What's a good way to blow a thousand dollars in one weekend? Why, go see the Miss Universe pageant live, of course! I still can't believe I did it but I attended my first live Miss Universe pageant this year since it was a little closer to home this year. As soon as my friend and I found out it was in Los Angeles, we were on booking the trip. The date of the pageant was announced after the cut-off for taking holidays so we couldn't get the whole week off unfortunately. We found some cheaper flights on Expedia but flights were cheaper from Seattle to L.A. than from Vancouver so I drove from Vancouver to Seattle and since we had the work the same day as our flight and drive out right after in rush-hour traffic, by some miracle, we managed to make it to Seattle, four minutes before our flight took off. We were concerned about having to rebook our flight when we got there. So we get on our flight and I'm sitting in between my friend and another guy who was reading an Audi car manual. I didn't bother to talk to the guy reading the Audi manual but I probably should have because it turns out that we saw him at the pageant too! I had no clue he was going there. Clueless was pretty much the theme of a lot of this trip. Most of the other people on the plane were talking about going to Disneyland. Go figure. So when we arrived in L.A., my friend pre-arranged for us to pick up a rented jeep (It had to be a jeep...we were in L.A. after all) so we took a shuttle bus for the car rental place and picked up our was red, and like Cher and Dionne in Clueless, we did the whole, "'Hello, there was a stop sign?'...'I totally paused!'" line...and then we drove off at 11 pm trying to find our hotel. We printed off some google maps but let me just say, many wrong turns were taken and I swear we drove through Compton or some really run down area of L.A. because it was pretty sketchy looking but surprisingly if you were to travel several blocks west from where we were, it turns out that you would have arrived at the Wilshire Grand Hotel which is where the delegates were staying. The Wilshire Grand is pretty nice though. 7th Street in L.A. reminds me a lot of Hastings Street in Vancouver which has both really nice parts and really bad parts. The Wilshire Grand is also really close to the Shrine Auditorium naturally. We didn't stay at the Wilshire Grand though, we cheaped out and stayed at the Historic Mayfair which was on the same street but further west and like I said...cheaper. So during our stay, we spent a weekend cruising Santa Monica Boulevard and seeing the sights of Hollywood. At a Rite Aid in Beverly Hills, we saw Kim Coles who starred on "Living Single" and "In Living Color." We didn't say anything to her though because we recognized her face but forgot her name at the time and then about two hours later, it suddenly popped in my brain. After a swelteringly hot Saturday (I still have the tan lines 3 weeks later to prove how sunny it was), Sunday came along but it was somewhat cloudy but still warm. It came time to go to the pageant so we parked our jeep in the lot across the street from the Shrine. $20 for parking, by the way. And who did we see in the parking lot as we were coming out? Why Miss USA's family and friends of course holding their pictures of Tara and big "U.S.A" letters! Outside the Shrine, there were screening measures and of course, we had to empty our pockets in a tray and then walk through the gate and pick up our stuff again after passing through. There was a lot of Latin press covering the event outside and a lot of drag queens making their presence known. So we got inside and bought the program book and autographed swimsuit poster for $25 but they weren't selling presentation show DVDs oddly enough. Although I had paid $150 for tickets, which were the most expensive available, we were seated at the front of the balcony in the second row. I had hoped to be in the bottom section but I quickly learned that area is reserved for delegates' family, friends, dignitaries and sponsors. Even worse, I never got a close-up during the pageant, I was just a speck in the audience! I'm over it now but as showtime came closer, Choreographer Scott Grossman was giving a little speech saying video was not okay but still photography was okay. And then it was time, the magic unfolded and we were witnessing it live.

