Miss Universe is an annual international beauty contest run by the Miss Universe Organization.
The contest was founded in 1952 by California clothing company Pacific Mills. The pageant became part of Kayser-Roth and then Gulf and Western Industries, before being acquired by Donald Trump in 1996. Along with its rival contests — Miss World and Miss Earth — this pageant is one of the most publicized beauty contests in the world.
The winner of the "Miss America 1951" pageant, Yolande Betbeze, refused to pose in a swimsuit from its major sponsor, Catalina swimwear. As a result, the brand's manufacturer Pacific Mills withdrew from Miss America and set up the Miss USA and Miss Universe contests. The first Miss Universe Pageant was held in Long Beach, California in 1952. It was won by Armi Kuusela from Finland, who gave up her title to get married to a Filipino tycoon, Virgilio Hilario, shortly before her year was complete. Until 1958 the Miss Universe title (like Miss America) was post-dated, so at the time Ms. Kuusela's title was Miss Universe 1953.
The pageant was first televised in 1955. CBS began nationally broadcasting the combined Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants from 1960 and, separately, from 1965. In 2003 NBC took over the television rights.
In the early years of the pageant, the delegates who made the cut were announced after the preliminary competition. From 1965 to the present day, the semi-finalists were not announced until the night of the main event. The semi-finalists once again competed in evening gown and swimsuit and a top 5 were announced. An interview portion was introduced in 1960 to decide the runners-up and winner.
From 1959 to 1964, there were slight format changes. In 1959 through 1963, there was no cut to 5 finalists; the runners-up and winners were called from the assembled 15 semi-finalists. In 1964, the top 15 became a top 10, and after a round of interview, the winner and runners-up were called from the 10 finalists.
In 1965, the pageant returned to the original format of a cut to 5 finalists, and remained so until 1989.
In 1969, a final question was posed to the last five contestants. The final question was an on-and-off feature of the pageant. In 1990, it had taken root and every pageant since, the final contestants have to answer a final question.
In 1990, the pageant implemented major format changes in the competition itself. Instead of five finalists, the field was reduced from 10 semi-finalists to 6. Each contestant then randomly selected a judge and answered the question posed by the judge. After that, the field was narrowed down further to a final 3. In 1998, the number of finalists was reduced to 5, although there still was a cut to a final 3. This continued to 2001, where the final 5 format was re-instated.
In 2000, the interview portion of the semi-finals was quietly dropped and the contestants once again, as in the early days of the pageant, competed only in swimsuit and gowns.
In 2003, the Top 15 was again selected instead of the Top 10. Cuts were made to make the Top 10, and eventually the Top 5. The final question varied, each coming from the final delegates themselves and the current Miss Universe.
In 2006, twenty semi-finalists were announced, with these delegates competing in the swimsuit competition. The number of competing delegates was then cut to ten, with those delegates competing in the evening gown competition. After that round of competition, the final five were announced, with the finalists competing in the "final question" or interview round. At the end of competition the runners-up were announced and the winner crowned by the outgoing queen.
In 2007 the format changed slightly with the top 15 moving to the swimsuit competition; from there, 10 selected contestants moved on to the evening gown competition where half were eliminated. The final five were competing in the "final question". At the end of competition the runners-up were announced an the winner crowned by the outgoing queen.
The Contest Today
The Miss Universe Organization, a New York-based partnership between NBC and Donald Trump, has run the contest since June 20, 2002. The current president is Paula Shugart. The Organization sells television rights to the pageant in other countries, and also produces the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA contests with the winner of Miss USA representing the USA in Miss Universe.
Each year, bids are received by the Miss Universe organizers from organizations who wish to select the Miss Universe contestant for a country. This allows competition between different pageants to hold a country's license, as happened for Miss Italy and Miss France for example, when the licenses for their respective traditional organizations were revoked (the usual Miss France competition returned in 2004).
Usually a country's candidate selection involves pageants in major cities, with the winners competing in a national pageant, but this does not always occur. For example, in 2000 Australia's national pageant was abolished as a relic of a bygone era, with Australian delegates instead chosen by a modeling agency. Such "castings" are generally discouraged by the Miss Universe Organization, which prefers national pageants that preserve an aura of respectability and competition. Despite being "cast", Miss Australia, Jennifer Hawkins, was chosen as Miss Universe 2004. Later that year, Australia resumed its national pageant and chose Michelle Guy as Miss Universe Australia 2005.
Some of the most successful national pageants in the last decade have been Venezuela, USA, Puerto Rico, etc which command consistently high interest and television ratings in their respective countries. Recent arrivals in the pageant include China (2002), Albania (2002), Vietnam (2004), Georgia (2004), Ethiopia (2004), Latvia (2005), Kazakhstan (2006), Tanzania (2007) and Kosovo (2008); there have also been efforts to revive strong national pageants in South Africa, Canada, Spain, Japan, Colombia; Latin America among other regions. Prior powerhouses are Finland, Germany and Sweden. England is the most successfull non-winning country with nine Top 5 positions.
