Philippine soil. (LEFT: Amparo with Imelda Marcos)

Amparo’s reign was anything but smooth. During her run, she was hounded by controversy and ended up abdicating her title only after 6 months, thus making her the first Miss Universe to step down. She was never officially replaced, which is most probably why she is still universally recognized as that year’s titleholder.

After her tumultuous reign, Amparo would later on foray into an acting career in her homeland, making sporadic appearances in B-movies and TV shows. She would also enter a string of unsuccessful marriages before eventually sinking into obscurity during the mid-90s.

Infamy aside, she is still widely considered as one of the most beautiful titleholders in the history of the pageant.

Farewell, troubled angel.

ABOVE: Amparo‘s crowning moment in the then-newly constructed Folk Arts Theater. Note that her runner-up was Wales‘ equally-controversial Helen Morgan, who was stripped off the Miss World title later that year for being an unwed mother.

36 to Watch: My Miss Universe 2010 Wish List

Here is my “fearful forecast” for this year’s Miss Universe pageant, along with my other favorites.

WINNER:  Ireland – Rozanna Purcell

If there’s one country which deserves to win its first Miss Universe crown this year, it’s definitely the Emerald Isle. Rozanna is Ireland’s best shot in years, especially with her perfect body, electrifying blue eyes and Angelina Jolie lips. It’s probably also a good sign that she’s the near-namesake of Miss World 2003 Rosanna Davidson – her country’s only Grand Slam winner so far. Who needs the Luck o’the Irish, when you’re perfection personified?

1st RUNNER-UP: Philippines - Maria Venus Raj

Whether it’s because of her superb presentation skills or her triumph in the face of adversity, Venus is a goddesss through and through. Fresh from the much-publicized controversy surrounding her citizenship, she came to Vegas extremely well-prepared, with a superb body and amazing presentation skills to boot. It also helps that her supporter’s cheers were among the most deafening. It’s high time we ended this drought.

2nd RUNNER-UP: Russia – Irina Antonenko

Prepare to be vindicated, Oxana Federova. This living doll was my pre-pageant favorite and is arguably THE face of the competition. I’m just a bit worried about her almost lifeless presentation and clumsy gown choice. But then again, with a face like that, you could practically get away with parading in a burlap sack. She is just that mesmerizing.

3rd RUNNER-UP: Mexico – Jimena Navarrete

I consider her the strongest Latina delegate this year. Plus, let’s not forget that her country usually figures well  whenever the pageant is held in Las Vegas (Lupita Jones won in 1991; Vanessa Guzman finished 5th in 1996). It looks like Mexico is ready to avenge Karla Carrillo’s undeserving exclusion last year.

4th RUNNER-UP: France – Malika Menard

She fell out of many lists after her disappointingly subdued preliminary performance. I, however, am still keeping the faith. Facially, she is one of this year’s strongest delegates and her evening gown is among the best.  

 

SEMI-FINALISTS

Colombia – Natalia Navarro

Is it just me, or does she look like local celebrity Alessandra De Rossi in her close-up shot? Anyway, Colombia has been placing only in even-numbered years since 2004, and Natalia aced both areas of the preliminary competition. Expect the streak to continue.

Trinidad and Tobago – La Toya Woods

It’s great to see TNT back in fighting form after missing the competition last year. La Toya looks like a mix of two former Trini queens: Her face reminds me of Kenisha Thom (2006), while her styling gives me Arlene Peterkin (1995) flashbacks. She also made the news for agreeing to pose topless for her glamshot. So, hmmmm….

Venezuela – Marelisa Gibson

 Suffice to say, the pressure is totally on Marelisa. But a three-peat might still happen. After all, her presentation is strong and her video interview reveals that she is one of the bubbliest personalities in the bunch. The only thing I’m concerned about is her stiff styling. Then again, I said the same thing about Stefania Fernandez last year, and look where she ended up.

Puerto Rico – Mariana Vicente

Another possible Top 5 usurper comes in the form of this Latin Barbie. Mariana was also one of my early front-runners, but then, the competition proved to be so tight (as always), I placed her in the 9th position. Her silver disco ball gown is stunning, but her decision to sport frizzy curls drew mixed reactions. Let’s see where that puts her.

New Zealand – Ria Van Dyke

 Undoubtably, the strongest Kiwi delegate we’ve seen in this contest within the last 20 years. Ria’s presentation may have been a little on the safe side, but her face is one of the most beautiful in this year’s bunch. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for her.

 

QUARTER-FINALISTS

Uruguay – Stephany Ortega

Her country made headlines early this year for unexpectedly finishing fourth in the World Cup. I’m somehow hoping for this underrated South American bombshell to also pull off a surprise.