The opening was pre-taped except the part when Nancy O'Dell and Carlos Ponce did their little intro. We watched the pre-taped opening on screens while the stage was bare. The biggest plus about this opening was that it featured the delegates in their national costumes. Yes, that's how it should be. 2003-2005 had the delegates in Tadashi outfits outside. Obviously, it's harder to film outside in National Costumes but I prefer to see the costumes this way rather than seeing a few closeups in a two-minute dance. As for Nancy and Carlos, I barely knew they were there. They were pretty forgettable hosts. The hosts with presence were of course, our color commentators, Carson Kressley and Shandi "Perfection" Finnessey. I looked way up behind me and there they were talking to the camera. I'm glad the color commentary is back because it makes the competition much more exciting just like Ali Landry and Julie Moran or even better Angela Visser and Leeza Gibbons. After the delegates danced around in their silver curtain dresses, Natalie Glebova, the reigning Miss Universe graced us with her presence and told us about how she is moving to Bangkok to work for Singh...The full name of the company is "Singha Beer"...I'm sure she stopped short of beer since this is of course a family it not? Miss Universe returned to Los Angeles since it was last held there in 1990 and for the first time in history, we saw the debut of 20 semifinalists! As you can see for my predictions, I got 10 of the 20 semifinalists plus 1 alternate. I missed 9 obviously there were a lot of unexpected surprises this year and some shocking exclusions.



Winner=Puerto Rico-Zuleyka Rivera

Winner=Canada-Alice Panikian*

1st RU=Japan-Kurara Chibana

1st RU=Venezuela-Jictzad Vina

2nd RU=Switzerland-Lauriane Gillieron

2nd RU=India-Neha Kapur*

3rd RU=Paraguay-Lourdes Arevalos

3rd RU=Ukraine-Inna Tsymbaliuk*

4th RU=USA-Tara Conner

4th RU=Trinidad & Tobago-Kenisha Thom*

FINALISTS (alpha'l)


Bolivia-Desiree Duran

Philippines-Lia Andrea Ramos

Canada-Alice Panikian

Puerto Rico-Zuleyka Rivera*

Colombia-Valerie Dominguez Tarud

Switzerland-Lauriane Gillieron*

Mexico-Priscila Perales

Colombia-Valerie Dominguez Tarud*

Trinidad & Tobago-Kenisha Thom

USA-Tara Conner*



Argentina-Magali Romitelli

Mexico-Priscila Perales*

Brazil-Rafeala Zanella

Australia-Erin McNaught

Denmark-Betina Faurbye

Ireland-Melanie Boreham

Ethiopia-Dina Fekadu

St. Lucia-Sascha Andrew Rose

Hungary-Adrienn Bende

Sri Lanka-Jacqueline Fernandez

India-Neha Kapur

Greece-Olympia Hopsonidou

Russia-Anna Litvinova

Ghana-Angela Asare

Sweden-Josephine Alhanko

Kazakhstan-Dina Nuraliyeva

Thailand-Charm Onwarin Osathanond

Brazil-Rafeala Zanella*

Ukraine-Inna Tsymbaliuk

Dominican Republic-Mia Taveras


ALTERNATES:Iceland, New Zealand, Peru, Thailand*, Uruguay

* = made actual top 20


It felt like half of the picks totally belonged but the other half were such random picks. When Denmark was announced, my friend and I looked at each other and said, "What??" And of course, the most shocking exclusion of them all was Venezuela's exclusion. Whenever Venezuela is excluded, you know something's very wrong. It seems like India and Venezuela (two powerhouse) countries of the 90s seem to be taking turns being excluded from the semifinals. India in 2003 and 2005 and Venezuela in 2004 and 2006. I'll get back to Jictzad Vina later on. Other ladies in my list included Philippines who obviously had great support but for whatever reason didn't make it and the country hasn't made it since 1999. Australia had a bit of controversy attached to her due to some topless photos but this inclusion in my list was largely to due to hyping by others. Ireland was a favorite of my friend. She had a very pleasant, demure style. St. Lucia didn't perform as well as I had hoped in preliminaries although I liked many of her earlier shots. Sri Lanka was also favored heavily by others. I included Greece just because I loved her liquid silver gown. I'm a sucker for the silver and in some instances, she resembled Angelina Jolie. Ghana won Congeniality and many people liked her but she could have made a better gown choice. Kazakhstan had a first time entry who seemed to have performed quite well and Dominican Republic's red gown and performance were also quite nice.

