Old black magic has me in a spell! (whispers 'Club 96'). This throwback line to the 1996 Miss Universe swimsuit competition song has me remininscing about 1996 and some ways that it parallels the 2019 Miss Universe pageant. That 'old black magic' has now become 'black girl magic' as this is also the first time in history that the Miss Universe trio for one calendar year (2019) that Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA as well as Miss America (Nia Franklin) are all black women although Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst and Miss Teen USA, Kaliegh Garris are biracial.

Zozibini Tunzi with her parents and sisterThis is the third Miss Universe crown for Mandela's rainbow nation of South Africa. Zozibini Tunzi has captured the crown and she is the first black South African to win the crown succeeding the wins of Margaret Gardiner in 1978 and Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters just two years ago in 2017! It is a rare occurrence for a country to place in the top 2 three years in a row but South Africa has done it from 2017 to 2019 and this was also done by Venezuela from 1996 to 1998 and Colombia placed as 1st runner up three years in a row from 1992 to 1994. Zozibini is also the sixth black Miss Universe succeeding Trinidad & Tobago's Janelle Commissiong in 1977, USA's Chelsi Smith in 1995, Trinidad & Tobago's Wendy Fitzwilliam in 1998, Botswana's Mpule Kwelagobe in 1999 and Angola's Leila Lopes in 2011. Oddly enough, there were patterns to support South Africa placing as 2nd runner up (as pointed out by my friend Wassim) following a lead from Colombia who won for 2014, placed 2nd in 2015 and 3rd in 2016 with progressively duskier contestants and then South Africa won in 2017 and placed 2nd in 2018 but Zozibini wouldn't settle for 2nd runner up but would win the Miss Universe title and wear the new Mouawad crown valued at approximately 5 million dollars! Another pattern was barely broken this year as every year after Thailand hosted Miss Universe, Puerto Rico won (Thailand hosted in 1992 and Puerto Rico won in 1993 then Thailand hosted in 2005 and Puerto Rico won in 2006 then Thailand hosted in 2018 but Puerto Rico would have to settle for first runner up for 2019 but the pattern almost continued!)... (whispers 'Club 96') Also, the 1996 Miss Universe pageant was originally supposed to be held in South Africa as was announced during the 1995 Miss Universe pageant in Namibia but that plan did not materialize and the 1996 Miss Universe pageant ended up being held in Las Vegas and the 1995 Miss Universe pageant is still the only Miss Universe pageant to be held in Africa but there were several Miss World pageants held in South Africa most notably from 1992 to 1995 which was as the apartheid era classifying South Africans by race was coming to an end. Zozibini Tunzi was born during this era on September 18, 1993 in a small village called Tsolo in the Eastern Cape and raised in the village of Sidwadweni and you could see her parents Philiswa Nadapu and Lungisa Tunzi in the audience with one of her three sisters and Zozibini really emerged from humble beginnings to go on to attend Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in public relations and image management in 2018 and demonstrated how educated and well-spoken she is and being the first black South African to win the Miss Universe title is a historic, groundbreaking moment. The name Zozibini means "Received with both hands" and it is of Xhosa origin. In the South African culture, it is considered impolite or unappreciative to accept a gift with one hand so to show appreciation and respect to the giver, one uses both hands to accept a gift and what a gift she is! No other Miss Universe winner has had hair as short as Zozibini's and some have likened Zozibini's distinct look to Grace Jones and others to Whitney Houston on her first album cover and still others to Janet Hubert from 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' but Zozibini is an amazing woman on her own and is winning praise from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Naomi Campbell and Gabrielle Union. Although, Zozibini tried for the 2017 South African crown, she made the top 26 but did not advance to the top 12 that year but accepted that it wasn't her time but she came back strong in 2019 demonstrating great speaking ability when answering her national pageant’s final question, “Looking at the current state of our country, if you had the opportunity to be an adviser to the president, what advice would you give that would ensure a better South Africa for all?”, Zozibini replied, “I am a firm believer in education. I come from the Eastern Cape and this is one with the most disadvantaged provinces in the country, and I would really advise that they push on education and that they start at a very young age. Maybe there’s nothing much that can be done for elders but we can do so much more for children. It is the most painful thing to see when children don’t have shelters over their head or bridges to get to school or books. Thank you.” Zozibini’s national costume was also made from the colors of the South African flag and the costume contains ribbons of messages from men of South Africa to women all over world with hopes of promoting her message of terminating gender based violence which is prevalent worldwide and not just in South Africa. South Africans have long been strong in interview skills in pageantry and the modern era of pageantry favors this so their success rate should continue in years to come. Although, South Africa was banned from participating in Miss Universe from 1985 to 1994, they currently rank 5th in the list of Who Has the Most Miss Universes and even prior to that, I fondly remember the amazing final answer of Leticia Snyman, Miss South Africa 1984 who would finish as 1st runner up to Miss Universe 1984, Sweden's Yvonne Ryding. When asked by then host Bob Barker who just recently turned age 96 (whispers... 'Club 96'), "Should you be the new Miss Universe, you will become a symbol to young women and girls all over the world. What would you like to tell them?" Leticia's excellent and astute answer was, "I would like to tell them that beauty is not a physical thing. It's something that's inside you and only you can bring that out and only you can show that to the world. It's a God-given gift and make the best of it, make the most of it and use it in the way that your creator would like you to." This year's pageant was also held in Atlanta, Georgia which also happened to be the host of the 1996 Summer Olympics! (whispers... 'Club 96') and finally the evening gown songs for this year (Selena's "Dreaming of You" and "I Could Fall in Love") were also the evening gown songs for Miss Teen USA 1996 and in my first round prethoughts, I mentioned that the winner of Miss Teen USA 1996, Christie Lee Woods won the 2019 U.S. edition of the reality show "The Amazing Race" and the million dollar prize with her life partner, Colin Guinn! (whispers... 'Club 96')

