33rd place – Stefania Fernandez (Venezuela)
(Our judges are: Greg Borowski, Willian Prendiz de Jurado, Edwin Toledo (Times of Beauty), Ricardo Guiraldes (Chilean Charm), Julio Rodriguez (Belleza Venezolana), Alberto Dubal (Miss Memorabilia), Jimmy Harris (Beauty School), Pepe Medel, Jean-Marie Vandecasteele, Andre Sleigh, Rose Foulger, Luis Trujillo. From GB, Ed Dominguez, Henrique Fontes, and Chris Kuntz)
Miss Universe 2009 was held in Nassau, Bahamas, and was marked by controversy before, during, and after the event. In a year when the media was thirsty for pageant scandals, especially after Miss California USA Carrie Prejean’s controversial answer on gay marriage in the final moments of Miss USA 2009.
It was first announced that negotiations were on the way to hold the pageant at the Atlantis Resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, politics might have been gotten in the way, when -as reported in a Vegas outlet- the UAE would refuse to allow Miss Israel to enter the country.
Croatia had expressed interest in hosting the contest, and the local media had made a huge deal out of it. It made it look like it was a done deal. As followers of the contest and directors were already looking for info about the country, Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor withdrew the bid, stating that it would cost too much and the national budget had already been compromised with other priorities. It was the end of the pageant’s dream to return to Europe.
In the month of March, it was made official by the MUO that the 58th Miss Universe pageant would take place at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, August 30th. One week later, another press released showed a change of date: August 23rd.
Pre-favorites for the pageant were led by the stunning Miss Australia (Rachael Finch), followed by Dominican Republic (Ada de la Cruz), Netherlands (Avalon Chanel Weyzig), France (Chloe Mortaud), Mexico (Karla Carrillo), and South Africa (Tatum Keshwar).
Miss Japan (Emiri Miyasaka), another early favorite, made headlines around the globe due to controversial reactions to her national costume. The Japanese beauty lost her status of favorite when she arrived in the Bahamas completely “overbaked” (too much tanning) and an excess of collagen injected in her lips.
Another favorite was the stunning Sofia Rudieva of Russia, who the chaperones said “was impossible to deal with”. She also carried scandals on her shoulders: nude photos published by Russian magazines, taken when she was still under 18.
Miss Turks & Caicos was sent back home the same day before the pageant, and organizers disclosed that it was because of health problems. Well, not exactly… a few months later Jewel gave birth to a beautiful baby!
While Stefania was not a big favorite due to Dayana’s win the previous year, she was still considered a strong contender. When she won her national title, a few months earlier, there were comments that a “back-to-back” would be perfectly possible.
But the red lipstick she wore during pageant days, and her outdated wardrobe, were enough for her to drop from most favorites’ lists.
The event was also marked by another controversy: a dispute between Bolivia and Peru, due to the national costume presented by Miss Peru, called “la diablada”. Bolivian authorities said that this was unlawful appropiation of Bolivian heritage; Peru contested the charges by stating that “la diablada” comes from the indigenous region of Aymara, and Chile, Peru and Bolivia have this characteristic in their culture.
For the first time, the Presentation Show was shown live online through UStream; fans all around the world were able to witness the competition as it happened, rooting for their favorites. Some of the them lost points during this event and other started to emerge, such as Misses Kosovo, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Spain.
Most comments during that night were about the poorly styled hair of the contestants, but the star of the presentation show was Miss Venezuela, and not in a good way.
During the evening gown competition, she came out looking like “Babette” of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, completed with a hairdo that was not appropiate for her, odd earrings and the so famous red feathered gown. For many, it was the end of the line for Venezuela in 2009. And how wrong they were…
The final day of competition arrived, and Stefania changed her entire look, from Disney character parody, to that of a glamorous Hollywood star from its golden age. Still, she confessed she was nervous and insecure.
The event was held at the Imperial Ballroom of the Atlantis Paradise resort. Even though it was a large room with a capacity of about 4,000 people, for TV purposes it looked crammed and small. The production however, was nicely done, although the music attractions and girls dancing in swimsuits to the sound of rap, were highly criticized. Hosted by Billy Bush and Claudia Jordan, the delegates trembled in anticipation with the announcement of the Top 15:
Puerto Rico, Iceland, Albania, Czech Republic, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Sweden, Kosovo, Australia, France, Switzerland, South Africa, USA, Croatia, and finally, Venezuela.