After the top 20 were announced, we moved into the swimsuit competition with music courtesy of Chelo's "Chacha". They had some pretty nice dance moves and the song has a similar beat to Rihanna's "Pon Di Replay" with a slight "Mambo No. 5" sort of feel. Shandi and Carson's commentary was obviously not heard by the live audience, I only knew there even was a commentary after going home and watching the tape. But I liked the commentary because it makes the delegates seem more interesting. Carson's comments on occasion were a little interesting at times like when he claimed that as a result of the pageant, he was turning bi...lingual. First up in swimsuit was future Miss Universe, Puerto Rico's Zuleyka Rivera who was all about the youthfulness. In preliminaries, she seemed more mature with the hair toss and all but she absolutely knew what she was doing. Denmark followed with great abs but she wasn't really all that memorable. Surprisingly, Denmark returned to the semifinals for the first time since 1967. Switzerland followed and of course, we all loved her. She looked hot in her intro for national costume. She made Carson ponder about switching teams but of course, you couldn't help but notice the ribs. Switzerland, in the last few years, has made top 15 in 2004, top 10 in 2005 and top 5 in 2006. What will happen in 2007?? Colombia looked quite stunning and performed very well here. I was quite pleased. Interesting also that she didn't draw attention to being Shakira's cousin. Ethiopia was sort of a surprise. Her look was quite distinct but she was not so toned and didn't quite have the best face but we like Ethiopia...Sing it with me now, "We are the World...We are the children..." Russia was a blond with legs and boobs...I will note that a few nights before the pageant Mo Rocca did a segment for Jay Leno which showcased Mo kissing Miss Russia on the stomach like Vladimir Putin did to that boy but Miss Russia would not return the kiss after seeing Mo's stomach saying, "She doesn't like it." Canada's Alice Panikian followed looking tall and striking. She's a supermodel in the making! Japan had spunk and she was a pleasant surprise but I think Miss Japan 2003, Miyako Miyazaki who was 4th runner up that year was definitely more of a standout. Sweden was sweet and innocent but certainly needed to do several more situps. Very untoned stomach but after being absent for the first time in history last year, Sweden promptly returned to the semifinals for the first time since 1997. Brazil had an awesome body but for whatever reason, she wasn't really a standout. Trinidad certainly was the face of the pageant as Shandi stated. Kenisha was quite pleasing to all and how 'bout those Trinidad's and Tobago's? Thailand was next and I included her as an alternate in my list because the pageant was partly sponsored by Thai-owned Singha Beer and Miss Universe 1988, Porntip Nakhirunkanok Smith who represented Thailand was a preliminary judge. Hmmmm... Charm was sweet and demure but seemed to be included for these reasons. Bolivia worked it well. She does have a bit of a resemblance to Amelia Vega. And why is it that Bolivia only makes the semifinals when the pageant is in Los Angeles? 1990 and then 2006. Hungary had its first semifinalist in history but this one was a surprise to everyone including herself judging by her reaction to entering the semifinals but it seemed as if she was conveniently included so that Carson could use his "I-think-the-girls-are-all-a-bit-Hungary" line. USA's Tara Conner followed with toned abs. Her runner-up Tamiko Nash of California was in the audience as well. I'm sure she was anxiously watching to see if Tara was to win that Tamiko would have been Miss USA but that was not meant to be. Paraguay was another surprise in this pageant. She makes top 20, top 10 and then top 5. Huh??? Was it because she sort-of looked like Donald Trump's present bride Melania Knauss? Even though she ended as 3rd-runner-up like Miss Paraguay 2004, Yanina Gonzalez, Lourdes Gonzalez was no Yanina. Everyone loved Yanina but Lourdes was just a mystery. India followed too much sarong cover-up and not the best face and she also wasn't able to keep India's 6-year chain of wins (1994 and 2000 were the two years that India won) and here we were 6 years later so we all wonder when they will send their next winner. Argentina was not bad but like Hungary, she was probably included so Carson could use his "Don't Cry for Her Argentina" line. Ukraine also had its first semifinalist but this one should have advanced. I know Donald Trump was mad about Miss Ukraine 2004 not making the semifinals hence inviting her back to judge the next year. Inna worked it with her sarong whipping and awesome body, but she was a bit long-winded in her answers to her close-up. Finally, we had Mexico with a very vocal support group helping her get noticed but her body was just okay. Did you also notice that in 2004 and 2006, Puerto Rico was called first of the semifinalists and Mexico called last and in 2005, Mexico was called first and Puerto Rico called last. Now, that I've mentioned it, will it be done next year?? Both times that Mexico was called last, I was expecting to hear Venezuela instead.

