Recently the Miss Universe pageant reached 8 million followers on facebook and so it posted a video thanking its fans from around the world for the love and support. What stood out to us in that video was that most of the countries that they mentioned in the video were Asian. On a closer look it can be seen that more than 50 percent of MUO’s social media followers are from Southeast Asia, the Philippines being the largest contributor. It’s not a secret that pageants are popular in Southeast Asia. But the fact that pageants are more popular in Asia as compared to Latin America changes a lot of equations in global pageantry. And so it makes us wonder “Is Southeast Asia the new Latin America for pageantry?”
Gone are the days when pageant organisers were madly in love with the Latin American audience. Miss Universe openly proclaimed its love for Latinas on various occasions. There is no denying that the Latinas who won international crowns were very deserving. But it’s not like countries from other parts of the world were sending any less deserving candidates. As Ms. Paula Shugart once said “Winning Miss Universe is only one girl’s destiny every year”. The contestants who manage to reach the top 5 of a pageant are all deserving to win the main title. But when it came to choosing the eventual winner of the pageant, destiny seemed favouring the Latinas a lot more. The reason behind this was loud and clear. Pageant organisers around the world believed that the Latin American countries brought them the largest share of business which was true to some extent. There was even a time when MUO was planning on launching a reality series called “Miss Latina Universe” wherein the winner was supposed to represent Latin American ethnicity at Miss Universe 2014. This decision received rough criticism from pageant followers across the world. Thankfully Telemundo cancelled the series for undisclosed reasons. When Univision signed a multiyear deal with MUO in January 2015, it seemed like Latinas became even stronger at Miss Universe. It all started changing after Mr. Donald Trump announced his intentions to run for the office of the President of the United States.
In his very first speech as a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump made wildly offensive remarks about Mexican people which ignited outrage among the Latin American Community. One after another, all the Latin sponsors of MUO (including Univision) dropped the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants within just a few weeks of Mr. Trump’s speech. To many people this seemed like the death of Miss Universe pageant. Many believed that MUO could never recover from this loss without support from the Latin America. And due to all of this drama, MUO was forced to look towards east for as an alternative plan.
Because of emergence of social media, TV ratings are no longer considered as the sole indicator of popularity. In fact social media provides visibility for pageants throughout the year. More importantly the data research on social media is much more economic and easily accessible. After the Miss USA 2015 fiasco, MUO must have started noticing the support from Southeast Asian countries in a much more clear way. This was also the time when the new owners took over MUO and old equations of pageantry started shaking up. First thing which a lot of people noticed after the Miss Universe 2015 was the fading “Sash factor”. There was a time not so long ago (2009) when no Asian country made it to the top 15 of Miss Universe. But now with new organisers of Miss Universe more number of Asian countries started shining at the pageant. We saw a Southeast Asian country winning the Miss Universe crown for the first time since 1988. Philippines and Indonesia currently hold a streak of placements at the pageant with Thailand also joining the group in recent years. Along with it we also saw a diminishing pattern in success of Latin American powerhouses like Venezuela and Mexico. Even in other international pageants, the power of Southeast Asian fans was evident. Rise of Miss Grand international was another proof of popularity of pageants in Asia and particularly the Southeast Asia.
Going into the Miss Universe 2017, the new direction of MUO is becoming more and more noticeable. There is a strong possibility that MUO won’t crown a Latina for the 3rd year in a row. This edition of Miss Universe will be a pivotal point in the relationship between Asia and MUO. Will the Latinas be able to retain their dominant position or will the Southeast Asia snatch the crown as the new commander of global pageantry? The winds of change are moving towards east and it will be just a matter of time before they turn the current spectrum of pageantry.
Author: Jinendra Aherkar