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Armed with beauty, pageant training, and sheer determination, 88 ladies from all around the world flew to Miami, Florida in hopes of bringing home the coveted Miss Universe crown.
Recently, they all competed in the critical preliminary competition. Watch here:
The number will be narrowed down to just 15 semifinalists who will do battle during the live finals. One of these ladies will take the crown from the outgoing queen, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela.
With the Philippines' 4 consecutive runner-up finishes since 2010, the time is ripe for the country to finally clinch its third Miss Universe crown. And by sending pageant veteran Mary Jean Lastimosa, it may just materialize.
There are a few indicators leading to the Philippines winning the Miss Universe crown this year. Manny Pacquiao will sit as a judge in the finals. A former Miss Philippines was invited as web correspondent for the third straight year.
MJ was also among the 5 ladies invited to the VIP reception hosted by the Russian American Chamber of South Florida. She, Miss Myanmar, and Miss Venezuela, were the only ones who had Q&A sessions with fans on the pageant's official Facebook page.
Naysayers claim she's too short to be a queen, she's too old at 27. But she proved them wrong by giving a solid performance during the preliminaries. She was shining on stage as she walked in that white mermaid-cut gown. She may not have the height advantage, but she was among the most memorable. Just when people thought that was it, MJ showed off her good form during the swimsuit round. (See the photos here.)
She may easily breeze through the first cut. She may face head-to-head battle with other equally prepared candidates. But if she shows the same energy or takes that to a higher level come finale, then MJ can surely land a spot in the top 5. I think she is one of the best the Philippines has ever sent to Miss Universe. Click here for a recap of the preliminary rounds, told in screengrabs.
At this point, it is still anybody's game. Here are 14 ladies who might run away with the Miss Universe crown:
TOP 5: Philippines, Jamaica, USA, Colombia, Mexico
Jamaica's Kaci Fennell exhibited one of the finest prelims performances in the batch. She looked sultry but classy in that red evening gown. She is also one of the best speakers this year, as shown in her web interview. Kaci is the complete package and is hard to ignore.
There's nothing to lose for USA's Nia Sanchez. Even if she fails to make the cut, she would still work for the Miss Universe Organization. During the prelims, she was very regal in that red serpentina gown that accentuated her curves. Her toned figure also made up for her very safe swimsuit performance. Nevertheless, she remains one of the girls to watch out for.
Colombia's Paulina Vega arrived fully prepared. She had stunning official photos, was very visible in most activities and was one of the most photographed delegates this year. During the all-important prelims, she was gorgeous in swimsuit, and was literally sparkling in that body-hugging gown.
From the hairstyle to her gown to her pose, Mexico's Josselyn Garciglia was just perfect during the preliminary evening gown round. The ponytail during the swimsuit competition also gave her an edge, showing her spunky confidence. Many think Josselyn has already cemented her spot in the semis.
TOP 10: Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, Ukraine, Venezuela
Spain's Desiree Cordero became an instant favorite among pageant aficionados the moment she won her national pageant. That didn't come as a surprise because she is really beautiful. She did not disappoint during the prelims. She was very sophisticated in that crystal-embellished silver gown, although her walk seemed a little rushed. The tattoo on her upper leg was very noticeable during the swimsuit round, but overall Desiree gave a good show.
Costa Rica's Karina Ramos is one of the most polished candidates, which can be attributed to the fact that she is no stranger to international pageants. Compared to her stint in Miss Supranational 2012 where she placed in the Top 20, one can say she has improved a lot. She was engaging to watch in swimsuit round. And while her black gown blended into the background, she really worked it.
Argentina's Valentina Ferrer didn't let a weak sash get in the way of her Miss Universe journey. She has been very consistent since arrivals. She was gorgeous in the swimsuit round, and the fuchsia gown made her standout. She was perfectly styled during prelims and might just become the biggest surprise of the finals if she maintains that look.
Ukraine's Diana Harkusha was a revelation during the prelims. She was sexy and sassy in swimsuit. But her shining moment was during the evening gown round where she worked that red gown with the right amount of elegance and poise. She was perfectly styled during prelims.
Venezuela's Migbelis Castellanos was touted as one of the girls to beat early on in the competition, but the preliminaries proved otherwise. Her performance was underwhelming in both the swimsuit and evening gown rounds. Still, with support from the passionate community, she might make it through.
TOP 15: Russia, Dominican Republic, Serbia, Ecuador, India
Russia's Yulia Alipova made a statement with her Elie Saab haute couture gown during the registration and fittings. But just when everyone thought that was it, she came out with a red ball gown from the same designer during the finals. But her best moment was during the swimsuit round, where she showed off her well-proportioned body. The straight black hair also complemented her strong facial features.
At 5'10", Dominican Republic's Kimberly Castillo is hard to ignore. Her solid performance in the prelims might just merit her a semis placement.
Guyana's Niketa Barker is one of the underrated girls in the competition despite the fact this candidate has been leading online polls. She did, however, make a good impression during the prelims. Her emerald gown seemed stiff but she worked it well. Her natural charisma blended well with her pretty smile. She may have a weak sash, but she could go places with her serene beauty alone.
India's Noyonita Lodh was among the major favorites during pre-arrivals and had a good start with her stunning official photos.
However, some started to cross her off their lists after her performance during the swimwear pre-pageant fashion show. Her performance in the prelims was also underwhelming: her walks in both rounds weren't memorable. But with India placing in the semis since 2012 it won't be a surprise if Noyonota makes the cut this year, too. – Rappler.com