Following that, the top 10 was announced and competed in gowns. Musical guest Vittorio was from Italy, yet oddly enough no Italian delegate was sent this year. Canada was up first and she radiated magnificence wearing a gown that was similar to the one Natalie Glebova wore last year. It worked well for Alice too so I was very surprised she didn't advance to top 5. The same with Trinidad & Tobago. Her yellow number was simple and serene and was very elegant. Bolivia's gown had this wedding cake layered look and it didn't really look all that form-fitting. The embroidery on Japan's gown was nice but it may have been better if the pink areas were a little closer to her skin tone to give the illusion of nudity. Puerto Rico followed with the now world famous chain gown. It was a work of art and reminded me of a dress I think I saw Toni Braxton wear once. One thing that wasn't really caught on camera was that her shoes would keep getting caught in the holes in between the chains of the gown. USA wore that purple ruffly Project Runway gown and she probably made top 5 because they wanted to showcase this gown a little more and the fact that Santino Rice was one of the judges certainly didn't hurt. I preferred her red one-shoulder preliminary gown though. Switzerland's pink number was nice. It suited her very well. Mexico's gown had a busy top and billowy skirt. It was okay. Colombia always delivers in the gown department and this year was no exception. She was lovely. Finally, Paraguay showed up in this loud jungle print gown but you remembered it whether you liked it or not. It had a similar feel to Jennifer Lopez's revealing Versace number that she wore a few years ago at an award show. A humorous moment was when the camera was on Wendy Fitzwilliam, Miss Universe 1998 and she didn't realize it at first, then quickly took off her glasses and smiled. It was a funny moment and the audience saw it and also laughed. When it came to announcing the Photogenic award, if it was an Internet vote, I knew immediately that it would either be Philippines or Puerto Rico. And of course, Philippines won again. It should be renamed the vote-o-genic award now. Ghana won congeniality and Japan won Best National Costume thanks to her action-packed sword-swinging Samurai number. She was awesome and it looked like something out of a video game.

On to the top 5, Switzerland, Paraguay, Japan, USA and Puerto Rico. Did you notice that all but Switzerland in the top 5 wore different gowns in the preliminaries than they did on finals night and all of them advanced from top 10 to top 5?? Switzerland talked of her sort-of adopted sister from Angola who her family takes cares of and she went to school with her. Paraguay spoke of how she inherited her grandparents' antique shop, travels a lot and has enjoys antiques because of it. Japan continuously won the crowd over as the night progressed. They asked how she learned French and Spanish and it created a humorous moment when she started speaking French and her translator couldn't translate it so she had to serve as her own interpreter! I turned to my friend as said, "Oh, she's speaking French!" Basically she said she lived in France for one year and also learned flamenco in Spain so that's how she learned. But then afterwards in English, she said to the audience that while on stage she felt the room was full of energy and it makes her so happy. She was certainly right because the audience roared with delight as Kurara became the crowd's darling. USA said Lake Tahoe was the most interesting place she's been to since she went skydiving there. It was a first time rush, and she loves extreme sports, took a plunge and it was awesome. Finally, Puerto Rico told us her goal is to be an actress because she can live different experiences that a human can live.