Miss Universe crown Miss Universe 2019 became a very rushed edition since it took a while for all of us to learn the date and venue of this year’s Miss Universe pageant until it was announced on October 18 that Miss Universe 2019 would be held on December 8 (less than two months before the pageant) somewhere in the USA and then two weeks later, the host city was announced as Atlanta, Georgia and the venue would be the brand new Tyler Perry Studios. I was fully expecting this year to be a leap year and for Miss Universe 2019 to be held in early 2020 because it took a while before anyone heard anything. There was short notice served to the national directors when FOX appeared to have an opening on December 8 to make Miss Universe a part of their holiday season line-up so it became a last minute scramble resulting in several countries having to withdraw this year including: Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Krygyzstan, Lebanon, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Switzerland and Zambia's delegate arrived late and was therefore unable to compete this year so perhaps she will compete next year as a similar scenario affected Sierra Leone's delegate who arrived late last year but was allowed to compete this year instead. There was also news spreading that Ukraine had difficulty getting a visa at first but then news spread that Ukraine will indeed be competing this year prompting some to think that a certain someone had something to do with that… We didn’t match last year’s record of 95 participants but we had a respectable number of 90 contestants. The preliminaries and national costume shows were held in the host hotel Marriott Marquis’ ballroom and there were some notable mishaps such as France and Malaysia falling completely during the swimsuit competition with some other delegates also stumbling on stage causing the floor having to be swept during Mexico's turn in the preliminary swimsuit competition. Last year, there was talk about potentially having the Miss Universe pageant in Korea or even the Philippines again to possibly give the reigning Miss Universe, Catriona Gray, a home-crowd send-off as was done for Margarita Moran in 1974 and Pia Wurtzbach for 2016/17 but since this year was more of a last-minute scramble, it had to be in the USA but perhaps a new venue and date will be lined up for the 2020 Miss Universe pageant. Also, there was a new Miss Universe crown this year designed by Mouawad jewellers and it is a nice crown valued at five million dollars. The shape of the crown reminds me of the crowns used from 1954 to 1960 with a similar laurel leaf idea. We have seen many crown changes over the years but my preference has always been the chandelier crown that was used from 1973 to 2001 and we also had a rougher version of it used from 1963 to 1972. The Mikimoto crown was used from 2002 to 2007 and then returned for 2017 and 2018 but part of the Mikimoto crown broke during one of Catriona Gray’s homecoming parades so it was time to replace it. Other recent crown sponsors included CAO Fine Jewelry in 2008, Diamond Nexus Labs from 2009 to 2013 and DIC from 2014 to 2016. This year's, host Steve Harvey, just completed the fifth year of his five year deal to host Miss Universe so time will tell if he renews this contract but he turns 63 in January so chances are pretty high that he will retire from hosting the pageant especially after the negative reactions to some things he said during the pageant. Was it really necessary to say the word 'cartel?' I immediately knew that was trouble right after he said it when referencing Colombia and their reaction to his notable blunder of 2015 when he mistakenly announced Colombia as the winner when she was actually the runner-up and had to be uncrowned when he revealed that Philippines had actually won. He also mumbled something about not getting out of here alive when mentioning Mexico to the audience.

Lupita Jones, Riyo Mori, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, Zozibini Tunzi, Catriona Gray, Paulina Vega, Crystle Stewart, Gabriela Isler, Denise QuinonesThe U.S. ratings for this year's pageant were the second-lowest in Miss Universe history unfortunately getting only 3.82 million viewers which is just slightly above the lowest rated 2013 pageant which had 3.8 million viewers but the 2013 Miss Universe pageant was on a Saturday as opposed to the 2019 pageant which was on a Sunday which should have a better audience. Ratings for all special events have fallen though as there are so many options for viewing/streaming these days. This year's ratings were a slight drop from last year's ratings of 4.19 million viewers which is now the third lowest rated in history just slightly below 2017’s 4.4 million. However, I think a lot of people have watch parties where several people gather at one house to watch together as I know that’s what I have been doing in recent years so I’m not sure how accurate these ratings measurements are. The 2012 and 2015 Miss Universe pageants were held in December and they had over 6 million viewers but even if pageants are losing viewers in the U.S., they are still extremely strong internationally. Some blame the weak ratings on Miss Universe and USA turning into Miss World and Miss America by adapting similar speech-heavy content and taking the focus away from physical beauty, glitz and glamour. Some also blame the lowered ratings on excessive amounts of talking and Steve Harvey's unnecessarily long and somewhat flat banter near the beginning after Ally Brooke's performance of "Low Key," "No Good," and "Higher" which started the show but there was no voiceover or caption right at the start to say that we were watching Miss Universe 2019 like in years past so it took time for people to realize what they were watching if they were watching it at all. This was the second time in history that we had an all-female selection committee similarly to last year. The 7 judges were: Paulina Vega-Miss Universe 2014 from Colombia, Riyo Mori-Miss Universe 2007 from Japan, Crystle Stewart-Miss USA 2008 from Texas, Cara Mund-Miss America 2018 from North Dakota, Gaby Espino, Bozoma "Boz" Saint John and Sazan Hendrix and for preliminaries: Olivia Jordan-Miss USA 2015 was there instead of Riyo Mori and Crystle Stewart. It is unusual to see a former Miss America on the judging panel for the Miss Universe system as the two systems usually stay separate from each other but on many media tours earlier this year, Nia Franklin-Miss America 2019 accompanied Cheslie Kryst-Miss USA 2019 and Kaliegh Garris-Miss Teen USA 2019 to about the three titleholders for 2019 being black so it looks like some barriers are being broken but I wonder if we will see any of the Miss Universe organization titleholders being involved with Miss America in a similar capacity. It's probably doubtful. The last time I recall a former Miss America judging at a Miss Universe organization pageant was when Susan Akin-Miss America 1986 was a judge for Miss Teen USA 1990.



