Miss Universe 2019 most likely
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zone if you’re reading this in print) in Atlanta, Georgia: Fionnghuala O’Reilly of Ireland is Irish and African-American, Birta Abiba Þórhallsdóttir of Iceland reportedly has a Congolese parent, Miriam Rautert of Germany has a mother from Trinidad and Tobago, and a German father, Teresa Ruglio of Malta originally hailed from Venezuela, Frederika Alexis Cull of Indonesia has a British-born Australian father while her mother is Indonesian.
The Filipino flair, of course, comes in the eleganza extravaganza. Reigning queen Catriona Gray has already flaunted the creations of Cherry Veric at the prelims and Jearson Demavivas at the national costume show. She will wear Mak Tumang for her farewell walk. Filipino designers who did the evening gowns are Joel Escober for Japan, Benj Leguiab
IV for Sierra Leone, Ryan Ablaza Uson for Guam and Rian Fernandez for Cambodia. Joey Galon designed the natcos of Ireland while Bea Bianca Mackey did a dress for New Zealand. I hope one of the anchors, Fil-Am Miss Teen USA 1998 Vanessa Minnillo Lachey, will wear Filipino on finals night.
The Michael Cinco made couture creations for Argentina, Singapore, Spain and Uruguay, and Canada for the finals. His equally brilliant best friend, Cary Santiago, concocted the magnificent gown and astounding costume for Gazini. By the way, even if there’s freedom of expression and even if you have Sarah Burton aspirations but with a Zara budget, don’t come for Cary Santiago. Your opinion is cheap.
n PHILIPPINES. Our very own “Inday” Gazini Ganados, despite the tremendous pressure of clinching a back-to-back title, is enjoying her stint as our beautiful flag-raiser. It’s been 50 years since Gloria Diaz won our first Miss Universe crown, and the Filipinos’ excitement over another triumph shows no signs of abating. Gazini, 23, was discovered in Cebu by Jonas Borces for local contests, honed by Rodgil Flores of Kagandahang Flores for national pageants, and polished by Jonas Gaffud (“Miss J”) for this all-important global competition. All that training, plus the astonishing outfits created especially for her by the country’s best designer, Cary Santiago, made Gazini smolder on the runway at the preliminaries.
n ALBANIA. Cindy Marina—I think a blonde winner can be good for the pageant. Jennifer Hawkins of Australia was the last blonde winner, in 2004. Cindy, 21, might be the bombshell that will make Europe love Miss Universe even more, like when they did when fellow blondes Angela Visser of Holland won in 1989, Yvonne Ryding of Sweden in 1984, all the way to the first queen, Armi Kuusela of Finland in 1952. Cindy studies International Relations and Global Business at the University of Southern California while also playing for the Albanian Women’s National Volleyball Team. She’s being trained by former Miss USAs and Miss Universe finalists Shandy Finnessey and Susie Castillo, a definite edge.
n FRANCE. I cheered for Maëva Coucke when she competed at Miss France 2018, knowing that she hails from the same city that gave us Camille Cerf (Top 15 at Miss Universe 2014) and Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere. I wanted her to win Miss World 2018 (where our Katarina Rodriguez went unplaced, a travesty) but she finished at Top 12. Maëva, 25, has a degree in international trade, a member of the Association Les Bonnes Fées, which aids those that are helplessly ill and helps fight against breast cancer, her mother being a survivor of the disease. Doesn’t matter if she fell during the G Sonsie Swimwear portion; her striking Coco Rocha x Eva Green x Stefania Fernandez resemblance makes this chic Frenchwoman a winner.
n BRAZIL. I stared long enough at the gorgeous face of Julia Horta, 25, until I realized that she resembles the Colombian-American actress Diane Guerrero, who played Crazy Jane in Doom Patrol and inmate Maritza Ramos in Orange is the New Black. And then I also realized that she has the same incandescent beauty as Maritza Sayalero, Miss Universe 1979 from Venezuela. Julia is a journalist, digital influencer and feminist, her natcos showed a football player calling for an end to violence against women. Julia was fourth runner-up at Miss Tourism International in 2017, won by our own Jannie Loudette Alipo-on.
n THAILAND. My friend Tee and I sought her out after her heartbreaking loss at Miss Earth 2017 (won by our own Karen Ibasco) because we were drawn to her otherworldly beauty. Paweensuda “Fahsai” Drouin, a Canadian-Chinese Thai, has become a darling of Filipinos since. Fahsai, 26, graduated with distinctions from the University of Calgary in Canada, where she studied Kinesiology as a premedical degree. Before the start of the pageant, she was the “girl to beat,” especially when Mouwad, the new crown maker, seemed to favor her.
n COLOMBIA. Even if Miss Universe 2014 and fellow Colombian Paulina Vega weren’t a judge this year, Gabriela Tafur, 24, is on track to redeem her country after a shutout last year. She graduated law cum laude from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota. She’s an advocate for gender equality and supports 80 social initiatives that contribute to the wellbeing of Colombian children.
n IRELAND. Fionnghuala O’Reilly, the first biracial beauty to represent her country, has the most impressive resumé. As per her bio, “she works remotely from Dublin as a director for Nasa’s International Space Apps Challenge, the world’s largest hackathon whose mission is to bring international communities together to create innovation to help solve the world’s most challenging environmental and space-themed problems. She’s a datanaut who’s pursuing her dream of going into space, and that alone makes her the only who can be called Miss Universe, literally.
n INDIA. Vartika Singh, 26, was best friends with our Parul Shah when they competed together at Miss Grand International in 2015, finishing second and third runners-up, respectively. She has an intense star quality akin to Bollywood goddess Deepika Padukone, though her evening gown styling was a head-scratcher. Still, this former technical adviser in quality assurance for the World Bank, Vogue India regular and budding actress, is the most stunning contender from India since Lara Dutta, Miss Universe 2000.
n BANGLADESH. Shirin Akter Shila, 20, is her country’s first rep. With Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen of India as mentor, she just might make the cut. She’s a physics student at Dhaka University who also works as a fashion model. She’s a would-be philanthropist and an environmentalist.
n PANAMA. Mehr Eliezer, 22, was born in India, spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, and is the first nationalized Panamanian to join and become Miss Universe Panama. The articulate stunner is an advocate for gender equality, a strong ally of the LGBTQ+ community and an ambassador for Probidsida, a Panamanian organization that works to reduce the amount of HIV and AIDS cases in Panama.
n PUERTO RICO. At 24, the dangerous blonde Madison Anderson has paid her pageant dues. She was fourth runnerup at Miss Florida Teen USA 2014, same placement at Top Model of the World 2015, and third runner-up at Miss Grand International 2016, where our Nicole Cordoves placed second. She speaks to high-school students about anti-bullying and self-love. Madison also founded Metamorphosis, which helps recovered victims to become their better self so they can achieve a successful society reintegration. Her mentor is Miss Universe 2001 Denise Quiñones.
n SIERRA LEONE. Marie Esther Bangura, 22, is a student partly working in her community for “Good Touch, Bad Touch,” a campaign that works to put an end to the sexual exploitation of the youth. Her goal is to start a couture fashion line and hosting her own TV show, a la Tyra Banks or Oprah, which she will call “Moments with Marie.”
n MEXICO. Sofia Aragon, 25, is a dead-ringer for Miss Universe 2010 Ximena Navarette, and with a mentor in Miss Universe 1991 Lupita Jones, this writer has the makings of a winner. She is a mental-health advocate, having suffered from depression. “She became a speaker when she realized that by sharing her story, she can help people overcome the same struggles she experienced,” said her bio. n