Thursday, February 02, 2017

After More than Half a Century, France Takes Home the Crown

Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere from France
 At the crack of dawn of January 30, people were already milling around the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City. Several days of anticipation were to culminate in this grand coronation day (night in the United States) of the 65th Miss Universe Beauty Pageant. Many of the attendees were in full regalia including beauty queen costumes. Supporters of candidates from other countries were also in full force, especially from Thailand and Colombia. For pageant-crazy Philippines, this was a big day with many people pinning their hopes on home-court candidate, 26-year-old Maxine Medina, for a back-to-back win.
With the help of Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, the Department of Tourism (DoT) was able to persuade the Philippine government to host the pageant, thinking it will be a good vehicle to generate tourism despite the brutality of the drug war the government is engaged in, leaving more than 7,000 murdered.
By early January, the candidates arrived. There were 86 candidates for 2016, who underwent days of rehearsals, engagements for sponsors and preliminary competitions. The national costume was part of the preliminary competition on January 26, where Miss Myanmar Htet Htet Htun won the Best in National Costume with her attire depicted the traditional Burmese puppetry or marionette show called yoke the. The pageant fever had already caught the country.
The coronation night had performances by Flo Rida and RnB group Boyz II Men, signing a medley of their hits. Model, designer and body activist Ashley Graham was tapped as backstage host. Steve Harvey returned as host, thus there were funny references to host’s infamous gaffe last year — announcing the wrong winner — throughout the show, which came out endearing. 
After introduction, the show immediately announced the 13 finalists, one of them voted by fans. The 12 finalists were selected by judges on their preliminary competition performances. They would be judged by the final night judges, which included Cynthia Bailey of The Real Housewives of Atlanta; Mickey Boardman, editorial director and advice columnist for Paper magazine; Miss Universe 2011 Leila Lopes from Angola; Francine LeFrak, producer, social entrepreneur and activist; Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen; and Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres.
The 13 finalists were Miss Kenya Mary Esther Were; Miss Indonesia Kezia Warouw; Miss USA Deshauna Barber; Miss Mexico Kristal Silva; Miss Peru Valeria Piazza; Miss Panama Keity Drennan; Miss Colombia Andrea Tovar; Miss Philippines Maxine Medina; Miss Canada Siera Bearchell; Miss Brazil Raissa Santana; Miss France Iris Mittenaere; Miss Haiti Raquel Pelissier; and Miss Thailand Chalita Suansane which had the most votes by fans. Many people were surprised by the inclusion of Miss Kenya, which was not an early favorite of pageant watchers, and the non-inclusion of perennial favorite Venezuela. Medina received a thunderous applause and cheers from the mostly Filipino audience.
The 13 were trimmed down to the top nine — USA, Thailand Chalita Suansane, France, Mexico, Kenya, Colombia  Canada, Haiti and Philippines. They were further trimmed down to the top six — France, Kenya, Colombia, Philippines, Thailand and Haiti — who underwent the nerve-wracking question-and-answer portion, in which they had 30 seconds to answer.
Medina was asked, “What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the world in the last 10 years?” which was translated into Filipino. She answered in English: “In the last 10 years of being here in the world, I saw all the people in one event like this, the Miss Universe, and it’s something big to us that we are one, as one nation, we are all together.”
Miss Kenya was asked about her thoughts on new United States president Donald Trump, and she answered: “Donald Trump, having been elected as president of the United States, may not have been the choice of many people living in the United States because of the divided support system for the outgoing president Barack Obama, who was supporting an upcoming woman president, who was supposed to be a woman president, Hillary Clinton. So many people oppose his position, but I feel that once he took up his position, he was able to unify the entire nation.”
Miss Thailand was asked about a world leader she admires, and she picked her country’s king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died a few months ago. “His Majesty has been working tirelessly on behalf of the Thai people ever since I was born. For all the Thai people, His Majesty has been like a father to us,” she explained.
Miss France was asked about the current refugee crisis, and said, “The country should have the right to open or close their borders. Throughout the world, people can choose to have the borders open or closed. In Europe, we have open borders. In France, we want to have the most globalization that we can. We want to have the biggest exchange of people that we can. Maybe someday, that will change, but now we have open borders. Having open borders allows us to travel more through the world, and to find out more about what’s out there in the world.”
For Miss Haiti, the question was “On January 21, an estimated 4.8 million people marched worldwide for human rights, women’s rights and other issues. If you were able to participate, what would you have been marching for?” Her answer was: “One of the women I admire in the world is Eleanor Roosevelt because she fought so much for human rights and I feel like that’s what we need in the world. We are just one. A hundred thousand years ago, six species of human lived in the world. Now we are just one. And we all need each other, and we need to respect each other.”
Miss Colombia was asked about violence in today’s society, and she answered, through an interpreter: “I come from a country that does have violence, and this is my reference point. And although there are presidents who don’t get along with others, we work together to be able to unite — campaigns, respect and inclusivity — to be able to have a social transformation that will educate our children.”
With these, Colombia, France and Haiti were chosen as the top three, who had to answer the final question: “Name something over the course of your life that you failed at, and tell us what you learned from that experience.”
“I think that many times, one makes mistakes for many things. During moments when you may not accept someone due to their differences, to not accept them due to their sexual preferences, and to not be capable of accepting their error. I think any of those experiences gives you the opportunity to have strength and value and principles,” said Colombia, through an interpreter.
“I’ve failed several times in my life, so I thought that I failed the first time that I went out on a casting, because my name wasn’t on the list. The very next day, I found that I was in a new book. So I think that when you fail, you have to be elevated, you have to try again, and keep going. If tonight, I’m not one of the winners, I will still have the great honor of being one of the three finalists, so I think that I have failed before, but I think this is a great first opportunity,” said France, also through an interpreter.
“About seven years ago, I survived the earthquake. I feel I was failing myself because I was not living my dreams. I was living day by day in that earthquake. It was a bad event, but I choose to be a very positive person and learn a great lesson from it. Because if I am here today, it’s because I am living my dreams,” answered Haiti.
Miss Colombia was adjudged second runner-up, while Miss Haiti became first runner up. Iris Mittenaere from France was crowned the new Miss Universe. The last time France brought home the crown was in 1953 by Christiane Martel.
Twenty-four-year-old Mittenaere was born in the town of Lille, north of France. She is currently pursuing a degree in Dental Surgery. She is fond of extreme sports, traveling and cooking new French dishes.
The Embassy of France in the Philippines immediately released a statement saying, “We are very proud that Miss France Iris Mittenaere has been crowned Miss Universe 2016, a year after Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. It is even more symbolic this year as we mark the 70th year anniversary of diplomatic ties between France and the Philippines. To witness Pia Wurtzbach pass the crown to Iris Mittenaere was truly a beautiful moment that represents the friendship between our two nations and our common quest for excellence.”
On the other hand, the DoT also congratulated her victory.
“On behalf of the Filipino people, I congratulate Miss France for bagging the Miss Universe crown from 85 other candidates from around the world. Her win is our success as the host nation,” said DoT Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo, who was present at the competition, in a statement. “We join the millions of people watching from more than 190 countries worldwide in celebration over Miss Mittenaere’s success. And we are very proud and grateful that the Philippines became an important part in her journey to the Miss Universe crown.”
“The Philippines is the runaway winner in this prestigious international event,” she added. “Our islands, food and the biggest smiles of our people are all over the news and social media these past few weeks. The world now knows how beautiful our islands are, how delectable our cuisines are, and how friendly and warm Filipinos are — just ask the Miss Universe candidates themselves.”
The show featured the candidates’ visits to places such as Manila, Boracay Island, Baguio City, Vigan City, Cebu, Bohol and Davao City.
The new Miss Universe expressed her gratitude to the Philippines.
“You are all exceptional, very welcoming. It was an amazing experience. I think all the girls loved it here. Everything is very good in the Philippines, especially the mangoes,” she gushed. “But the most memorable was my trip to Cebu. I love that day because it was sunny. It was very good and it was a great experience for me to discover the great talents of the people,”