Winner=South Africa-Zozibini Tunzi

Winner=Ireland-Fionnghuala O'Reilly

1st Runner Up=Puerto Rico-Madison Anderson

1st Runner Up=Colombia-Gabriela Tafur Nader*

2nd Runner Up=Mexico-Sofía Aragón

2nd Runner Up=Thailand-Paweensuda Drouin*

FINALISTS (alpha'l):


Colombia-Gabriela Tafur Nader

Puerto Rico-Madison Anderson*

Thailand-Paweensuda Drouin

France-Maëva Coucke*



France-Maëva Coucke

USA-Cheslie Kryst*

Iceland-Birta Abiba Þórhallsdóttir

Venezuela-Thalía Olvino*

Indonesia-Frederika Cull

India-Vartika Singh*

Peru-Kelin Rivera

Croatia-Mia Rkman*

USA-Cheslie Kryst

South Africa-Zozibini Tunzi*



Albania-Cindy Marina

Albania-Cindy Marina*

Brazil-Júlia Horta

Philippines-Gazini Ganados*

Croatia-Mia Rkman

Mexico-Sofía Aragón*

Dominican Republic-Clauvid Dály

Tanzania-Shubila Stanton

India-Vartika Singh

Indonesia-Frederika Cull*

Nigeria-Olutosin Araromi

Panama-Mehr Eliezer

Philippines-Gazini Ganados

Bangladesh-Shirin Akter Shila

Portugal-Sylvie Silva

Netherlands-Sharon Pieksma

Venezuela-Thalía Olvino

Brazil-Julia Horta*

Vietnam-Hoàng Thùy

Vietnam-Hoàng Thùy*


ALTERNATES: Australia, Chile, Great Britain, Iceland*, Peru*


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Argentina, Dominican Republic*, Portugal*, Honduras, Romania


* = made actual top 20

Puerto Rico and IrelandSimilarly to last year, there were 20 quarterfinalists and they were again selected by region (the Americas, Europe and Africa/Asia Pacific) with 5 wildcard spots. How did I do with my predictions? Well, I was very happy that I picked 15 of the top 20 plus 2 alternates (Iceland and Peru) and 2 honorable mentions (Dominican Republic and Portugal) so this year was sensibly judged. Only 1 of the quarterfinalists missed my list entirely and that was Nigeria who was this year's biggest surprise and this is only the second time in history that this highly populated nation has placed (The other year was 2001 thanks to Agbani Darego who placed 7th at Miss Universe 2001 but would go on to later win Miss World 2001.) Also did you notice that I placed South Africa in 10th place in my prediction lists for both 2017 and 2019 but both of ended up winning??? The five ladies in my list that didn't place were my winner Ireland as well as Tanzania, Panama, Bangladesh and Netherlands. What happened to my picks that didn't place? Well, first up was Ireland's Fionnghuala (Fig) O'Reilly who I thought fit the criteria of what IMG was looking for in a titleholder as she is uniquely accomplished working for NASA as a director for their Space Apps challenge and she is also biracial (like Miss USA and Miss Teen USA) so she also could have completed the trifecta and Fig had competed in Miss DC USA 2018 finishing as 3rd runner up and those DC girls have been smiled upon in recent years winning Miss USA 2016 and 2017 and finishing in the top 10 for 2019. I will say that I was shocked when I saw Ireland's preliminary gown even if she changed to a better gown for finals and I suppose the preliminary gown may have been what took her out of the running or perhaps she simply did not want to win Miss Universe as she is already established at her job with NASA so a Miss Universe reign could have disrupted that. Tanzania's Shubila Stanton was a great candidate as she was tall and facially stunning and also had the short hair similarly to South Africa's delegate and she was accomplished and is an environmental activist like Time's person of the year, Greta Thunberg so perhaps she could have been a threat to South Africa which seemed to be the one they wanted. Panama's Mehr Eliezer has such a stunning face and was one of this year's most photogenic delegate but I wasn't surprised that she didn't place as her belly looked untoned but she was strong in interview, face and gown and I figured all this and body positivity might pull her through but there was a bit of controversy when Mehr posted an altered picture of Miss Dominican Republic on social media which she removed and apologized for but Dominican Republic ended up placing whereas Panama didn't which I should have known would happen! Bangladesh sent their first delegate ever this year and she seemed a bit more reserved and wore active wear pants rather than a swimsuit and I figured they might want to showcase that but it was not to be. Finally, Netherlands found her way in my list after preliminaries because she reminded me of Olivia Jordan-Miss USA 2015 who was one of the preliminary judges and I thought she was likeable and had a pleasant look but I guess she wasn't accomplished enough so another delegate ended up getting her spot for the European region.

