Thursday, July 23, 2015



CREDIT: MISS UNIVERSE ORGANIZATION


     FOR THE SECOND YEAR in a row, Baton Rouge, the capital city of Louisiana, hosted the Miss USA 2015 pageant. Miss Oklahoma USA Olivia Jordan, 26, a stunning 5'11" blonde from Tulsa was crowned as the 64th Miss USA during a festive gala on July 12, making her the first woman from her state to win the coveted crown. Jordan will now represent the United States in the next edition of Miss Universe pageant whose date and venue are yet to be confirmed. Jordan is a pageant veteran; she had previously represented the country in Miss World 2013 pageant in Bali, Indonesia where she placed in the top 20. She had also competed in Miss California USA 2013 where she placed first runner-up. 

     The lucky contestants who made made the Top 15 list were:



1. Miss Texas USA Ylianna Guerra  
2. Miss Maryland USA Mamé Adjei
3. Miss Arizona USA Maureen Montagne
4. Miss Michigan USA Rashontae Wawrzyniak
5. Miss Virginia USA Laura Puleo
6. Miss Rhode Island USA Anea Garcia
7. Miss Kentucky USA Katie George
8. Miss Hawaii USA Emma Wo
9. Miss New York USA Thatiana Diaz
10. Miss Illinois USA Renee Wronecki
11. Miss Nevada USA Brittany McGowan
12. Miss Oklahoma USA Olivia Jordan
13. Miss Delaware USA Renee Bull
14. Miss Louisiana USA Candice Bennatt
15. Miss Alabama USA Madison Guthrie

     After competing in the swimsuit segment, five were eliminated: Arizona, Illinois, Kentucky, New York and Virginia. However, Kentucky passed to the next round thanks to an interactive audience voting to save one contestant. The eleven remaining contestants then competed in the evening gown segment to demonstrate their grace, poise and sense of style. These were my favorite gowns of the evening because they embody real sophistication (Hawaii, Delaware), sensual elegance (Nevada, Alabama), and bold glamour (Michigan, Maryland).


TOP ROW (L - R): HAWAII, MICHIGAN, NEVADA. BOTTOM ROW (L-R): MARYLAND, ALABAMA, DELAWARE
     Then the group was dwindled down to the top five: Nevada, Maryland, Rhode Island, Texas and Oklahoma. 



     The question portion of the competition consisted of two parts. First, each of the five finalist had to pick a plaque containing the name of a particular judge who asked them a unique question. Every year when I watch Miss USA, I always look forward to this segment because it is the most crucial part of the competition: a girl's answer could either make her or break her. All five questions revolved around current social and political issues. Here's how the finalists responded to their respective questions:


Miss Oklahoma USA Olivia Jordan
Q: "The Confederate flag, excessive force by police and same-sex marriage are all recent, hot-button issues in our country. What do you think will be the next that we need to tackle on a national level?" (asked by Brook Lee, Miss Universe 1997)

A: "I think we still need to talk about race relations in this country. We have not solved this issue. We are still having problems and we keep hearing about new issues that are coming up. We really need to work on being an accepting society and being a society where every single person, no matter your race, no matter your gender, is given the same rights and privileges and opportunities." (Not only was Olivia's delivery smooth and persuasive, but the substance of her answer was on point.)

Miss Texas USA Ylianna Guerra
Q: "Last year, CEOs in the United States made around 300 times as much as the average worker salary. Should the government impose boundaries on salaries of executives?" (asked by Michelle McLean-Bailey, Miss Universe 1992)

A: "That's a very good question. You know, I think that if you work hard enough, you can attain anything. This is the land of opportunity and CEOs -- I believe that they work hard enough for their money, so I believe that they should be able to attain whatever it is they are working for." (Ylianna has one of the most beautiful faces in the pageant and I think she should have won the Miss Photogenic award. Her response was a little shaky in the beginning, but she managed to hold her ground.)

Miss Rhode Island USA Anea Garcia
Q: "Recently, comedian Jerry Seinfeld spoke out against political correctness in our culture. Do you think political correctness is hurting or helping this country and why?" (asked by Tara Conner, Miss USA 2006)

A: "That's a very good question. I think it'a balance of both. Definitely, we need  -- I'm sorry, please repeat the question." (Judge repeated the question.) "I think that it's a balance of both. We need the people to remind us, especially politicians, to remind us what to do right and when to do wrong." [the buzzer rings to indicate that time is up]  (Anea's response will go down in pageant history as one of the worst answers. There's no doubt that she did not understand what "political correctness" means, and her awkward answer was only compounded by her awkward walk in that poorly hemmed gown.)