When it came down to the final question, Switzerland picked USA's question asking what was her biggest fear. Switzerland's biggest fear in to lose her family because in this world, there is nothing more important than family. It was a good concise answer with a relevant message. Paraguay chose Switzerland's question which asked what values she would teach her children. To love everybody as equals and to love everyone was her answer. Good enough. On to Japan who picked Puerto Rico's question asking if she had the opportunity to change something in the history of humanity, what would it be and why? I loved Japan's answer because she said that there is not so much difference between men and women but the only biggest difference is the physical power of men and sometimes men exploit their power. If men can't relinquish violence and exploitation, then the world will be better. I think many people were convinced that Japan had it at this point. USA chose Puerto Rico's question asking the dreaded question what her major flaws were. Tara said she tends to carry her heart on her shoulder and her heart breaks easily for people. If she ever sees drama or sees someone sad, she wants to make them feel better and it sometimes brings her down. She said she needs to work on that but it keeps her humble. I'm sure Puerto Rico was told to tone down her cutesy giggles because her closeup was full of them. She ended every answer with a giggle but during the pageant, we saw a more serious, focused Zuleyka. She picked Natalie Glebova's question asking what was her definition of success to which she answer that true satisfaction is when a human being has fulfilled their goals and realized the work they have done. Overcoming obstacles makes you strong and enables you to succeed. It was a nice philosophical answer, like something we would have heard it the much missed era of the 90s. The translator was quite interrupty this year and doesn't speak as well as he used to.

After celebs Quincy Jones, David Foster and Donald Trump were acknowledged in the audience, Natalie Glebova said her gorgeous goodbye, and the rankings were declared. I think most people thought it would either be Switzerland or Japan but 4th runner up was USA, 3rd runner up was Paraguay, 2nd runner up was Switzerland, 1st runner up was Japan and Zuleyka Rivera won the 5th Miss Universe crown for the shining star of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico.

Right after the pageant, the photos were taken with Zuleyka and the Donald, the judges, the other celebrities, dignitaries, so on and so forth. The audience was pretty much shooed out of theatre and although, we didn't see it, we learned on the news later that night that Zuleyka fainted during her post-pageant photo session and she was carried off stage. She blamed it on the heavy gown, the hot lights and the people surrounding her but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she probably didn't eat anything the whole day either. After the pageant, we wandered around the foyer among the masses of people and out of nowhere we saw Miss Venezuela, Jictzad Vina emerge! As some delegates came out, they would be surrounded by picture taking fans. The delegates were gracious and understanding about it but it can become annoying and I now have a better understanding why celebrities hate paparazzi so much. Most of the other delegates were heading to the coronation ball through the back but Jictzad didn't go. She was all smiles when she came out in a white shirt and ruffly pink skirt but when she sat down to talk on her cellphone, her face suddenly changed and she became very tearful. My friend happened to have tissues on him and handed them to Jictzad and he later boasted about the fact that his tissues were used to dry the tears of Jictzad Vina. It stung my heart to see Jictzad like that and was more convinced than ever that she should at least have made top 20. She was tall, striking and gorgeous in person. I always thought her face was very similar to Halle Berry's. Jictzad waited outside and was left alone with her friend waiting for the limo to take her back to the hotel. I firmly believe there were some bad politics excluding her from the semifinals and Jictzad did not deserve that kind of treatment. Other delegates that were seen in the foyer were St. Lucia, Guatemala, US Virgin Islands, Philippines, Korea, Iceland and even Lupita Jones and Maria Celeste stepped outside briefly. There were a lot of other pageant girls that lingered around outside wearing their sashes and crowns bearing obscure titles that I had never heard of.

Now to put this year in historical context, Puerto Rico has done the unthinkable and has won 5 Miss Universe crowns toppling international powerhouse Venezuela which has won 4 Miss Universe crowns but has many more runner-ups. Did you also notice that Carlos Ponce and musical guest, Chelo were Puerto Rican? It certainly didn't hurt to have Maria Celeste and Amelia Vega as judges either. Hungary, Ukraine and Ethiopia each had their first semifinalists in history. Switzerland also had its highest ranking in history. Japan won in 1959 and Kurara came close to that. Also note that Miss USA, Tara Conner matches Miss USA 2000, Lynnette Cole in terms of being the only two women in history to make the top 5 of Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe. However, Lynnette has also won Miss Teen All American and made the top 5 at Miss Oktoberfest, which were two other popular titles of the time. Zuleyka Rivera is our new Miss Universe and she was certainly well prepared so she should have a successful reign. Miss USA and Miss Universe both have very youthful teen looks this year so I'm interested to see how Miss Teen USA may look even younger! We'll find out who wins Miss Teen USA on August 15. Until then!