There are continually efforts to expand the pageant, but the participation of some countries such as Algeria has proven difficult due to cultural barriers to the swimsuit competition, while others such as Mozambique, Armenia and Nepal have balked at sending representatives due to the cost (in fact, of all the major international pageants, the franchise fee for Miss Universe is the most expensive). As of 2007, only four countries have been present at every Miss Universe since its inception in 1952: Canada, France, Germany, and the United States. Many European countries allow 17-year-old contestants to compete in their pageants, while Miss Universe's minimum age is 18, so national titleholders often have to be replaced by their runners-up. Miss Universe also prohibits transsexual applicants and age fabrication.
The main Miss Universe Pageant, as of now, is held over a two week period in May and July. In the 1970s through the 1990s, the pageant was a month long. This allowed time for rehearsals, appearances, and the preliminary competition, with the winner being crowned by the previous year's titleholder during the final competition.
According to the organizers, the Miss Universe contest is more than a beauty pageant: women aspiring to become Miss Universe must be intelligent, well-mannered, and cultured. Often a candidate has lost because she did not have a good answer during the question responses rounds; although this section of competition has held less importance during recent pageants than it did in the twentieth century. Delegates also participate in swimsuit and evening gown competitions.
Currently, the final placement of the finalists is determined by a ranked vote, where each judge ranks each of the final three/five candidates, with the contestant posting the lowest cumulative score becoming the winner. If there is a tie, which often happens when there are even members of the jury, the higher semifinal scores become decisive.
The winner is assigned a one-year contract with the Miss Universe Organization, going overseas to spread messages about the control of diseases, peace, and public awareness of AIDS. Since Donald Trump took over the pageant, the winner has been given the use of a Trump Tower apartment in New York City for use during her reign.
Aside from the main winner and her runners-up, special awards are also awarded to the winners of the best National Costume, Miss Photogenic, and Miss Congeniality. Miss Congeniality is chosen by the delegates themselves. In recent years, Miss Photogenic has been chosen by popular internet vote (the winner used to be chosen by media personnel covering the event).
The competition for the Miss Universe title has seen many changes, although there have been several constants throughout its history. All the contestants compete in a preliminary round of judging (nowadays called the "Presentation Show") where the field is narrowed to a select number of semi-finalists. This number has fluctuated over the years. The very first Miss Universe pageant had ten semi-finalists. The next two years, the number of semi-finalists grew to 16. In 1955, the number dropped to a stable 15, which remained through 1970. In 1971, the number was reduced to 12. That number was further reduced to a mere 10 in 1984. This lasted until 2001, when the number of 15 was re-instated. In 2006, there were 20 semi-finalists, the highest number ever. In 2007, the Organization announced the Top 15 system will be back, which is also used in 2008.
In the early years, the contestants were judged in swimsuit and evening gown only. In later years, the contestants also competed in a preliminary interview round in a one-on-one meeting with each individual judge.
In 2007, 77 contestants started the competition; the top 15 moving to the swimsuit competition. From there, 10 were selected for the evening gown competition which halved the contenders to 5. These final five then answered a final question to decide the winner.
The Miss Universe crown used from 2002–2007 was designed by Mikimoto, the official jewellery sponsor of the Miss Universe Organization, and depicted the phoenix rising, signifying status, power and beauty. The crown has 500 diamonds of almost 30 carats (6.0 g), 120 South Sea and Akoya pearls, ranging in size from 3 to 18 mm diameter and is valued at $250,000. The Crown was designed specifically for the pageant on Mikimoto Pearl Island in Japan with the Mikimoto crown and tiara being first used for Miss Universe 2002.
For Miss Universe 2008 a new crown was unveiled. Valued at $120,000, it is made of 18K white and yellow gold. It is composed of over 1,000 precious stones; including 555 white diamonds (30 carats (6.0 g)), 375 cognac diamonds (14 carats (2.8 g)), 10 smoky quartz crystals (20 carats (4.0 g)) and 19 morganite gemstones (60 carats (12 g)). The colors of the jewels chosen for the crown have great significance. The yellow luster of the gold represents the prosperous thriving economy in Vietnam. White, light pink and cognac are the main hues in the crown which represent inspiration and feeling. Each piece of the crown was designed to represent an important attribute of the Miss Universe Pageant. The curves of inlaid precious stones represent the strong development and potential of each country. The image of the crane (Lac Bird) symbolizes Vietnamese spirit and culture. The image of the heart represents unified breath, rhythm and vision, which are powerful internal forces that stress faith, hope and unity. But this Vietnamese crown will only be used in the 57th edition of Miss Universe Pageant.
2004 marked the first year for the Miss Universe pageant to use the Orenté musical score, the official Miss Universe soundtrack. The Orenté musical score is divided into eight sequences: the Orenté Introduction — the musical score played during the live-telecast as the voice over begins the Miss Universe pageant, the Orenté Major — used for the cue after commercial and during the announcement of the newly-crowned Miss Universe, the Orenté Elimination — used for the announcement of semi-finalists, the Orenté Fashion Presentation, the Orenté Interlude — used while showing the ten finalists, the Orenté Pregunta Final — used while the final five finalists answer the final question the Orenté Final Look — used for the final look of the five finalists, and the Orenté Announcement — used while announcing the positions of the final five delegates. In 2008, a new Orenté Fashion Presentation was played during the Fadil Berisha swimsuit photoshoot, the 2007 version was now the called the Orenté Curtain Call, which was used as Melanie B and Jerry Springer called out the delegates just before they made the first cut, making the Orenté musical score divided into nine sequences.