So, it has come to this: a toss-up among the early frontrunner, the preliminary competition showstopper, and the bold luminary. These are my Top 3 picks for the Mouawad crown. Three countries each vying for its third win. Here’s how I ranked this year’s Miss Universe candidates:
THE SUPERNOVA. She was, by no means yesterday’s top performer. Some might even say she uncharacteristically blended in, despite her towering stature and our overall impression of her prior to the competition. But, as most of us know, that round is more placement ticket than final litmus test. We still coronation night. And I still do have that gnawing inkling that, once she gets close to a mic (or, fine, granted she makes it to that round), she will blow everyone away with her compelling story – pretty much how Zozi Tunzi sealed that sandwich victory last year. So, for now, I’m making a gamble on Canada‘s Nova Stevens.
ROYAL COURT PICKS (In Order): Thailand, India, Dominican Republic, Nepal
If the contest ended yesterday, Thailand‘s Amanda Obdam would be the runaway winner. There was something about her gold gown blending seamlessly with her skin tone that subliminally suggested triumph. Besides, her country’s been hungry for a third crown ever since the Southeast Asian Dominion began and I’d be just as happy if they’d finally earn their due. My only hope is that she doesn’t go through the same question round pitfalls as her two highly-favored predecessors. For the time being, she’s my alternate choice. Simplicity is the name of the game for my other crown pick, but 2nd Runner-Up choice for now, India’s Adline Castelino. From donning traditional garb in National Costume to her no-frills preliminary catwalk, her lack of overcooked gimmickry drew attention to what she naturally has to offer. She let her beauty and aura do the work, and sometimes, really, that’s more than enough.
Two surprising revelations round up my Top Five. First, we have Dominican Republic’s Kimberley Jimenez AKA the Second Coming of Ada Aimee de la Cruz. In what’s easily the fiercest Latin showdown in recent memory, this woman soared above the early favorites and made a memorable impression. She’s now my favorite Spanish speaking delegate. And then next, we have Nepal – only their fourth year in the competition, but already a force to be reckoned with. They might just secure their loftiest placement yet with Anshika Sharma.
TOP 10 PICKS (Alphabetical Order): Brazil, Curaçao, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia
Rounding up my Top 10 are two Europeans, two Latins, and an island girl who’s kinda European and kinda Latin. If there was any doubt Brazil‘s Julia Gama would be able to strip away her stiff Miss World veneer for this contest, it was vanquished yesterday. It was a rock-solid performance and she will likely keep the streak going. With two Top Ten placements in recent memory, never before has the island of Curaçao been this constantly visible in pageant radar. This is their best era yet, and Chantel Wiertz is more than worthy to replicate those feats. Probably even more. Say what you want about her mature features (she’s 29), but Puerto Rico‘s Estefania Soto was a hurricane yesterday and might easily usurp a Top Five slot as well. Finally, two R countries stood out in what’s foreseen as another underwhelming year for Europe. First there’s Romania‘s Bianca Tirsin, who’s achieved triumphant milestones for her country before and might as well add a third: her country’s first Miss Universe placement. It’s time. Finally in this tier, we have Russia‘s Alina Sanko, riddled with controversy before arriving in Florida, but how can one deny her breathtaking presence?
