This article also appeared on Rappler.
Armed with beauty, pageant training, and sheer determination, 88 ladies from all around the world flew to Miami, Florida in hopes of bringing home the coveted Miss Universe crown.
The number will be narrowed down to just 15 semifinalists who will do battle come January 25 (Jan 26 in the Philippines) during the live finals. One of these ladies will take the crown from the outgoing queen, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela.
Guyana’s Niketa Barker is one of the underrated girls in the competition despite the fact this girl has been leading online polls. But she made a good impression during the prelims where she proved her worth. Her emerald gown seemed stiff but she worked it well. Her natural charisma blends well with her nice smile. She may have a weak sash, but she could go places with her serene beauty alone.
India’s Noyonita Lodh was among the major favorites during pre-arrivals and had a good start with her stunning official photos. However, some started to write her off their lists after her douchy performance during the swimwear pre-pageant fashion show. Her performance in the prelims was also underwhelming: her walk in both rounds weren’t solid enough to be remembered. But with India placing in the semis since 2012 it won’t be a surprise if Noyonota makes the cut this year, too.
At 5’10”, Dominican Republic’s Kimberly Castillo is hard to ignore. She has a very shapely body and her gown complemented her figure. However, it can’t be denied that her nose job was very obvious, and that is the first thing you notice when you see her Despite that, her solid performance in the prelims merits a semis placement.
Serbia’s Andjelka Tomasevic first joined Miss Earth 2013 where she placed in the Top 8. But it seemed her stage presence didn’t improve based on the prelims. Her so-so gown and lackluster performance didn’t do her beauty justice. Despite that, she deserves a spot for that angelic face and adorable personality she has shown in her web interview.
If there’s an award for the most expensive-looking candidate, Russia’s Julia Alipova is the winner. She made a statement with her $175,000 Elie Saab haute couture gown during the registration and fittings. But just when everyone thought that was it, she came out with a red ball gown from the same designer during the finals. But her best moment was during the swimsuit round, where she showed off her well-proportioned body. The straight black hair also complemented her strong facial features.
Costa Rica’s Karina Ramos is one of the most polished candidates, which can be attributed to the fact that she is no stranger to international pageants. Compared to her stint in Miss Supranational 2012 where she placed in the Top 20, one can say she has improved a lot. She was engaging to watch in swimsuit with her toned body. And while her black gown was just blending with the background, she worked it really well.
Argentina’s Valentina Ferrer didn’t let a weak sash get in the way of her Miss Universe journey. She was very consistent since arrivals. She was gorgeous in swimsuit and the fuchsia gown made her standout. She was perfectly styled during prelims and might just become the biggest surprise of the finals if she maintains that look.
Ukraine’s Diana Harkusha was a revelation during the prelims. She was sexy and sassy in swimsuit. But her shining moment was during the evening gown round where she worked that red gown with the right amount of elegance and poise. She was perfectly styled during prelims add to that her face is just so flirty and magnetic.
Venezuela’s Migbelis Castellanos has been heavily criticised for her weight issues, but that obviously didn’t stop her from enjoying her Miss Universe stint. She was touted as one of the girls to beat early on in the competition, but the preliminaries proved otherwise. Her performance was underwhelming in both the swimsuit and evening gown rounds. But with the a predominantly Venezuelan neighborhood of Doral hosting the pageant, we will definitely see her making it in the finals.
Spain’s Desiree Cordero became an instant favorite among pageant aficionados the moment she won her national pageant. That didn’t come as a surprise because she is really beautiful. She did not disappoint during the prelims. She was very sophisticated in that crystal-embellished silver gown although her walked seemed rushed. The tattoo on her upper leg was very noticeable during the swimsuit round, but overall Desiree gave a good show.
4TH RUNNER-UP From the hairstyle to her gown to her pose, Mexico’s Josselyn Garciglia was just perfect during the preliminary evening gown round. The ponytail during the swimsuit competition also gave her an edge as she exuded the right mix of sexiness and sweetness as she showed off her body. No one could argue that Josselyn has already cemented her spot in the semis.
3RD RUNNER-UP Colombia’s Paulina Vega arrived in Doral with her guns fully loaded. She had stunning official photos, was very visible in most activities and was the most photographed delegate this year. During the all-important prelims, Paulina showed what a true-blooded Latina is. She was gorgeous in swimsuit, and was literally sparkling in that body-hugging gown. Not even her alleged attitude problem could stop her from going far in the competition.
2ND RUNNER-UP There’s nothing to lose for USA’s Nia Sanchez. Even if she misses the cut, she would still work for the Miss Universe Organiazation. However, Nia didn’t take matters lightly. She was always well dressed. During the prelims, she was very regal in that red serpentina gown that accentuated her curves. Her toned body also made up for her very safe swimsuit performance. Nevertheless, she remains one of the girls to watch out for.
FIRST RUNNER-UP Jamaica’s Kaci Fennell exhibited one of the finest prelims performances in the batch. That stunning face in a perfectly shaped body is a sight to behold! She looked sultry but classy in that red evening gown. Her short hair makes her memorable, too. She is also one of the best speakers this year, as shown in her web interview. Kaci is the complete package that is just too hard to ignore.
WINNER With the Philippines’ four consecutive runner-up finishes since 2010, the time is ripe for the country to finally clinch its third Miss Universe crown. And by sending pageant veteran Mary Jean Lastimosa, it is likely to materialize.
There are a few indicators leading to the Philippines winning the Miss Universe crown this year. Manny Pacquiao will sit as a judge in the finals. A former Miss Philippines was invited as web correspondent for the third straight year. She was also among the 5 girls invited in the VIP reception hosted by the Russian American Chamber of South Florida (the rest being former Soviet Union states). She, along with Myanmar and Venezuela, were the only girls who had Q&A sessions with fans on the pageant’s official Facebook page. Aside from that Miss Universe’s efforts to help people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
But even without these “signs”, MJ has already shown her determination to succeed after winning the national title on her third try. If she was able to beat the odds in Bb Pilipinas, making waves in Miss Universe is not impossible. Despite this, a number of people still doubted MJ’s ability to standout.
Naysayers claim she’s too short to be a queen, she’s too old at 27 and would only make it because of her strong sash. But she proved them wrong by giving a solid performance during the preliminaries. She was shining on stage as she walked in that white mermaid-cut gown. She may not have the height advantage, but she was among the most memorable. Just when people thought that was it, MJ showed off her well-sculpted body during the swimsuit round. She looked healthy with her body that is proof of years of discipline and hard work.
She can easily breeze through the first cut. She may face head-to-head battle with other equally prepared candidates. But if she shows the same energy or even take that to a higher level come finale, then MJ can surely land a spot in the top five. She is one of the best the Philippines has ever sent in Miss Universe.
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