Miss Maryland USA Mame Adjei
Q: "The United States has agreed to formally reopen its embassy in Cuba. Do you think this change will be a positive one for both countries?" (asked by Nana Meriweather, Miss USA 2012)

A: "I think that it will be a positive trade. I think that it is an awesome thing to open our doors to all countries, all nations and to mend our relations with everyone. We should not be holding on to old grudges. We should be moving forward and accepting each other and loving one another and moving forward so that we can create better relations, better society, better govern -- govern our countries better that way." (Mamé nailed the question, but she stammered a little and she used some words more than once, which to me reflects limited vocabulary.)

Miss Nevada USA Brittany McGowan
Q: "What would you do to improve race relations in the U.S.? Please be specific." (asked by Crystle Stewart, Miss USA 2008)

A: "What I would do to improve race relations in the U.S. is get the more races grouped together and be able to be with each other in a -- in a non -- I think what we need to do is bring -- we need to be more accepting of each other and we need to bring people together, and that's what we need to do. Thank you so much."  (Ouch! Brittany's answer, though not as bad as Anea's, was just too painful to the ears. Oh, well... she looked radiant nevertheless and she was able to keep her composure.)


    Earlier during the week, Reelz had invited viewers to submit a final question with the hashtag #askMissUSA either on Facebook or Instagram. I submitted a question on my Instagram account, but as soon as co-host Todd Newton announced, "Here is your Facebook question," I immediately said to myself, "They lied about Instagram. Bastards! LOL!" Anyway, the final question picked from Facebook came from a viewer from South Carolina:
"In the year 2020, a woman will appear on the $10 bill. Which American woman would you like to see on the first printing of the bill and why?"

Oklahoma: "Well, I wish that Oprah was an eligible candidate because I would love to see Oprah on a bill. But there are some amazing women in American history. I think Harriet Tubman would be a beautiful example of where we have been, and how far we are coming and how far we still have to go. Thank you." (Again, Olivia's delivery was impeccable and persuasive. I am glad that she chose Harriet Tubman over Oprah, not because Oprah is less significant but because Harriet Tubman's name deserves historical perpetuity, considering that many of today's youth in America have never even heard of her.)

Texas: "That's a very good question. On the bills that we have right now, they are all of presidents, and so I think we should just wait until the upcoming election. We have both a Republican and Democratic candidate running for president and I think we should just wait and see."  (Huh? I was totally flummoxed by Ylianna's bizarre response. Either she knows little of American history, or she was seriously hoping that either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Carly Fiorina would win the 2016 presidential election just so a woman would appear on the $10 bill in 2020. Bad answer.)

Rhode Island: "I think that it's long overdue that we haven't had a woman on our dollar bill. Having gone to an all girls' school, I've realized that there are so many powerful women that can really be an example, and the woman I would choose would have to be Catherine McAuley. She's the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, and she founded our school because she really wanted to show the world that women are really, can really be empowering to the rest of the world and be an example and an advocate as well as an inspiration."  (I don't think most viewers knew who Catherine McAuley was until Anea mentioned her name. Realistically speaking, a nun's face will never appear on paper currency because it would suggest that the government favors a particular religion, which would be against the First Amendment. Even though Anea's response this time was so much better than the first one, her choice was just not as popular as Harriet Tubman).

Maryland: "Honestly, I would like to see Oprah, I think she's a great role model. She's a person that has transcended so many adversities. She's an example of someone that's been so steadfast in following her dreams, never letting go and always holding herself accountable to reaching her goals. That is someone I hold in high esteem and that I look up to, and I want to be just like that woman because of what she's gone through and what she's surpassed. No matter what you go through, you can do whatever you want, and that to me is inspiring."  (Mamé's choice of Oprah was not surprising, considering that Oprah has indeed been a great role model for young women. But Oprah is still very much alive and we expect her to live beyond 2020, so in this regard she lacks historical significance.)

Nevada: "I would love to see Rosa Parks on the $10 bill. That would be fantastic. As an African American woman, I feel connected to her and I'm here because of her, and it would be fantastic. I think it would be amazing to have Rosa Parks on the $10 bill, and I'd like to say that race relationships should be helped. It starts at home, so I think if we just continue to -- we need to bring respectfulness from home, it will solve it." (Rosa Parks was a very good choice, but unfortunately, Brittany's delivery came out a bit choppy and unconvincing. Notice, too, that she tried unsuccessfully to transition this response to her first question about improving race relations.)