Vanessa LacheyOlivia CulpoServing as color commentators this year were Vanessa Lachey-Miss Teen USA 1998 and Olivia Culpo-Miss Universe 2012 and they did a nice job. Vanessa has done this several times before and Olivia was a first-timer but she was decent and this experience should encourage her to grow in this area. For this pageant being held in a soundstage, it actually looked pretty decent with all the fancy lighting but I heard that people in the theatre weren’t seated in rise-tiered level seats so it makes it hard to see when people in front of you are standing if all the seats are on the same level but most people end up watching the large screen monitors. Repeating what was started in 2017, the delegates were divided into regions of Africa/Asia Pacific, Europe and the Americas with wildcard spots for the remaining 5 from any region. The introduction of the delegates was nice and I’m glad they incorporated the national costumes this year by using footage from the national costume competition. It was well paced and I think the pre-taped introductions look nicer than just quick on-stage introductions. First up was South Africa who was asked by Steve Harvey what has been her go-to song since she starts each day by singing. South Africa replied that she likes to self-affirm each morning and look at herself in the mirror and tell herself that she is beautiful, capable and intelligent so this week she was listening to Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” just to activate that Black Girl Magic. That old black magic had us in a spell and with her strong interview skills, Zozibini set the bar high by coming out first just like South Africa did last year. Other former Miss Universe winners that were the first to be announced as semifinalists include: Canada’s Karen Baldwin in 1982, New Zealand’s Lorraine Downes in 1983, India’s Sushmita Sen in 1994, Puerto Rico’s Zuleyka Rivera in 2006, and Colombia’s Paulina Vega in 2014. Next up was Indonesia who was asked what cryotherapy is as she tried it before competing for Miss Universe. Indonesia replied that it is more for the body where you enter a human-sized fridge in nearly freezing temperatures to relax the muscles since Miss Universe girls have to work out really hard and she suggested Steve try it but Steve didn’t think so, of course! You might have noticed Indonesia spoke much better English as she was actually born in Australia similarly to Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2018 and Frederika’s father was British-Australian but she moved to Indonesia to model and compete for her national title so this was one of many examples of country-hopping going on this year. Vietnam was next and was asked to share a Vietnamese proverb since she is a master in them. Vietnam replied humorously saying it in Vietnamese first and asking Steve to translate to which he played along and replied that it translates to ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ in English and Vietnam then gave the real translation which was somewhat hard to understand what she said but I believe it was if you are grinding a piece of iron, it’s to return into the sealing needle one day, which means, as long as you work hard and don’t give up, your dream will come true. Next up was Nigeria who was this year’s biggest surprise and I think the heartbreaking story of her mother passing away recently in a car accident in September garnered sympathy votes from the judges which translated into a top 20 placement and Nigeria’s second placement in Miss Universe history succeeding 2001. Steve asked her what he should do in Nigeria if he goes there as he has travelled to other parts of Africa. Nigeria replied that she saw that he was in Ghana last year and welcomed him to Nigeria to visit the Lekki conservation centre which is Africa’s longest canopy walkway and you can get some good Instagram pictures. Steve Harvey with Thailand Olutosin was also Miss Nigeria USA 2015 and placed in the top 18 of Miss New Jersey USA 2018. Next up was Thailand’s Jennifer Paweensuda “Fahsai (clear sky)” Saetan-Drouin who graduated majoring in Kinesiology from the University of Calgary in Canada where she was raised but moved to Thailand to model and sports DJ and has competed in multiple Thai pageants placing as 2nd runner up to Thailand’s 2017 representative, Maria Lynn Poonlertlarp Ehren. Thailand was asked what a duck walk was since she was taught that in preparation for Miss Universe. She replied that it doesn’t involve quacking but as an athlete, she needed more hip-sway in her catwalk and when standing on high-heels, you pop your hips one way and then the other and it’s called the duck walk because if you look at a duck from behind, it looks similar to how a duck wags its tail/butt. Then it was on to Europe starting with Albania who was asked since she plays on Albania’s national volleyball team, what was more intense either the locker room before a game or backstage at Miss Universe? She replied that it was a tough question and that they are so different and so intense in their own respective ways but the main difference was that in volleyball, you have many chances to win whereas Miss Universe is once in a lifetime so she was ready to give it her all. France was up next and was asked why she had to eat fish eyeballs and animal brains. She replied it was for a French TV show. It was for her association to which she gives money and it was delicious! I’m assuming she meant it was for a fundraising event but it was cute the way she delivered this answer and you just can’t help but admire Maeva’s beautiful face and I’m so glad she got the opportunity to compete for Miss Universe as she competed for Miss World 2018 finishing in the top 12 similarly to her placement at Miss Universe but she got this chance because Vaimalama Chaves, Miss France 2019 opted not to compete internationally so Maeva was appointed to represent France at Miss Universe and we were very happy to have her! Next up was Iceland was asked to talk about her unusual pet. She didn’t think it was unusual but she had a pet cow. She would come when she called and she would ride her like a horse and she would feed her milk like any dog or cat except it was 1000 pounds. Steve asked why she fed the cow milk and she clarified that when it’s young, it needs milk. Iceland was very cute and charming and this certainly helped her advance to the next round. Croatia was next and I was very happy to see Croatia send such a strong delegate with Mia. She was asked about why her only fear of the night would be falling and if she thought she would stay on her feet. She replied that two days ago (during preliminaries) some of the queens fell and they stood up with gorgeous smile and confidence and they kept walking and they showed her and the whole world that if you fall, you have to stand up and keep going so she just apologized to production if she walks a bit slower just in case but even if she fell, she would fix her invisible crown and keep walking. The fixing her invisible crown sounded like a Lu Sierra-ism which she may have talked to the girls about when rehearsing their walks. I’m surprised they didn’t ask France about the fall since she was the first to notably fall during preliminaries but Croatia handled this well. The final spot for Europe went to Portugal! This is only the second time that Portugal has placed after their first placement in 2011 and I was happy that Sylvie managed to get a spot in the semifinals. Portugal was asked if she was homesick or thinking about relocating to Atlanta as this was her first time travelling outside of Europe. She replied that she was happy to be in Atlanta but she misses her country and that’s fine. That was a cute way to end her little statement and then it was on to the Americas. Puerto Rico was up first and as mentioned in my first round prethoughts, Madison has much pageant experience finishing as 1st runner up at Miss Florida USA 2019 and finishing as 3rd runner up at Miss Grand International 2016. Puerto Rico was asked after much cheering from her supporters in the audience and she said she felt like she brought her whole island aquí a Atlanta. Steve asked what the life coach she worked with taught her and what advice she could give for free. Puerto Rico answered she learned many lessons but one that resonated with her was to simply be who you are and despite our critics, we have to continue dominating our lives with a confident heart and a courageous soul. Steve Harvey with USA Next up was Peru and Kelin was asked what advice she got from other women in her family who competed in pageants. She said they always told her to follow her heart even after participating 3 times in Miss Peru to look at her and her dream came true. Next up was Dominican Republic who at 18 is one of the youngest delegates to compete this year but she is the first female ambassador of the Dominican Republic in the United Nations and she became an advocate for the United Nations' resolution that declared Child Marriage an international humanitarian disaster and I heard she was sick so that might explain the lackluster performance in the preliminaries which caused me to drop her to my honorable mentions category. And let’s not forget her little ordeal with Panama posting an altered picture of her on social media. Dominican Republic was asked how she felt and she replied that she felt a bit cold like ice cream in a freezer and then said it was going to get a bit heated when the swimsuit competition comes. Right? (gestures to audience for applause). Well, she tried but Steve asked about the good luck charm she brought to Atlanta. She said it wasn’t with her on stage but it’s an upper arm bracelet and she achieved it when she was 7 years old during her first pageant and originally it was a crown which couldn’t be seen due to her puffy hair and her mother made a bracelet out of the stones of the small crown so she could always wear it and it would be with her during good and bad moments. Mexico was up next why the final question is her favorite part of the competition as this is what most people fear. She replied that her mother told her that she was a motormouth when she was a little girl and that she would even talk when she was asleep. Now, she speaks for a living and she thinks Miss Universe is one of the most important female-lead platforms in the world and they’re not looking for a model, they’re looking for a role model (Another Lu Sierra-ism, I presume?? but it was a spot-on statement nonetheless). In that round, she gets to speak her mind and heart and try to make a positive impact on the world. Finally, USA was fun pointing out seeing her mom with her face on a stick. Steve asked her for some tips since she works as a TV correspondent for ‘Extra’. She so Extra! Cheslie replied that if you get nervous, take a deep breath and slow down and if you have notes, make sure you look over your notes and most importantly, pin your hair back so it doesn’t get in your face but she looked at Steve saying she didn’t think he would have that problem. Obviously, Steve is bald so this was a fun little dig at Steve and as he said, ‘Girl, you better tell these jokes!!’ Cheslie was awesome and showed us why she is the tremendous overachiever that she is working as an attorney prior to her reign as Miss USA. Then it was on to the wildcards. The first of which was Philippines and Gazini certainly stood out in the unique lilac gown she was wearing. She was asked about her five names. She said her mom named her Gazini Christiana Jordi Acopiado Ganados. Gazini was derived from Gazan (after her Palestinian father Ghassan) and Christiana was due to her birthdate of December 26, the day after Christmas and this was a great opportunity to give a shout-out to those who give her one gift on Christmas and on her birthday and she only wanted one gift for Christmas and her birthday and we all know what that is… the Miss Universe title! But she didn’t get it. In fact, this is the first year that Philippines didn’t advance to a top 10 position since their current longest running streak in the semifinals began in 2010 and I also suspected this would happen which is why I put her in 12th place on my predictions list. It is interesting to note also that there will be a new pageant apart from the original Binibining Pilipinas pageant that has been selecting the Philippines’ representative to Miss Universe since 1964 and the new franchise of Miss Universe Philippines starting in 2020 will be directed by former Philippines representative, Shamcey Supsup, who was 3rd runner up at Miss Universe 2011 so we shall see how the new pageant and its direction fares next year and in years to come. Steve Harvey with Colombia Next up was Venezuela who was asked why she feels at home when she is under water. She explained she thinks she is like a mermaid and she grew up in a pool practicing synchronized swimming 4 hours per day so when she is under water, she can confident, powerful and relaxed and she recommended that Steve try it and when he declined, she said he can teach him to which he quipped that his wife was sitting in the audience which was a funny moment. Next up was India which was once a powerhouse but they hadn’t placed since 2014 so this was a nice comeback moment. Vartika was actually appointed to represent India this year. She was previously 2nd runner up at Miss Grand International 2015. India was asked which American celebrity she would like to work with since she has already worked with several famous Indian actors and she replied that it was a good thing she was already standing with Steve (implying she would like to work with Steve) but if given the choice, she finds Leonardo Dicaprio really cute and she thinks he’s a great human being and she loves him. Steve didn’t take too kindly though humorously to her starting off with Steve but settling with Leonardo. Next up was Brazil looking better with her short hair straightened. She was asked what tips she has for Steve to achieve ultimate zen since she practices meditation every day. Brazil replied that meditation helps her to concentrate, to get connected with her senses and to be a positive person but she can’t help Steve achieve ultimate zen since she hasn’t gotten there herself but she would let him know when she does. Finally, Colombia was the last of the top 20 to be announced causing Steve to keel over a bit milking the incident from 2015. Gabriela played along and asked if he was sure that he read correctly and if she should go back and said not to worry that he was forgiven and Steve said, “Not the cartel!” which prompted Gabriela to later post on social media to Steve that cartel jokes are not funny. She asked Colombia if she wanted to give her grandmother (her biggest fan) a shout-out and of course, they showed that she was in the audience and she stood so Gabriela conveyed a nice message of love and thanks to her in Spanish. I’ll just add here that I don’t necessarily think all the wildcards didn’t actually make the top 5 for their respective regions so I think there is a little bit of scrambling going on in terms of the order that the quarterfinalists are announced as I especially find it hard to believe that Colombia wasn’t in the top 5 for the Americas. As pointed out in my first round prethoughts, I thought it would have been nice to see Philippines crowning Colombia as a sort of full-circle moment to heal from the 2015 debacle when Steve Harvey mistakenly named Colombia as the winner instead of Philippines only to correct it soon after. It was not to be but maybe Colombia will get another win in the near future.

