Writer’s note: As I finish writing this story, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) is making its presence felt outside my hotel room here in Boracay Island. Electricity and communication lines are down since last night, so my apologies for posting this super late. I can’t upload graphics due to limited internet connection. Hope you are all safe wherever you are. 

MANY people dream of wearing their countries’ sash in Miss Universe, but only very few are given the chance to make this dream come true. This year, 86 ladies were given the chance to become flag-bearers for their countries in the annual derby of beauty. Who will emerge victorious come coronation night? Who will wear the coveted Diamond Nexus crown and wave her country’s flag high and proud? Here’s my ULTIMATE LIST for Miss Universe 2013 and my choice for the crown.

GREAT BRITAIN | Amy Willerton
She came well-prepared for battle of beauties and is the best from her country from recent memory.
Amy became my sentimental favorite from the moment she was crowned Miss Universe Great Britain. Who wouldn’t like this gorgeous and angelic lady? Comparing her back when she was still competing for Miss Asia Pacific World, one can say she’s improved a lot. She was engaging in the web interview and always wearing that winsome smile. During the prelims, she was engaging to watch in swimsuit. Just when I though she was gaining momentum, she came out in that hideous mermaid-cut gown that looked so heavy she had to pick the bottom part up just so she could walk down the stairs. Amy still has the goods to make it, but to go far in the competition, she must change that gown ASAP.

ITALY | Luna Voce
I find her beauty striking and commercial. She photographs well, and her official photos are testaments to that.
Luna is no stranger to beauty pageants. She represented her country in Miss International and Miss Earth but unfortunately failed to place in both contests. But she was Top Model of the World winner. So it didn’t come as a suprise that Luna was good in motion. She worked that one-piece swimsuit well and was beautiful in that blue gown. Her winsome smile also highlighted her beauty. Many pageant followers might think she will place because Milan-based Yamamay is sponsoring the swimwear this year. But Luna’s prelims performance proves she can make it on her own merits.

FRANCE | Hinarani de Longeaux
Admit it, Hinarani didn’t live up to pre-arrival expectations. 
Throughout the competition, Hina was a hit-and-miss. At times she looks ravishing like Beyonce. Most of the time, she looks ordinary. Even during prelims, she was a hit-and miss. She had the fiery appeal and the spunk in swimwear. But she was mediocre in evening gown. The styling just didn’t bring out the best in her. The big question remains: can she keep France’s placement streak? Yes. But can France finally break into the Top 5 with her? The chances are slim.

COSTA RICA | Fabiana Granados
Fabiana can be considered a pageant veteran, so it’s a little disappointing that she isn’t gaining much attention.
She is one of the most polished candidates, which can be attributed to the fact that she is no stranger to international pageants. She was Best in Swimsuit in Miss Earth 2011 and two years after, she still has maintained that banging figure. She walks with so much finesse and that really complemented her body. She was shimmering in that silver gown, but her overall appeal in the evening gown segment of the preliminaries was underwhelming. Despite that her unassuming beauty shines through. I have said it before, I’ll say this again: Fabiana is beautiful without even trying.

USA | Erin Brady
Most of her early photos in Moscow were unflattering, to the point that some really thinks she might go miss the cut this year.
Lack of freshness – that was the criticism hurled at Erin when she arrived in Russia. Her photos were unflattering. Aside from that, she has become boring and though at times she looks really stunning, there wasn’t anything to rave about her. Then the national costume presentation happened. She was among the most talked about because of her Transformers-inspired costume. And though she elicited unfavorable reviews, that moment brought her back in the game. Her prelims performance was nothing spectacular, but her sophistication shone through especially in the evening gown segment. I also think she is a good communicator, so I’m expecting her to ace the interviews. There’s nothing to lose for Erin, but a placement remains in the bag.

POLAND | Paulina Krupinska
She is touted as “the girl to beat” early on in the competition, and the odds seem to be on her favor.
Upon arrival, Paulina could be considered as one of the most in-demand candidates. She was chosen for the Mercedes-Benz TV ad and was the sole candidate to wear four dresses during the Tony Ward fashion show. She was touted as “the girl to beat” early on in the competition, but the preliminaries proved otherwise. Underwhelming in both the swimsuit and evening gown rounds, it was a bit disappointing. Despite this her beauty, which fits the emerging trend in Miss Universe winners that are sweet, simple but marketable, is undeniable. We might still see her making it.

RUSSIA | Elmira Abdrazakova
Being the host delegate surely has its perks.
How a clapper in Miss World could make it as a semifinalist in Miss Universe is no tough question. The answer: be the host delegate. To be fair, Elmira seems more relaxed now than in Miss World. Also, she was stunning in her red evening gown during the prelims. Her beauty is still mediocre for my taste, but it can’t be denied she is a natural charmer. But will she place had Miss Universe been held in another country? I don’t think so.

ISRAEL | Titi Yityish Aynaw
I can’t say she is the best black delegate in the competition, but her sophistication and unassuming beauty is undeniable.
Titi made history as the first Black Miss Israel, which gave her the privilege to meet US president Barack Obama. This gave her an advantage prior to the competition, as she’s been talked about, with her story being featured in CNN. Titi didn’t disappoint when she set foot in Moscow. She’s always aptly dressed. She was good in both rounds of the preliminaries, but one thing can’t be denied: her sophistication was shining through. She is, in my opinion, the most stunning black delegate this year.