     Based on the delivery, poise and substance, I would rank Oklahoma as Miss USA 2015, followed by Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island and Texas. It's odd because I didn't even have either Oklahoma or Texas on my Top 10 list, but they proved me wrong with their fine performance. This goes to show you that the judges saw more in these women on stage that we failed to see as mere spectators on our television screen.


     Compared to last year's which was virtually scandal-free (see my 2014 review), this year's pageant has been dragged into controversial politics after pageant owner Donald Trump, during his presidential announcement speech on June 13, criticized Mexico for sending criminals and rapists to the United States, in reference to the massive illegal immigration problem that has been plaguing the nation. Hispanic groups and their liberal allies quickly denounced Trump for his derogatory remarks regarding Mexicans and accused him of racism. This year would have been the first time for Univision to air Miss USA, but due to Trump's politically incorrect remarks the network cancelled its plan to air the pageant for the Spanish-speaking audience. The network also decided to boycott the next edition of Miss Universe. It snowballed from there as celebrities withdrew their support of the show. Colombian singer J. Balvin was the first entertainer to pull out. Puerto Rican actress-singer Roselyn Sánchez and Cristián de la Fuente of Chile were set to host the Univision broadcast of Miss USA, both announced on June 25th that they were pulling out of the pageant. When Univision announced it had pulled the plug on the pageants, NBC scrambled to distance itself from Trump, with whom it co-owns the Miss USA/Miss Universe pageants. Thomas Roberts and Cheryl Burke, who were supposed to co-host Miss USA for NBC, stepped down from their task. Jeannie Mai, who was last year's color commentator and backstage host, initially opted to stay in support of MUO and the delegates, but later changed her mind and pulled out as well. 

     With only two weeks to go before the finals, the pageant was left without a TV network, co-hosts, color commentator, and entertainers. Then a miracle happened. On July 2nd, Reelz, a relatively obscure and family-owned cable channel, announced that it has bought the rights to the pageant and that it would air the live show. The channel's CEO, Stan Hubbardsaid the decision to air the pageant "should not be construed as anything political" but as "an iconic television event" - a sentiment shared by many people especially by all 51 contestants. Pageant organizers quickly distanced themselves from the controversy and  moved forward for the July 12 event. "We're a little company that happens to have been caught between two behemoths," pageant president Paula Shugart told Entertainment Weekly. "The sash has been saved!" Miss Washington USA 2015 Kenzi Novell posted on Twitter after the distribution deal was announced. On its official website and Facebook page, Reelz proudly posted the graphic below:


     
     Overall, I enjoyed the show very much because it offered many memorable moments and refreshing changes, such as the absence of Jeannie Mai (thank God she pulled out!). In my last year's review, this is what I wrote about her: "Color commentator Jeannie Mai's comments absolutely brought nothing new or fresh that we avid pageant fans did not already know or expected. She's got to go, and should be replaced by someone who had actually competed in Miss USA and whose opinion truly matters to pageant followers." Well, what do you know? Jeannie did not return and someone who had competed before in Miss USA was hired as a co-host. And there are not enough words to describe Julie Alexandria's phenomenal stint as the new color commentator! I hope Julie becomes a permanent fixture! I love hearing her voice and she added a much needed class and elegance to the show.




  Kudos to Todd Newton and Alex Wehrley for preventing any dull moment from happening. Todd was a co-presenter at Miss Universe 2001 and Alex was Miss Wisconsin USA 2009. Together, they made a remarkable team!




     Pageant owner and real estate mogul Donald Trump had tweeted the day before that he would not be able to attend the show because he was campaigning in Phoenix, Arizona - even though he did not have any events scheduled that Sunday. But that's okay. No one missed him, except I who was counting on his presence just so he could further rebuke NBC and Univision for cancelling the broadcast of the pageant. But the Donald was wise enough to back off and to not take away the spotlight from the girls, though he kept himself busy by taking pot shots at his political rivals via Twitter. If he fails to win the Republican nomination, I'm sure he'll show up at the pageant next year - assuming that he remains as the co-owner. 



         The events leading to, during, and after the 2015 Miss USA pageant will certainly go down in history as some of the most indelible moments in pageantry. It was a moment of firsts. Oklahoma won its first Miss USA. Delaware made the semifinals for the first time. Two states tied for the Miss Congeniality award for the first time. In its 64-year history, it was the first time that the entire judging panel comprised of women, and it was also the first time that all the judges were former titleholders. And for the first time in the history of the pageant, the show was not broadcast by a major network but by a small, independent channel.






   



    
by Rafa Delfin, 7/24/2015


Photo credits: Miss Universe Organization

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