Now it was time for the top 20 to give their opening statement speeches. South Africa’s was, “I got my first book ever from my grandmother who never got an opportunity to get an education. She gave me that book because she had hope that I would have a future much better than hers. I come from strong women who have fought not only to be recognized as humans but to be recognized as intelligent and capable leaders. Because of those women, I am here today and it is now my responsibility to inspire others, to lead, to be the best and to stay confident in everything that they do. Thank you so much.” Everything Zozibini said during this pageant and the way she said it proves that she ranks among the most well-spoken Miss Universe winners. Let’s turn the Rainbow nation into a Reading Rainbow nation! (sings) “Butterfly in the sky…” Next up was Indonesia who said, “There are so many people in this world who are left voiceless due to the fact that they don’t have a birth certificate, a basic human right. My charity ‘Voice for the Voiceless’ is working hard to ensure all Indonesians have that right. I aspire to be a woman who not only stands for herself but stands for those who cannot stand on their own. Thank you.” This was a bit shaky in the delivery and I think she said ‘inspire’ instead of ‘aspire’ and skipped the word ‘due’ and she also recycled the birth certificate detail again during the pageant which is usually a no-no but she did well enough in this round to advance to the next level which is the first time Indonesia has ever advanced past the first round to the top 10 and I was impressed that she even knew that and mentioned it to Vanessa Lachey. Next up was Vietnam who said, “I remember a girl who used to selling things on the Bac Giang province vessel for nearly 10 years. She's growing up with gender discrimination, but she always believe in her dream. That little girl is me, standing here to tell to the world, believe in yourself, working hard, think positive and be patient. You can reach your goal and your dream. I did it. Will you?” Her accent was very heavy and I’m not sure that I transcribed the ‘Bac Giang province vessel’ bit correctly and somewhere else I saw it as ‘botany bins butte’ which I don’t think is right so I’m not surprised she was eliminated here. I included Vietnam in my list at the last minute which turned out to be the right decision but I didn’t see what others were seeing in her. I much preferred last year’s Vietnamese delegate who placed in the top 5. Next up was Nigeria who said, “My mother once said, ‘Through adversity builds character,’ and I’m a firm believer of that. She recently passed away tragically and I was still able to persevere through and compete at my national pageant. I use my story now to inspire, uplift and impact the youth. Thank you, Atlanta.” Nigeria was the most surprising placement this year but it was not surprising that she would be eliminated here. Steve Harvey with India Thailand was next and she said, “I’m just an ordinary person who believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they believe in themselves, have courage to take that first step and to never give up in the face of adversity. I’m standing here today because I followed my heart and dared to live my dreams. Thank you.” It was a concise but effective speech from Thailand who I would not consider ordinary by any means. Albania said, “Through my work with ocean care, I found that it’s no longer about ‘me’ but about ‘we’ and we all need to take a stand and make a change and what better time than now to lead each other and to empower each other. On a team, I lead with purpose, with values and with inclusivity and if I was to be the next Miss Universe, I would do exactly that. Thank you.” I think there is a youthfulness in her voice that may have caused her to be eliminated here but her speech was very nice. France said through translation, “Very few people know it but I have a twin sister so to laugh we used to have fun switching places in school. By the way, I know that a Miss Universe schedule is very busy so having a double Miss Universe could be a great idea for the organization. What do you think about that?” This was a very funny speech and I loved it and what a fun concept it would be to have twin sisters serving as one Miss Universe! If Maeva’s twin sister looks just like her then maybe she could compete in a future Miss France and possibly Miss Universe pageant! Since Albania and France were called successively in the top 20, I did get to see Coucke by the Marina after all (referring to my first round prethoughts) and quelle coincidence that Albania talked about the Ocean! Iceland followed with a more serious speech, “Growing up facing discrimination, I understand how isolating it is. Feeling the lack of diversity and diverse representation, I became the role model and leader I am today because I want every child to know that they are more than just their skin color, that they are enough and that they are never alone. Thank you so much.” Iceland’s speech was very good and it reminded me a lot of the final answer given by Miss Teen USA 2019, Kaliegh Garris who also has a similar look to Iceland’s representative. Next, Croatia said, “I’m the girl who has been told that she is not good enough for the modelling world. I’m the girl who has been told that her height and her weight is not good enough for the stage, that I wasn’t born for that, that I had to give up and find some other dream. This one that I’m standing here in the top 20 at Miss Universe is for every single person that has been told that he is not good enough. If anyone tells you that you are not good enough just tell, ‘Sit back and watch me doing it!’ Thank you.” This was a nice motivational speech but I don’t think she should have made the focus on being a model as we heard that they are looking for a role model, not a model so sadly Croatia was eliminated here but I would have loved to have seen her advance to the top 10 as she was a find and her styling in the preliminary gown competition reminded me a lot of Kosovo’s 2009 delegate. Portugal spoke through a French translator and said, “I am Portuguese but I studied in Monaco for a long time. One day when I was participating in a large race, I fainted and it is Prince Albert himself who came to rescue me. If that happens again to me tonight, who knows? Maybe I’ll get the crown!” I understand she was trying to be cute here but I wouldn’t exactly encourage fainting or falling and that’s the last time I want to hear the words Prince Albert during this type of pageant. Next up was Puerto Rico who said, “Growing up in a bicultural family has inspired me to connect, to better understand the unifying thread between all of us. This had led me to five continents. I learned a language in just three months and after working with the victims of domestic violence for the past five years, I made a mini campaign and documentary called ‘Metamorphosis’ to empower women through their personal transformation. I have dedicated my whole life to be a servant leader, to not just be an echo but a voice. Thank you.” Madison has prepared well for this moment so I wasn’t surprised for her to give such a strong speech. Peru said, “I’m ready to keep hustling. I work hard to pay for my college education and I get my degree last year. I competed three times to be crowned Miss Peru and now I’m here with you tonight. I want to inspire you, let you know that never give up on something you believe in because I didn’t. Thank you so much.” You could feel the genuineness in the heartfelt delivery of this speech. Dominican Republic said, “I believe women are change makers in our communities. That is why I studied diplomacy and international services also aviation because I want to become a chancellor in my country. When I was 7, I learned girls, little girls were forced into marriage that is why later on, I decided to join the fight against child marriage. I believe that when we raise issues like this that many don’t know, we can truly make a difference and as Miss Universe, my job will be: stay and enforce that girls will stay girls and not brides. Thank you.” I somehow got the impression that this speech was written for her but it was a good issue to which she drew attention. Mexico said, “I became an advocate for mental and emotional health when I realized that through my story, people can heal. I wrote two books about human empowerment and having given conferences in different platforms like TED talks, this is why I’m here and that’s what gave my life meaning because I believe that if you do not use your beauty for your life’s mission, then it’s just an empty ornament.” You can tell that Sofia speaks for a living as her speeches were very strong throughout the night and she really demonstrated it here. Steve Harvey with Philippines USA said, “I almost failed kindergarten. I was such a quiet child, my teachers didn’t know if I was ready for first grade. I have since found my voice and used it to earn three degrees, a job as an ExtraTV correspondent and a role as an impact ambassador for global non-profit ‘Dress for Success.’ No matter where you start, the possibilities for your future are limited only by the depths of your own imagination. As expected, Cheslie delivered a strong message with impact and started with the shocking statement that she almost failed but turned it around to be successful to give hope to anyone watching in similar situations. Philippines said, “The world is aging and my grandparents raised me and I work in an organization that was supporting for elderly care. I learned that…I realized that there is a stigma between ageism, poverty, exclusivity and invisibility. It is rightful for us to remember that they were the ones who paved the way for us and we should reciprocate that love and no one should ever be left behind. Thank you.” There was some distracting flag waving from an overzealous audience member that should have sat down and listened because that was absolutely not helping but there were also some really strong speeches given already so this speech wouldn’t be enough to advance to the next round. Venezuela said, “I was born in Venezuela, country of smiles that taught me the value of perseverance in captivity, that turned me as a woman, as a tenacious woman that doesn’t stop despite adversities. I decided to dream big and now I’m living it understanding that our decisions bring us back for the things that we want for our life no matter what circumstances are. Thank you.” Venezuela gave a decent speech but perhaps not as strong as some of the others. India said, “In smaller towns of India, bigger dreams were not meant for a girl but I was a dreamer and a believer and I never gave up. Today, through my non-profit organization, we provide health care to those who are in need and on the other side, I ended up on the cover of Vogue so I want to tell all the girls to have a dream, believe in yourself, embrace it and create your own story. Thank you.” I think we are used to hearing better speeches from Indian contestants and like Croatia, maybe she didn’t need to mention the modelling. Brazil said, “As Miss Brazil and as a woman, I feel that they should fight for a human’s rights, to make my voice heard against harassment and aggression and never remain quiet. Thanks to the feminists of the past, today I have several rights and I promise to continue fighting for our generation and the next. Thank you so much.” The accent also made this one difficult to understand also but a lot of the same messages seemed to be getting rehashed at this point. Finally, Colombia said, “My life purpose is to contribute to the building of a prosperous, better society with the tools I have at hand. As a lawyer, I work with incarcerated population and protecting the rights of women who have been the victims of violence. As Miss Colombia, I travelled to more than 25 cities and 7 countries providing humanitarian aid and giving visibility to the causes that needed it. I have a commitment to humanity and I will always do my best to give back to the world everything that I have received. Thank you.” As expected, Colombia did really well here.