Albania – Anxhela Martini

Her name sounds like a European knock-off to perennial American Idol reject Angela Martin. Now that I’ve got that boring observation out of the way, let me just say that I am pretty impressed with this NYC-based model. I originally had her as an alternate, but now I think her overall presentation is worthy of a Top 15 placement.

Jamaica – Yendi Phillipps

Along with Venezuela’s Marelisa Gibson, Yendi is also one of the most vivacious personalities this year. While her disappointing gown performance makes it unlikely for her to surpass her successful Miss World 2007 finish, I still think she’s worthy of a placement.

Haiti – Sarodj Bertin

Likely Trump Choice #1 – It’s wonderful to have Haiti back in full swing after a 21-year absense. There are two things to consider here: 1.) the destructive earthquake which ravaged her country earlier this year, and  2.)  her mother who was murdered back in 1994. I think this sensual island girl has enough interesting back story to be noticed.

USA – Rima Fakih

 Likely Trump Choice #2: Aside from being the host delegate, Lebanese-born Rima is also the first Muslim-American to represent her country in this pageant. I’m almost certain she’ll be up there. While not conventionally beautiful, she is indeed a breath of fresh air compared to the usual run-of-the-mill “All-American” girls sent to this pageant in recent years.  

IF THERE WERE A TOP 20…

These five girls would be shoo-ins.

                                                                                                                                             

Australia – Jesinta Campbell

She may not be a strong as, say, Rachael Finch and Laura Dundovic, but her girl-next-door charm is undeniable. Her participation in the Miss Universe promotional tour early on in the pageant might mean the Donald’s got his eyes on her.

Canada – Elena Semekina

At 6’1, this stunning blonde is the tallest girl in the bunch, which literally makes her a stand-out. She was unjustly ignored in Miss International 2008, which is why it’s great to see her competing strongly here. I’m also amused by the fact that her Russian accent is still intact.

Dominican Republic – Eva Arias

The island of Hispaniola is indeed well-represented this year! I didn’t care much for this deadringer to Sandra Bullock at first, but her fiery performance in the preliminary round made me pencil her in as a possibility.

South Africa – Nicole Flint

Of course, we all know that her country played gracious host to the World Cup held early this year. But I guarantee that it’s not the only thing going for this Katharine McPhee look-alike. She also delivered the goods when it mattered.

Ukraine – Anna Pavlovska

 Eastern Europe’s answer to Mischa Barton. Although a lot were disappointed with her gown choice, I still think this sexy blonde is in the game. 

 

BUBBLING UNDER

Other potential surprises.

Bahamas- Braneka Bassett - Many are raving about this Bahama Mama’s strong preliminary performance. I could just imagine if she were chosen to compete last year in her homeland instead. Can she finally bring forth the Bahamian breakthrough?

Belgium – Cilou Annys - Her controversial flag-toppling moment and atrocious national costume aside, Cilou also has one of the prettiest faces this year.

Brazil – Debora Lyra - She is the reigning Miss Model of the World 2009. But then again, this is an even bigger playing field.

Czech Republic – Jitka Valkova - Again, one of this year’s prettiest faces. But I’m still undecided whether or not she can keep the Czech streak going.

Peru – Giulianna Zevallos - With her strong stage chops and interesting gown choice, she has vastly improved from her unsuccessful Miss Earth 2008 stint.

Slovak Republic – Anna Amenova - Slovaks usually stay in the middle of the pack, but certainly not this year. However, like her “twin sister”, Puerto Rico’s Mariana Vicente, gorgeous Anna’s main setback is her questionable styling.

Spain – Adriana Reveron- The former Miss Earth 2008 front-runner has lost some of her sparkle, but we never know what the judges might see in her.

Thailand – Fonthip Watcharatrakul - Talk about last-minute favorite! Her figure may not be among the strongest, but her fine Asian features and impressive gown performance cannot be ignored.

 

And I also have a soft spot for…

Argentina – Yessica di Vincenzo - Another unfairly ignored alumnus from Miss International’s class of 2008; she reminds me a bit of Dayanara Torres

Denmark – Eva Sandra Causevic – Another early favorite; however she comes across as rather “teen”.

Ghana – Awurama Simpson - One of the prettiest faces from the African continent this year.

Great Britain – Tara Hoyos Martinez - First Latina to represent her country; typical British lass oozing with Colombian charm.

Japan – Maiko Itai - Riyo Mori Version 2.0

Netherlands – Desiree Van Den Berg - Avalon-Chanel Weyzig must be avenged.

Romania – Oana Paveluc - Gorgeous face, although her gown looks like it’s made of rubber; Potentially this year’s Sarah Cosic.

Sweden – Michaela Savic - Sexy vamp, but somewhat fell under the radar as the competition progressed.