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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 23, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 04
USA, Venezuela, The Philippines contenders for Miss Universe; Nick Jonas to perform
Arts & Entertainment
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USA, Venezuela, The Philippines contenders for Miss Universe; Nick Jonas to perform

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

63RD MISS UNIVERSE PAGEANT
Sunday, January 25
NBC and Telemundo at 8 p.m.


As football fans await the sport's climactic matchup, Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, avid followers of another competition are ready for its ultimate showdown this weekend.

The 63rd Miss Universe Pageant is taking place Sunday, January 25 in South Florida. While similar events, such as Miss World and Miss International, have gained popularity in recent years, the Universe crown is still considered the most prestigious.

A total of 88 delegates from around the world are vying for the title, currently held by Gabriela Isler of Venezuela. Among them is Miss USA Nia Sanchez, the first-ever national titleholder from Nevada who won the pageant back in June. The 24 year-old, of Mexican-American and German heritage, her father is a military veteran, is one of the top contenders heading into Sunday's telecast, expected to be viewed by a global audience of 1 million, primarily from Latin America and Southeast Asia, where beauty pageants are as big as major sporting events.

USA has claimed the coveted crown 8 times in its long history, but closely behind is Venezuela with 7, including back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009. This year's delegate, Migbelis Lynette Castellanos, is a shoo-in for a Top 15 spot and is expected to advance all the way to the final 5. Another perennial favorite is Miss Puerto Rico, which has won Miss Universe 5 times, represented by 5-foot-9 contestant Gabriela Berrios. Miss Brazil (Melissa Gurgel), a runner-up on several occasions, is being closely eyed to bring home its first title since 1968; it also won in 1963.

Although The Philippines has been victorious twice, it hasn't been awarded the crown since 1973, and its very enthusiastic fan base - flooding online chat rooms and social media pages dedicated to the pageant, aside from traveling far to attend the telecast in person - would love to see their delegate, Mary Jean Lastimosa, be fitted with the newly-designed tiara, made by Czech Republic-based Diamonds International Organization.

Pageant pundits also believe Sweden, Colombia, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Finland, Germany, South Africa, and India could triumph this weekend. A longshot Kenya is returning to Miss Universe after a 10-year absence.

Every year comes with some controversy and 2015 is no different. Miss Lebanon and Miss Israel were photographed side-by-side in an image that went viral this week; their respective countries ask that each contestant keep a safe distance from the other due to ongoing political tensions. This isn't unusual; in previous years Turkey and Cyprus were asked to abide by the same rule. Also creating a stir is Thailand, who replaced its initial titleholder, Weluree Ditsayabut with Pimbongkod Chankaew after the former contestant called for supporters of the kingdom's Prime Minister to be executed. Anissa Blondin will now compete for Belgium, after a second-place finish, following internal problems between her country and the actual winner.

The event itself is facing criticism for not sponsoring a pageant in 2014, thus skipping from 2013 to 2015 with no crown exchange. Adding to the confusion, later this year another competition will be held to choose a Miss Universe for 2015-2016. Last year's pageant was reportedly set to happen in Brazil, which could explain its delay and relocation to Doral, a suburb of Miami.

Nick Jonas and Prince Joyce will perform on Sunday's telecast, broadcast on NBC and Telemundo at 8 p.m. PST in the U.S. and Canada. Manny Pacquiao, Kristin Cavallari, William Levy, Lisa Vanderpump, and Louise Roe are some of judges who'll select the next Miss Universe at Florida International University (FIU) Arena on Sunday, already sold out. A preliminary competition with all 88 delegates competing in interview, swimsuit, and evening gown categories will determine the Top 15 (or 16, as has been the case in recent years) at the start of the show.

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