There was a little gaffe here because Steve Harvey announced that Philippines won the National Costume competition which was determined by an Internet vote so it made sense that Philippines won but while a picture of Philippines’ costume was shown, Malaysia was shown in her costume instead as Philippines was on stage and Malaysia corrected Steve so my assumption was that they decided to show Malaysia instead since she fell during the preliminary swimsuit competition or perhaps Malaysia was 2nd place in the voting but Steve didn’t seem too happy about the gaffe so they could have written why they were showing Malaysia instead better but it created another blunder for the media to feed on to remind everyone of what happened in 2015. Poland also won the Congeniality award. After the top 10 were announced, it was on to the swimsuit competition with an introductory segment set to “Motivation” by Normani leading into Lizzo’s awesome song “Good as Hell” which was perfect for swimsuit which started conveniently enough with USA’s Cheslie Kryst who even interviewed Lizzo due to her work as a special correspondent with ExtraTV and her abs were killer and she showed us that fantastic, athletic physique and her fabulous diva curls. Some say a physique that is perhaps too muscular doesn’t always help at Miss Universe which makes me think of Shauntay Hinton, Miss USA 2002 who didn’t place at Miss Universe 2002 but also sported a very muscular physique but Cheslie did look amazing. It’s also interesting to point that the graffiti capes the girls were wearing were printed from a mural painted by Miss Universe delegates from a few years ago but some people didn’t really like that it covered their backsides almost completely. Next, Colombia showed off her long and lean physique and showed us why Colombia consistently dominates in this competition. Puerto Rico looked sensational and even her poses and styling felt like something out of the golden era of pageantry. South Africa has a naturally thin frame but a commanding catwalk and at this point, the judges probably knew that she was the chosen one. Peru was tall with a great body and the fact that she placed whereas the two Peruvian delegates prior to her that Kelin competed against didn’t place which seemed wrong as they were among my predictions but I was getting the impression that Peru was being ignored. Kelin was deserving though. Iceland was cute and sweet but her body wasn’t really top 10 calibre so it didn’t surprise me that she was eliminated here. France looked amazing with her stunning face and great figure. I still wish her hair was a bit longer but no falls this time! Indonesia’s contestant looked very good and she had a great figure. Thailand was tall and has a strong overall look but the stomach probably could have been a bit more toned. Mexico also could have used some toning in the midsection but she has really strong speaking skills so It didn’t seem to matter.