TOP 21 PICKS: Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, Cameroon, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, USA, Venezuela
Leading this tier are three pre-pageant heavy favorites: Peru’s Janick Maceta, Mexico’s Andrea Meza, and Jamaica’s Miqueal-Symone Williams. In my reckoning, they were outshone yesterday, but nothing’s stopping them from going even further. In Mexico’s case: It’s really time to break the Miss World Runner-Up Curse. This is also shaping up to be an auspicious debut for the French-speaking African nation of Cameroon. Two-time pageant placer Angele Kossinda certainly upped her game and might just secure her third. Probably even her best, as she was mesmerizing. Indonesia‘s Ayu Maulida delivered a solid, polished performance that made her fanbase proud. She’ll probably continue the streak, if not equal last year’s record. Then, we have our own country’s bet. In all honesty, that wasn’t a showstopper by any count. But I’m pretty sure Rabiya Mateo has more tricks up her sleeve and that she has infinitely more than enough support to continue our track record. She’ll likely win the Fan Vote. Continuing with the ASEAN, we have two potential first-time placers. First, we have Cambodia, represented by the ever-buoyant Sarita Reth and Myanmar, represented by Thuzar Lwin, who might as well “Lwin” over the selection committee, both with her flawless performance and her country’s story. Finally, much as I had initial reservations about Khanh Van sustaining Vietnam‘s streak, her fiery appearance proved that she still belongs up there. Indochina will be proud. Finally, two sash powers countries round up my Top 21. First, there’s USA‘s Asya Branch. There were obviously more memorable performers, but we always include USA in our pre-pageant prediction games if we want to be guaranteed one point. And finally, there’s the Venezuelan candidate – as always, devouring onstage presence, but her favoritism is not unanimous. Still, in a year where more than half of the South American bets are in heavy contention, Mariangel Villasmil will likely still be up there.
ALTERNATE 11. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Ireland, Laos, Panama, South Africa
AKA The “This is Where I Hope I’m Wrong” Group. If the selection committee wanted more refreshing South American choices, the following should be next in line: Argentina‘s Alina Akselrad, who called to mind Osmel Sousa’s legendary Venezuelans of yore, Bolivia‘s Lenka Nemer, solid in swimsuit with an avant-garde gown, and Chile’s Daniela Nicolas, an actress and quite easily the most beautiful Chilean to compete in years, but her performance was spotty. It also pains me to put Colombia‘s Laura Olascuaga in this tier at the moment. As expected, she was a wildly-cheered onstage dynamo, but something’s missing.
If the Continental Format were still employed, the following would have been shoo-ins for Europe. There’s France‘s elegant Amandine Petit, Iceland‘s chic Elisabet Hulda, Ireland‘s lovely redhead Nadia Sayers and former Miss Earth runner-up Klara Vavruskova from the Czech Republic, who’s facially on top of the heap but that gown choice may have been too risky. And speaking of Miss Earth, part of me still wants to see Panama‘s Carmen Jarmillo achieve vindication from her 2015 shutout.
Then, we have Christina Lassassima, Laos‘ best so far and also qualified to join her neighbors up there. If only her walk were more refined. Finally, we have South Africa‘s Natasha Joubert, who is facially stunning, but I also have this slight feeling that the placement streak is in danger.
Here’s how the rest are stacked:
DARK HORSES. Armenia, Australia, Bahamas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Finland, Great Britain, Haiti, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Uruguay
Underrated stunners and potential sleeper hits comprise this group. Though not in heavy contention, someone from this group might just pull a shocker. Among them, there’s Italy, a pre-pageant favorite who fell out of contention but her energy’s still infectious, and Australia, short in stature but standing tall in all other aspects. We also have Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, who tick all the boxes, but their region is far too competitive; Japan and Uruguay with their compelling backstories, R&B singer Great Britain, well-prepared Malaysia, Pinay-bred Singapore, and the strongest contender from Bahamas in years. The biggest revelation here is Norway, who’s not the pageant mould conventionally speaking, but shone with her cute face and bubbly energy. Also, Happy Independence Day to her country.
LONG SHOTS. Albania, Aruba, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Cayman Islands, China, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, Ghana, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kosovo, Malta, Mauritius, Paraguay, Netherlands, Slovak Republic, Ukraine
This group is perceived to be far from contention, but they have worthy merits just the same. Among them, we have Ecuador and Paraguay, seen to trail Team South America but delivered nonetheless; Belize and Malta, pageant veterans in their most competitive forms yet, stylish Mauritius, pretty Slovak Republic, highly-motivated achiever Barbados, and the endearing Netherlands. If there’s anything Miss Hungary 2008 taught us, it’s to not dismiss anyone just yet.
And finally, there’s Israel‘s Tehila Levy. Those who watched the Preliminary Competition yesterday will remember that she curiously paraded first in the Swimsuit round (and looked great), before disappearing from the Evening Gown round altogether. We can only surmise what brought about her sudden exit. Scrolling through the news might give us hints. But whether or not she finishes the competition, we pray for her health and safety.