`Miss Jamaica’ and `Miss Mexico’ stood center stage clutching each others hands, excitement having reached the boiling point, as the audience, in a frantic furor were screaming two words; either “MEXICO!” or “JAMAICA!” When the hosts announced “The first runner-up is…Miss Jamaica!” the resounding roar was not only from the SRO audience at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, but from the backstage area, the press room, all the way down the Vegas strip and from the worldwide viewing audience of some one billion viewers. The crown, the flowers the sash the screams all were real, but for 22 year old Ximena Navarrate, it seemed like a dream. In actuality, it was the beginning of an excited new adventure as the Queen of the Universe. Ximena was in a state of shock as her fellow contestants converged on the stage to congratulate the new `Miss Universe.’ It was a surreal dichotomy – the end of three weeks of competing and the beginning of a new life for Ximena.


The final night of the `Miss Universe2010’ pageant came to a surprising ending for many. The top ten beauties that moved into the winners’ circle were: Ireland, Albania, Philippines, Jamaica, Mexico, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Guatemala and Australia. No Russia! No Haiti! –  Two of the most gorgeous faces in the pageant. One thing for sure as echoed by all involved, none of the delegates left the pageant with absolutely nothing. Lasting friendships were formed and major connections were made. It was the ending of a fun filled period where 83 countries came together in the spirit of love and unity, delivering a powerful message that told the world, despite differences, people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and up bringing’s’ can really live together in a friendly competitive atmosphere. Farouk Shami, Founder and Chairman of Farouk Systems, presenting sponsor of the Miss Universe pageant, probably put it best declaring: “The Miss Universe contest bringing more than 80 countries together, that is love and peace, that is world peace, The United Nations cannot do it, countries cannot do it, they cannot get 80 countries to work together. This is actually world peace this is actually bridging the world, this is the future.” Donald Trump co-owner for the Miss Universe pageant said: “Bringing 83 beautiful women together, and you are talking about bringing 83 countries some of which don’t get along very well is my real honor.”


“We’re a celebration of Universal beauty,” was how Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization pegged the whole experience. There was a dignified aura backstage after the judges’ decision was announced. There were no screaming of disapprovals or throwing of tantrums (or any unwelcome objects). After all, these were 83 International titleholders in their own right. Each lady had to leave Vegas and face their countries with their heads held high. Only one Miss Universe was crowned, but, for the most part, the representatives seemed calm and ready for their next adventure. What was on their minds? You may be surprised to hear what they told me after the last bit of confetti fell and the last stage spotlight went out – “take off my heels” “get some sleep” “have a glass of wine” “call my boyfriend” “see my Mom” “eat.”


No one leaves the Miss Universe experience the same person they arrived as. The grueling schedules between long hours of rehearsals are fenced with parties, appearances and the glare of the media spotlight. This can be a bit much for normal folks, but these beauties were a group of smart, ambitious young ladies who took on the challenge with grace and gusto. Only the strong can survive, and, in reality, Miss Universe has a year’s schedule that is mind blowing to say the least.  “So, imagine doing what we did for these three weeks for a whole year, that’s the bottom line,” was how one delegate described the experience.


“I thought these girls were going to be down your back and cut your throat,” said `MISS TRINIDAD & TOBAGO’ LA TOYA WOODS when we met for an early morning press call in a penthouse lounge at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, high atop the Vegas strip. “I was pleasantly surprised, they are all very beautiful and very nice women. We all are here pursuing our dreams and it’s a wonderful experience.” La Toya described her winning gown created by Project Runway runner-up, Dominican fashion designer Emilio Sosa as a winning choice. Her National Costume entitled `Calypso’ was a big hit in Vegas. “It’s from a carnival band called Tribe. It’s synonymous with Trinidad Carnival – vibrant colors, beautiful people and fluidity of movement. The fabric was hand painted by one of our top designers Heather Jones…I am staying in my National Costume for Carnival in February,” laughed La Toya.