Then it was on to the evening gown competition with Ally Brooke who is of Mexican descent doing a tribute to another Mexican artist, Selena as Ally performed the same songs used during the 1996 Miss Teen USA evening gown competition (whispers… ‘Club 96’) and as mentioned earlier, the winner of Miss Teen USA 1996, Christie Lee Woods recently won ‘The Amazing Race’ so justice was served since she tried but didn’t make it to the Miss USA stage nor has any Miss Teen USA after her surprisingly. The songs performed were in the reverse order though from 1996 so first Ally Brooke sang, “I Could Fall in Love” followed by “Dreaming of You.” Oh, it just took me back and made me feel 23 years younger remembering the good old years. There seemed to be one gold gown after another in this competition. USA was up first wearing one of these gold gowns with mirror bits giving it an almost flashy leopard-like effect which a strap on one shoulder and a slit. Some think that she shouldn’t have pulled her hair back but I thought it looked fine but her fuller hair probably would have amped it up a bit. Colombia followed in a sparkly gold illusion gown that was really classic and what we normally expect from a Colombian queen. Next was Puerto Rico who also had a gold gown that took several months to construct in New York and India to also create that sparkly mirror effect and the open back on it was nice and she looked amazing but maybe the lipstick was too dark. South Africa’s symbolic gown with the gradient effect liquid beading with blues, golds, silvers and bronzes really stood out and the way the slit at the front opened up when she walked looked divine. Both Zozibini’s preliminary and finals gowns designed by Biji La Maison were refreshingly original and innovative, yet simultaneously distinctly African. It was wonderful to see these kinds of gowns on the Miss Universe stage. Peru’s gown was also sparkly and elegant with interesting cut-outs but it did feel like something we have seen before. Iceland’s golden gown seemed very teen which almost works with her cutesy style. France’s gown probably could have been better. Some thought the sleeves were a bit much and that it could have been better without them. Indonesia’s gold illusion gown was also decent but again, it seemed like something we have seen before. Thailand’s gown with the red train and silver lines looked interesting and perhaps almost villainous but she worked it well. Finally, Mexico’s bold red gown really stood out here and her ostentatious train removal was memorable also.

