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Miss Universe throwback memories

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THE FINAL date for “the most beautiful day in the universe” is yet to be announced although during the Miss Universe 2023 pageant on November 8, businessman Raúl Rocha Cantú announced via a video presentation that Mexico will host the 73rd edition, the fifth time after it hosted the most watched and followed Big Four Pageant in 1978, 1989, 1993 and 2007.

While I remain a big Miss Universe fan, the excitement has waned over the years especially after it became very obvious that the pageant simply became a big business venture that has continued to search for that “exceptional” woman who could and should sell the “brand.”   

From the late 70’s to the late 90’s, my friends and I would never miss a Miss Universe day. Whether it was a delayed telecast, or live via satellite, we would always find ourselves glued to the television set waiting with bated breath and hands clasped in prayers for the country’s bet to make it to the semi-finals. 

Over the past few weeks, I found myself watching old clips from the previous editions of the Miss Universe and I couldn’t help but wish for the day when the “old and traditional” elements of the pageant would resurface, given a tweak to modernize them and then become staple items in the annual edition. 

First, the opening dance number and parade of national costumes rolled into one. Whether it was an original song that reflected the culture of the host country such as “Mabuhay” during the 1994 edition in Manila, or “Africa, Beautiful Namibia” the following year in Namibia; or to the tune of a current worldwide hit such as Wang Chung’s “Let’s Go” in 1987 in Singapore or Lionel Richie’s “What a Feeling” in 1988 in Taipei, the opening number was a visual feast to put it mildly.  It was pure delight to see the girls dancing while doing a lip sync of the opening song. For one brief moment, it was like travelling around the world as the viewers are treated to the contestants’ rich cultures while at the same time learning a thing or two about their countries. The introductions and descriptions of their countries would then come in very handy in the Ms. United Nations program in school in October, or in Ms Gay pageants during the fiesta season in May. 

Second, the candidates’ scores during the preliminary rounds and also the semi-finalists’ individual scores from all the judges leading to the announcement of the top five finalists. Others may call it anti-climactic but I call it transparency and to a certain extent, an added adrenaline rush. I remember how my friends and I would always keep our pens, a piece of paper and a calculator while watching the self-introduction of the candidates to determine if our candidate had a fighting chance. We would then jump in jubilation when the scores were good enough for our Ms. Philippines to make it to the next round. Otherwise, we shift our attention on another sentimental favorite. 

Third, the announcement of the semi-finalists was accompanied by a few lines from popular song played by a live orchestra, instead of the usual fanfare instrumental music. Check Youtube for the edition of the pageant during the 80s and see if you could guess the title of some of the Billboard’s top songs of that year. Well, I remember Desiree Verdadero being called to the tune of Irene Caras’ “What a Feeling” in 1984 and Geraldine Asis being the third to be called to Phyllis Nelson’s “I Like You” in 1987. 

Fourth, the first walk of the new winner to the tune of  “This is Your Night” while the Ms. Universe credo is being read as if to remind her of the important responsibility she has in her hands, that wearing the crown is not all about fame and glamour but an important platform she can use to introduce meaningful changes in the society.

Fifth, the little sisters from the host country along with their iconic songs “You are My Star” and “When You Wish upon a Star” during the evening gown competition of the semi-finalists from 1983 to 1995. Hands-down, this is one element of the pageant that is sorely missed by many fans.  

Well, these are random musings from an old pageant fan. Call me traditional, brand me a sentimental idiot and I will not disagree at all. While it is true that change is the only thing constant in the world, there are what I call the non-negotiable items – the classic stuff that never fade, the never-go-out-of-style because of their lasting significance. 

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