A well rounded top 15, which marked a new tendency in the Miss Universe pageant: they chose the ‘healthier’ looking women, in a year where the fashion world had vowed to end the anorexic look. No Asian country placed in the finals for the first time since 1991.
Favorites Mexico, Russia and Colombia did not place. Mexico failed to place for the first time since 2003. Russia’s difficult personality and nude photos certainly ruined her chances at the pageant.
After performances in swimsuit and evening gowns, the judges chose the Top 5: Australia, Kosovo, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The biggest surprise here was the inclusion of Miss Puerto Rico, instead of Miss France, South Africa, or Czech Republic.
Miss South Africa and Miss France went on to compete in Miss World later that year. South Africa was the 2nd runner-up and France was the 3rd runner-up in Johannesburg.
Miss Photogenic was Miss Thailand (voted in the internet) and Miss Congeniality was Miss China. Although there were reports that Miss Panama had won Best National Costume, this was not shown in the telecast nor mentioned on the official website.
A new crown, created by Diamond Nexus Lab, made its debut. The Miss Universe website allowed fans to choose its design, by presenting three proposals: “Hope”, “Peace”, and “Unity”. During the telecast, Dayana Mendoza unveiled the new crown: the fans had chosen “Peace” as the winner.
After the q/a, the judges had made their mind: 4th runner-up Puerto Rico, 3rd runner-up Australia (shocking the audience in the Bahamas and around the globe), 2nd runner-up Kosovo. As Dominican Republic and Venezuela held hands, Dominicans started to celebrate what was an “obvious victory”, given that Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela was giving up the crown. Never before, a “back-to-back” victory had happened in Miss Universe.
Suddenly, a surprising announcement: 1st runner-up was Dominican Republic, making Stefania Fernandez the winner!! Her victory marked the first back-to-back victory for any country in the history of the Miss Universe contest. Overall, it was Venezuela’s 6th Miss U crown.
A group of fans, furious at the results, created a letter addressed to the MUO in which they asked for an explanation and expressed their discomfort with the victory of Miss Venezuela, stating that the contest had been fixed and that the results did not reflect the scores that were shown during the telecast.
A media frenzy about this situation started. In an interview with MUO choreographer Michael Schwandt, he confirmed that Donald Trump selected a certain group of finalists. But this selection process had only been disclosed to directors and some of them were not even aware.
In response, Miss Universe President Paula Shugart released -for the first and only time in the history of Miss Universe pageant- a press statement clearing all doubts about the judges’ voting and selection process. She also mentioned that Trump/MUO had been selecting a certain number of semi finalists since 2005.
Stefania’s reign did not start nicely, as not so flattering photos of her in Indonesia were spread throughout the internet. In addition, Stefania’s boyfriend Julio Marcolli was falsely accused of murder. Charges against him were dropped when they proved that he was in the United States with Stefania when the incident took place. However, there was her name in the media again, not in a positive way.
As months passed, Stefania was determined to live up to her role the best possible way. Her stylists suggested a major change: she cut her hair short, something that worked well for her: Stefania started looking like the stunning young woman who had been crowned Miss Venezuela a few months earlier!
Stefania traveled to places like India, Czech Republic, Russia, Panama, Argentina, among many others countries. Her visible transformation during her year made her a remarkable Miss Universe: elegant, classy, professional and above all, beautiful. Her great personality touched many hearts, and although very young, she never responded to the criticism she received with hate or negatively. She stayed quiet and show the world that the judges’ choice had been an excellent one with actions and a positive attitude.
She made her farewell walk waving the old Venezuela flag, with only seven stars. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had ordered the flag changed from seven to eight stars in 2006. The display of the old flag was seen by many as a protest against the new policies of Chávez. Her act of courage caused commotion among her countrymen, and drew admiration from people from all around the world. The Venezuelan stunner who made Miss Universe history, came back the following year looking more beautiful than ever.