Last night Miss Angola, 25-year-old Leila Lopes, was crowned the 60th Miss Universe—the first ever winner from Angola. She beat out 89 other hopefuls in Sao Paulo, Brazil to take the crown. The hosts declared this to be the “most coveted title in the world,” a statement I’m sure many would disagree with, even if some of the prizes seem nice. While Miss Universe is the most-watched beauty pageant worldwide, at times it seemed like nothing more than an extended infomercial. Between long features on the host city/country and massive product placement for sponsors (like OPI and Chi) there was very little actual pageant to watch. Sure, we saw the women strut in their bikinis (where the commentators did mention several times that all the contestants were wearing the same Catalina suits and Chinese Laundry nude heels) and glide across the stage in their evening gowns. And of course we were treated to the Top 5 answering a final question live (always interesting in the Miss Universe Pageant with translators—this time those who spoke Ukrainian, Chinese [not sure whether Cantonese or Mandarin], and Portuguese). But viewers also had to endure many endless dramatic pauses that would put Ryan Seacrest to shame during the announcements of finalists and winners.
While beauty pageants are rarely just about “beauty,” this year’s Miss Universe Pageant highlighted the business-side of beauty pageants. It’s basically the only televised competition I know where the judges’ results are not completely honored. As was said during the broadcast at the announcement of the Top 16, “members of the Miss Universe Organization” also help select the finalists. Donald Trump, who bought the pageant in 1996, wants to make sure he and his people like the winner… But imagine if Mark Burnett openly had a hand in selecting the winner of Survivor. Sure, television producers can manipulate shows through editing and selection of challenges for contestants, but they can’t actually cast a vote or change the rules to protect their favorites.
Then again, if you know anything about the history of the Miss Universe Pageant, this might not surprise you. Miss USA/Universe has always been the tawdrier, sexier, and more commercial cousin to Miss America. In 1951 when the newly-crowned Miss America Yolande Betbeze refused to be crowned in her swimsuit (the Miss America Pageant actually started out as a bathing beauty contest in 1921 and didn’t fully move toward “respectability” until after WWII), Catalina, pulled their sponsorship and started the Miss USA/Universe pageant system. So from its inception, the Miss Universe Organization has been focused on business and bathing suits. That it’s most popular says a lot about what our society values.
Although this year’s pageant should have had a different result, if pageant rumors were to be believed. It had been suggested for months on pageant discussion boards that Miss China would take the crown. Not only is she a beautiful women and model, but Trump had allegedly hand-picked her, wanting to pursue more business interests in China. Could Miss China’s placement as the fourth-runner-up tell us something about The Donald’s next business venture? Unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
As a loyal pageant watcher, Miss Angola was certainly a worthy competitor and she is a beautiful winner—even if Trump doesn’t start building high-rises in Luanda. But I’m still disappointed that the 89 contestants didn’t wear their “national costumes” during the parade of nations. Here’s winner Miss Angola in hers:
But think how much more fun the night would have been if you had seen costume winner Miss Panama appear live in this!
My tacky national costume award goes to Miss Chile:
Who is your favorite?