Mittenaere will receive the Miss Universe prize package that includes a year-long salary as Miss Universe; luxury accommodations in a New York City apartment for the duration of her reign, including living expenses; a one-year supply of hair care products and tools from Farouk Systems; a shoe wardrobe from Chinese Laundry Shoes and Accessories; a personalized face chart and products from MAC Cosmetics; personal services including membership to Gravity Fitness@Le Parker Meridien Hotel and hair services from John Barrett Salon; a modeling portfolio by leading fashion photographers; dermatology and skincare services; a professional health and nutrition consultation; dental services; professional representation by The Miss Universe Organization; extensive travel representing sponsors and charitable partners; access to various events including casting opportunities, movie premiers, screenings, Broadway shows and launch parties; and personal appearance wardrobe and styling by the official Miss Universe Organization fashion stylist.

A big and cheery delegation from Thailand attended to support Thai candidate Chalita Suansane, who placed in the top six
Miss France 2017 Alicia Ayeles from French Guiana. She is the first Miss France from an overseas department or French Territory. She attended the coronation night to support Mittenaere and perhaps to get the feel of being in Miss Universe.
Journalists and photographers at the media center, a large tent beside the MoA Arena

Outgoing Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach crowns her successor Miss France Iris Mittenaere  at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Philippines (Photo by Department of Tourism) 
Miss France Iris Mittenaere after coronation (Photo by Department of Tourism) 
Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere poses with her luggages as she waits for boarding at the NAIA Terminal 2 on February 2, 2017 (Photo by Department of Tourism) 

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