Top 5Now it was time for the top 5 to answer their questions. Mexico was up first and was asked, “Recently, many countries have seen protests in their streets. Some have led to violence. Is protest a positive way to create change?” Mexico replied, “I believe in the cause. I believe in creating change and I do believe in raising our voices. We need to be heard and some of these protests are really powerful and they can create a positive impact but I do not believe in violence because violence is always going to create violence. I really believe that what we should do is come together, raise our voices and make an impact in the best possible way ever through this kind of platforms like Miss Universe, through the kind of platforms like TED talks. That’s why I’m here and I really believe that that’s what you should do. Thank you.” Mexico did a fine job here. Thailand was next and was asked, “Government surveillance is used to keep many nations and their people safe but some believe this invades or right to privacy. What is more important to you, privacy or security.” Thailand replied, “That’s a very tough question. I believe that every country has their own government policy to keep us safe and I believe that it shouldn’t cross the line of going into our privacy because we have a right to privacy but security is also very important so I believe that in order to live in a better society, we should also have the government look into a line, a middle ground as to where they can come and live together with society.” This question was challenging but her answer didn’t really offer real solutions. Colombia was next and was asked, “Millions of women worldwide lack access to reproductive health care. What do you believe is the most important issue in women’s health and why?” Through her translator, Colombia replied, “I think the most important thing is that women are able to choose about their own body. We have to have the option to have quality care so any decision we make about our body, about our health, about our reproduction will ever put us in risk especially our lives.” I think similarly to last year’s Puerto Rican delegate, Kiara Ortega, she probably should have answered in English as both Gabriela and Kiara were eliminated in this round after answering in Spanish when we know they can speak English in spite of giving strong answers. Next, Puerto Rico was asked, “Social media has empowered people to express their beliefs but sometimes those beliefs are intolerant and dangerous. Should social media platforms respect free speech or regulate what people post?” Puerto Rico replied, “I most definitely believe that social media can be a positive aspect in our lives. We can share information, knowledge. However, it can be used in the wrong hands and spear negativity and harm many people so I believe that social media should identify the people who are spearing such negativity and hurting self-esteem on other people to make sure they’re not abusing the system such as social media. Thank you.” Puerto Rico was well prepared for this answer and it was decent and well delivered. Finally, South Africa showed us how it’s done and was asked, “Are leaders of today doing enough to protect against climate change? If not, what more should they be doing?” South Africa replied, “Steve, I think that the future leaders could do a little bit more but however, I feel like we as individuals ourselves can also play a part in making the climate the way it should be in the future. I mean we have children protesting for climate and I feel like as adults, we should join as well. We should have corporations join as well and the government should take it seriously. I mean from sixth grade, I’ve been learning that the climate is deteriorating and the planet is dying and it is up to us to keep our planet safe. Thank you.” This response was absolutely bang-on and delivered in a very real way and I agree that we all have a part to play.

The top 3 now had to answer the final question, “What is the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today?” Mexico replied, “Steve, it’s very important to teach young girls today the importance of their true value. We see so many perfection in social media: perfect lives, perfect bodies, perfect faces, perfect relationships. Nothing is that real. We have to teach them that who they are is already amazing. Who they are is already worth it because what they really are is not what it looks like, it’s what they feel, what they act and the way they react to the world. I believe a girl is worth for what she has to offer to the world way more than the way she looks. Thank you.” South Africa replied, “I think the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is leadership. It’s something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time, not because we don’t want to but because of what society has labelled women to be. I think we are the most powerful beings on the world and that we should be given every opportunity and that is what we should be teaching these young girls, to take up space. Nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself. Thank you.” Finally, Puerto Rico replied, “There’s so many things that I would love to teach young girls if I have the opportunity to be your next Miss Universe such as: in a world where so many people wear a mask, it’s such a beautiful thing to see an authentic soul so to embrace your uniqueness, to embrace who you are because you just don’t know who you can inspire just by being you so celebrate that. Thank you.” South Africa really knocked it out of the ball park here and the audience reaction to her answer demonstrated that. Mexico and Puerto Rico also gave good answers but South Africa’s was original, excellent, inspiring and innovative.

Finally, instead of the final walk. We had a new element of a final closing statement from the top 3 which was probably unnecessary but it did give a final opportunity to say something impactful. Mexico’s was, “I think it’s revolutionary. Miss Universe is looking for a female leader who is willing to inspire others not to be like her but to want to be more like themselves. As a mental and emotional health advocate, I want to teach the girls that through a beauty pageant, a beauty platform, there’s nothing that beauty cannot withhold. I think the most important thing is to seek progress, not perfection. Thank you.” South Africa’s was, “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me with my kind of skin and my kind of hair was never considered to be beautiful and I think that it is time that that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine. Thank you.” Puerto Rico’s was, “Being on the stage of Miss Universe is not just a dream. I believe that I found my mission. It’s a representation of dedication, resilience and perseverance. I do believe my mission is to show the world that magic happens when we refuse to give up because the universe always listens to a stubborn heart. Thank you.” These were incredible but South Africa once again set herself apart as the one. Mexico probably shouldn’t have mentioned beauty in her statement but gone are the days when we have those viral moments of a delegate bombing her answer, we now have brilliant and beautiful women setting strong examples for today’s youth like many of the pageant delegates from the 90s.

Finally, Catriona Gray did her farewell after her reign with purpose. Mexico was announced as 2nd runner up, Puerto Rico was the 1st runner up and South Africa would capture its third Miss Universe title thanks to the amazing Zozibini Tunzi. Nigeria really helped to let Zozi do her first walk saying ‘Let her walk!’ and then directing her before she was swarmed with the other delegates congratulating her. Zozibini will surely rank among the great Miss Universes in years to come and some say that Zozibini could even go into politics and perhaps even become a leader of her country due to her strong speaking skills and level-headedness. Zozibini struck me in the preliminaries as having a unique spunk while being simultaneously appealingly gracious so we are looking forward to seeing a dynamic reign from her and for her to bring us into the roaring ‘20s!

 The Prethoughts - Miss Universe 2019



Some photos courtesy Miss Universe L.P., LLLP