`MISS JAMAICA’ YENDI PHILLIPS was wearing a cool linen dress with asymmetric black lace insets by Jamaican fashion designer Keneea Linton. “I feel calm and relaxed. I’ve done my meditation. I really just want to do it.” She described her National Costume as the Swallow Tail butterfly, which is synonymous with the Island of Jamaica. The costume was designed and created by Courtney Edwards. Her evening gown was by Mark McDermont & Carl Williams of Uzuri International, whom I always describe as the Dolce & Gabbana of Jamaica. The ice blue silk gown was encrusted in crystals. “If I had a message, it would simply be: Thank you for an amazing experience.” Yendi said that lasting friendships were made; “I made friends with Miss Great Britain, Miss British Virgin Islands, Miss Brazil and Miss USA is a sister from another mother. This has been one of the best experiences of my life,” emphasized Yendi, who was among the top 15 finalists at the `Miss World’ pageant in 2007. Yendi, who had just received a text message from Jamaica’s Prime Minister, commented on one of her missions in life, “I am a proponent for family and early education. I’m in favor of upgrading the standard of teachers, it’s so critical in a child’s life.”


`MISS BAHAMAS’ BRANEKA BASSETT was the darling of the press throughout the pageant. She worked the pressroom on that early Vegas morning, looking flawless in a black fitted day dress. “You don’t get this opportunity every day, meeting different people… it’s amazes me to see how much we are all alike. I am looking forward to placing in the top 15,” she said with confidence. Braneka said she enjoyed the interview segments of the pageant. “It allowed you to be laugh at yourself and make fun of who you are. I loved doing the fun interviews. It was refreshing, especially the part where we had to make different sounds imitating several situations.” She expressed love and appreciation for her roommate `Miss Trinidad & Tobago’ and loving her silver sequined gown. Braneka said she felt Miss US Virgin Islands and Miss Thailand were the most congenial delegates. `Miss Thailand’ did win the `Miss Congeniality’ award. I asked Braneka if she did not win the pageant – who should? With her natural sense of humor she tossed her hair and said: “Well! I guess they won’t have a winner.”


`MISS HAITI’ SARODJ BERTIN glided through the lounge like the true Queen she is. I admired her ease and confidence as she facilitated her interviews. The first thing I noticed was the stunning two-piece black and white print ensemble she was wearing. The long flowing skirt complimented the daring mid-drift top. I asked if it was the creation from one of the Haitian designers who contributed to her `Miss Universe’ wardrobe. “Oh No, no, I would like to thank all of the designers who gave me clothes and also lent me clothes…but this is my own creation.” Sarodj was all about the upliftment of the people of Haiti and expresses hope that her country will rise again. (Read the In-dept interview with Sarodj in the `Fresh Face’ section of this issue of Profiles98).


`MISS GREAT BRITAIN’ TARA VAITIERE HOYOS who born and raised in London by parents from Colombia was the ingénue of the group. When most of the contestants started modeling at 13 and 14 years old and aspired for showbiz careers, Tara was a University student studying chemistry. She’d never modeled before entering and winning the British title. “The anticipation is absolutely killing me. I’ve only been crowned in May, however, I feel fully prepared, but I am really new to this. I am here just to get the experience and I love it. The best qualities of the girls are our uniqueness, dreams and aspirations. I am dedicated to what ever I do. I am a meticulously hard worker, I got that from my Colombian background.” Tara, who comes from a big family, said she did not realize the depth of what the pageant stood for and was lucky to win from 50 other Brits who competed in the `Miss Great Britain’ pageant. “Lots of people had different perceptions of me winning. However, most people in the Latin and Caribbean communities were really proud that I won.” Tara admitted to her vice – “Food is my biggest sin. The only thing I don’t like is liver. I eat everything, Chinese food, Colombian food, Caribbean food…If I didn’t win, for me it doesn’t matter to me. I am so excited to go home for the Notting Hill Carnival. It’s my favorite time of the year.”

By Walter Greene | Photographed by Fadil Berisha courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization | Published in Profiles98 Magazine – Fall 1 Anniversary Issue 5 2010



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