VENEZUELA | Gabriela Isler
Her performance in the fashion show was a testament that Gabriela is a force majeure in the competition.
When Molly set foot in Russia, I was impressed by her class and stature. And her performance in the fashion show was a testament that she is a force majeure in the competition. She didn’t disappoint in the prelims, too. She was a sight to behold during the swimsuit round with her sassy walk. However, her crystal studded gown must have been too heavy she had a hard time walking on stage. Yet Molly’s elegance can’t be denied. She may not be as strikingly beautiful and charismatic as Irene Esser but her sophistication and flexibility makes her a real contender.

COLOMBIA | Lucia Aldana
Lucia needs to find that defining moment for her to move further in the competition.
Lucia was lackluster early in the competition. While her official photos were a hit for me, she was bordering boring most of the time. So when she came out in that silky straight hair and toned body during the national costume presentation, I was blown away. That was the defining moment I was waiting for Lucia to be back in the game. And he didn’t disappoint in the prelims. She was fiery in swimsuit. But I loved her evening gown presentation more. She looks immaculate in that white number. It accentuated her pretty face. She reminds me so much of Shamcey Supsup, and I’m sure she can also go far in the competition.

TURKEY | Berrin Keklikler
She has all the goods and could make the cut. That is if she gives a more-than-memorable performance come finale.
And Berrin game more than just a memorable performance in the prelims. She was a revelation! She had the right mix of sexiness, sweetness and unassuming exquisiteness. Her natural charisma blends well with her beaming smile and positive aura. She may have a weak sash, but she could go places with that beauty alone. For me, she could be this year’s Jessica Scheel. And I wouldn’t mind seeing her penetrate the Top 5. She’s a breath of fresh air.

PUERTO RICO | Monic Perez
Monic is one of the most prepared delegates in the competition, ready to slay her competitors.
Monic has been a clear standout since day one. Since winning in her national pageant, Melinda has engaged herself in intensive training to gear up for this year’s battle of beauties. And her preparations are paying off because she is obviously one of the most prepared delegates this year. Though at times she may appear overdone (her performance during the fashion show was bit too much for my taste), it can’t be denied that she is a force to reckon with in the competition. With her solid swimsuit presentation and very elegant evening gown round, Monic just proved that. From a dismal finish last year, Puerto Rico seems to be on the right path this time.

UKRAINE | Olga Storozhenko
That gorgeous face and shapely body shouldn’t be wasted.
Olga, in my book, gave the most sensual prelims presentation. Just the proper mix of elegance and sex! That gorgeous face was just so flirty and magnetic, one can’t just take his eyes off it. Those arched eyebrows, tantalizing eyes and pouty lips may appear strong for some, but that’s what I like most about Olga. Forget about how she sometimes appears underwhelming because this beauty for sure won’t be ignored. She was perfectly styled during prelims and if she remains so in the finals, this gorgeous lady might just become her country’s first Miss Universe.

PHILIPPINES | Ariella Arida
She has attracted haters because of her strong fan base, but if you have haters, it only means you are a threat.
Just like Janine Tugonon last year, Ariella had her share of bashings this year. But having haters only means you are a threat. Haters gonna hate, but Ariella is undeniably well-trained. Being chosen in the Tony Ward fashion ans the Mercedes-Benz TV ad mean the organization is keeping an eye on this girl. A lot of criticisms have been thrown at her, but she remains unfazed. And her fluid swimsuit performance is a testament to that. Her body has indeed improved a lot. She also wore one of the best gowns worn by a Miss Philippines in the last decade, but her hairstyle was a disaster. She should keep the silky straight hair as it looks better on her. Amid criticisms, I’m pretty confident she can give the Philippines it’s fourth consecutive placement.

BRAZIL | Jakelyne Oliveira
Though not the most stunning facially, I think her universal beauty is enough to bring her closer to the crown.
Underestimated, but determined to leave a lasting impact. Not a lot believed that Jake can be a threat in this year’s pageant. Some may have forgotten this girl is no stranger to pageantry. She is a former titleholder of a minor pageant. She had years of preparation for Miss Universe, that’s why her solid prelims performance didn’t come as a surprise to me. Her pasarela complements her shapely body aside from the fact that she is always well-styled. Her overall packaging reminds me of a more refined Zuleyka Rivera. If plans to host the Miss Universe pageant in Brazil next year push through, that will seal the deal for this 20-year-old lady.

SPAIN | Patricia Rodriguez
Though at times she is giving me some Deborah Henry vibe (they were both Miss World semifinalists), I’m confident Patricia will have a different fate in Miss Universe.
Patricia delivers both on and off stage and is very consistent. She surely makes her presence felt. She exudes so much sophistication, which is very evident in her official evening gown portrait. She nailed every official photo with her natural charm and class and is also one of the most in-demand candidates in the competition. If there’s one girl who I can say nailed the Tony Ward fashion show, it was Patricia. Her jawline was a killer, her walk was very appropriate. She also exceeded expectation during the prelims. Her body isn’t the best, but when coupled with a polished catwalk, she surely becomes a head-turner. Patricia indeed gives them girls a run for their money. If there’s someone from this batch who first comes in mind when I hear “Miss Universe”, it is Patricia.

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