Much hype is on-going in the Philippines as it hosts the 65th edition of Miss Universe this coming January 30, 2017 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City. This is the first time the pageant returns to Manila after the successful staging of the 1994 contest. At the start of all the arrivals and even before some of the 86 candidates arrive Manila, I have my Top picks on who will do well in this year's pageant - taking into account online media buzz, beauty, glamour, interesting backstory and over-all appeal.
1. Stephanie Geldof (Belgium)
Back in 1994 Belgium was one of the darlings among Filipinos with Christelle Roelandts easily capturing the hearts of Pinoys with his youthful charm. This year, it is Stephanie's turn to wow the audiences. She has the charisma and really pretty face. One thing that may be going against her is her age. At 18, Stephanie is one of the younger candidates and historically girls of this age do not have strong chances of landing the crown.
2. Andrea Tovar (Colombia)
After last year's controversy with the crowning, Colombia is more so determined to snag back the crown they felt was theirs. And for this year they seem to have another strong chance of winning the title with Andrea's strong presence, beauty and her burning desire. They have prepared Andrea to an extent that they are just waiting for the crown to be placed on top of her head.
3. Maxine Medina (Philippines)
Pressure is definitely on for Maxine. Not only is her country hosting the pageant but Philippines is also the outgoing beauty queen an Pia Wurtzbach is definitely a hard act to follow. But this Aces and Queens protégé has been prepared in the most extreme ways you can possibly think - physically, mentally and emotionally. Maxine's strength is her class walk but people are kind of doubting whether she can deliver well in communications part (Q&A).
4. Raissa Santana (Brazil)
Brazil seems poised for greatness in the get-go. This black beauty made buzz as she was the overwhelming favorite to take the Miss Brazil crown. With her distinct locks that complements here great skin color, she is confidence written all over her forehead. Classy, fierce and definitely sees herself wearing the crown.
5. Chalita Suansane (Thailand)
This is probably the strongest bet from our Southeast Asian neighbor. Chalita towers her way in the ramp and then stares at you on a different way that you can't help but stare back. Thailand has been getting attention in most beauty contests in the past few months and I believe this gal may have been the one with the best potential.
6. Brenda Jimenez (Puerto Rico)
After somehow a controversial victory of Puerto Rico in the Miss World pageant, their nation suddenly was put into media frenzy. Now it is Brenda's turn to face the glaring eyes of many. Like most Puerto Rican beauties, Brenda has a great face to begin with and a win here in Miss Universe will somehow vindicate their win at the Miss World and re-instate the status of this former beauty powerhouse.
7. Kristal Silva (Mexico)
For Filipino die-hard beau-con enthusiasts, Kristal may be a familiar face. She finished in the Top 8 in Miss Earth 2013 which was also held here in Manila. But this time, she has shown maturity and more passion which could spell well for her. But the level of competition this year is just way too intense and Kristal seems to lack that special trait that could make her stand out. Still I believe she can perform well at the Finals.
8. Kezia Warouw (Indonesia)
Another Southeast Asian country doing well in the past few pageants is Indonesia. And while Thailand and Philippines may be a bit above her in this list, one should not discount her chances. As soon as after her coronation night in Indonesia, rave reviews and praises have been flowing and this bodes well to her chances.
9. Mariam Habach (Venezuela)
Unlike prior Venezuala candidates, Mariams win in their local pageant raised several eyebrows in the pageantry world. But Venezuala is and will always be a powerhouse in the world of beauty contests. Despite that, Mariam has proven a lot wrong as she seems poised enough to make the other girls a run for their money. Her pre-pageant preparations is one of the most extensive anyone in the pageant has and with a nice personality, she is expected to roll-over into the finals night.
10. Zoey Ivory (Netherlands)
Another looker, Miss Netherlands is one of the few ladies that really stands out face value is concerned. It is however a question on how well she will be able to carry herself into the competitions. Add that to the fact that Netherlands has not performed all too well in recent years.
11. Caris Tiivel (Australia)
The possibility of an Australian winner is getting high probability this year. Caris is a looker and a stunner and she can carry herself well in front of many. What's going against her is that Miss Universe tends to look for something special - an X-factor. This I believe is lacking in her. But if she can walk her way through the prelims, then she is in pretty good shape.
12. Deshauna Barber (USA)
USA is USA. Second to Venezuela in term of Miss Universe success, USA is one of the consistent placers in the pageant's history. And despite most people seeing her as probably the least beautiful American delegate to represent in recent years, she can come strong, sassy and feisty. Added to that, she is the first woman actively serving in the United States Army Reserve to win the Miss USA title.
13. Hawa Kamara (Sierra Leone)
This black beauty has certainly caught a lot of media attention with her unusual short hair. But she is using that to her advantage, making sure her prim and pretty face gets fully recognized every time she steps into the limelight. Aside from that, she is making history this year by being the first contestant to represent her beautiful republic of Sierra Leone during the Miss Universe competition and the MUO loves fairy tale stories of maiden victories.
14. Alena Spodynyuk (Ukraine)
It may be a long overdue crown for Ukraine and this year despite controversies in their local MU organization, Alena seems to be a legitimate contender. What I like most about her is her eyes which channels a different energy across. All other aspects though are average but could still be polished along the way.
15. Iris Mittenaere (France)
France is hungry for a crown this year and after a strong showing last year they are about to take another shot with Iris. Others argue that Iris has a generic look that seems uninteresting but she can fight her way to the top with consistency and perseverance. France looks to at least repeat from last year or maybe go better.
16. Noelia Freire (Spain)
17. Jamie-lee Faulkner (Great Britain)
18. Valeria Piazza (Peru)
19. Sal Garcia (Dominican Republic)
20. Estefania Bernal (Argentina)