Miss Universe came to my hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana for the first time ever in the history of the pageant. As a pageant enthusiast and competitor myself, I couldn’t wait to attend the event. I was also elated to see how New Orleans would showcase all of the beautiful culture, music, cuisine, and art it has to offer to visitors from all over the world.
The timing of the pageant couldn’t have been better as it is currently Mardi Gras season in Louisiana. This gives visitors a true taste of New Orleans and the one-of-a-kind festival season. Mardi Gras is what makes Louisiana unique and is a month of festivities and parades unlike anywhere else in the world. The Miss Universe Organization capitalized on the opportunity to showcase the delegates’ national costumes by giving the public a special preview at a local Mardi Gras parade. The delegates proudly marched down the streets of New Orleans with a jazz-filled ambiance in elaborate costumes that represented their home countries. It was a beautiful sight to see the blend of cultures come together. Footage from this parade was used in the commercials during the live televised broadcast of the final Miss Universe competition.
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One phase of the competition that is not televised is the private interview. This is perhaps the most important phase of competition when determining the winner because each delegate has only a few minutes to answer questions for a panel of judges and market herself of why they should choose her to be the next Miss Universe. Upon completion of this significant phase of competition, the delegates were given some time to relax and decompress. This was a well-deserved break from the busy rehearsals and jam-packed schedules of the two week long competition. It was during this downtime that I had the special opportunity to meet many of the delegates and hear about their interview as well as their journey to the Miss Universe stage. Special shout out to Kevin Nguyen for this special opportunity because it would not have been possible without him.
Kevin Nguyen is perhaps the most sought-after nail technician in south Louisiana and is a proud nail sponsor of the Miss USA and Miss Universe delegates. He is well known and loved throughout the pageant community for his dedication to his craft as well as pageantry. Several years ago, Kevin was so honored to do nails for the state titleholders as they were competing at Miss USA when it was held in Baton Rouge. This year, his dream advanced to a much larger scale as he was able to bring his skills to the international stage. Ladies from every edge of the world graced our presence as we pampered them with a nail polishing party. I was so happy to assist Kevin in documenting the behind-the-scenes experience by capturing photo and video content for his social media.
This extraordinary opportunity also allowed me to spend time with some of the delegates and get to know them on a deeper level. One of my favorite interactions was with Miss Namibia, Cassia Sharpley. We connected over our similarities as she shared with me how she is also a dancer herself and very passionate about fitness. I also had the opportunity to speak with Miss India, Divita Rai, about her beautiful and fashionable outfits she wore during time competing at Miss Universe. She worked with a local designer in New Orleans, Nami Sutra, who is known for their feminine yet edgy style. I was so inspired after speaking with Miss Venezuela, Amanda Dudamel.
Venezuela is a country known for being a powerhouse in pageantry. Amanda’s coaching is sure to be second to none so I was interested in hearing about how she prepared for the competition. She said the sash “is heavy” meaning there is a big responsibility to make Venezuela proud but she remembers to enjoy herself in the process. Her best piece of advice was to wake up each day “like a lion.” I had chills! This statement truly reflected in her on-stage performance as she displayed so much power and resilience. The judges apparently agreed and Miss Venezuela finished out the competition with a 1st Runner Up placement. Out of all of the audience members, I believe that Venezuela had the loudest and most supportive fans. They cheered at the top of their lungs and waved their Venezuelan flags whenever she was on the stage. It was truly a beautiful sight to not only see the support from the fans but witness representation from nearly every country on the earth under one roof. The love and excitement was evident during the finals competition. It was the most lively audience I have ever seen.
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A couple of the significant changes occurred during the swimsuit round of competition. The first change was the showcase of unique self-designed capes by each delegate. Each one was sent a blank white cape several weeks prior to the competition for them to decorate it however they like. Some chose to use a mixture of colors to create abstract designs while others used words and pictures to convey their message. It was clear that each cape was a reflection of the woman behind it as well as the country supporting her. These capes were worn during the swimsuit phase of competition. Another change was allowing all top 16 to compete in BOTH swimsuit and evening gown. This additional change is significant because previous competitions have had a cut after the swimsuit round where only delegates advancing to the next round can compete in gown.
This is a powerful message to the women in top 16 that their fitness would not eliminate them from advancing in the competition. Instead, the emphasis was put on the stage presence. As an audience member myself, I will say that the power and presence of each delegate was evident in person and may not have been as clearly seen through a television screen at home. There’s just something about watching a woman enter the room in full confidence, completely resilient, like nothing can shake her. When Puerto Rico came out, I had chills. Her power was unmatched and every eye in the room was on her. Each time Venezuela entered the stage, her dedicated friends, family, and fans filled the room with cheers of support. The energy was truly contagious. Miss USA was called into the top 5 and asked a question about what changes she would like to see made in the organization.
Recent changes have allowed married women, women with children, and pregnant women to compete. Miss USA responded by saying that age doesn’t define you and that the age limit to compete should be raised. A roar came from the audience as many directors, fans, current and former titleholders cheered in support.
Miss USA is the New Miss Universe and the first delegate crowned under the new leadership of Anne Jakrajutatip. Anne is a Thai businesswoman and transgender advocate who has made great strides to promote female empowerment through her changes in the Miss Universe system. Anne purchased the organization at a time when viewership was low due to attacks that the organization objectifyed women.
In her speech during the final competition, Anne said, “The Miss Universe Organization from now on will be run by women, owned by a transwoman, for all women around the world to celebrate the power of feminism. Diverse cultures, social inclusion, gender equality, creativity, and force of good, and of course the beauty of humanity.” With a completely female panel of judges as well as soley female entertainers, commentators, and hosts/emcees, it was clear that Miss Universe was run for women by women. I look forward to seeing more positive changes implemented in the future so that the Miss Universe Organization can continue to thrive for many years to come.
Kal Ata instagram.com/km.ata
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