The Miss Venezuela contest is the national beauty pageant of Venezuela and has been held since 1952. It is responsible for selecting the country's representatives to the Miss Universe, Miss World, and Miss International pageants (among others). Under the direction of Osmel Sousa, Venezuela has accumulated more international titles than any other country, including four Miss Universe winners, five Miss Worlds, and four Miss Internationals. As a result of the intense competition to enter the pageant, Miss Venezuela is considered the world's most prestigious national beauty title. Throughout the 1990s, however, the pageant has had an archrival in Miss India, as well as a traditional (though usually good-spirited) rivalry with the neighboring and also formidable pageants Miss Puerto Rico and Miss Colombia. The pageant is broadcast live across Latin America by Venevision, with edited versions to the United States and Mexico on Univision network. Traditionally the pageant lasts about four hours and is held in late September, but it is actually preceded by two or three months of preliminary events, including elections of corporate awards (i.e. Colgate's Mejor Sonrisa pageant, where the company's judges select the candidate with the best smile, and the famous Rostro Ebel competition, where the contestants parade in high-fashion wear to win the title for "Most Beautiful Face"). Two of the most important events are also the Presentation to the Press and the Gala de Belleza, which is a sensational "dress rehearsal" to the pageant where the country is given a preview of the hot favorites for the title.
As Venezuela, a highly multiracial and diverse country, is also the world's largest consumer of cosmetics on a per-capita basis, the culture of beauty runs deep and thousands of entrants apply for the pageant each year. Many women will try for up to five or six years consecutively to earn one of the 26 to 32 titles that will enable them to compete in the final pageant, usually broadcast in September. Venezuela's 23 states, capital, and two regions of Zulia state are always represented; depending on the year other regions of the country will also receive representatives. Although some major states and regions such as Zulia, Tachira, and Carabobo will hold their own preliminaries, many of the states are assigned by geographical proximity or even random drawing to the final contestants. There is therefore considerably less emphasis on state titles as there are in other major pageants such as Miss USA, although certain areas such as Miranda, Nueva Esparta, Distrito Capital and Carabobo always seem to do well.
Getting to the Pageant
A would-be contestant joins the pageant at either the local level, if a regional contest is held in her state, or goes directly to headquarters in Caracas. Regional contests generally select three to six candidates (except for the massive Miss Centroccidental pageant, which covers six to seven midwestern states) who will likely represent the state or one nearby: i.e. a candidate who is a finalist for Miss Carabobo will usually expect to represent Carabobo or a neighboring state such as Yaracuy in the final pageant. However, Osmel Sousa, president of the pageant, always sits on the selection panel regardless if it is a final regional contest or the direct "auditions," and frequently overturns the entire regional results in favor of his own choices. For example, none of the candidates in 2004 for Vargas state were deemed fit for competition, so a candidate from Caracas was appointed Miss Vargas. Winners therefore have frequently never visited their state before wearing its title and winning the pageant. All this is done in accordance with the philosophy that the "strongest survive": rather than waste five or six candidates from a strong area of the country such as Zulia when only one can represent her state, the pageant distributes them so all have an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities in the final night.
There is never any guarantee that a girl will make it all the way to the final night, as the pageant reserves the right to pull a title from a candidate who has not been performing up to standard. Many aspirants will also classify into the final 50 or 60, only to be eliminated from the ultimate 26-32 contestants. Such eliminations have no real bearing on how well the contestant will do in the future, however. Mariangel Ruiz, Miss Venezuela 2002, did not place into the final 120 in 1998; Barbara Clara, second runner-up in 2004, had previously tried for the pageant three times before winning a title at the last minute in 2004.
Once a candidate is shortlisted for the pageant, she begins an intensive course which can last for half a year as the organization trains her in speech, physical fitness, presentation, modelling, and all the other skills required for competition. As the pageant lasts up to four hours long, with countless musical numbers and dances, rehearsals alone require weeks of preparation on the part of the contestants. The lucky winners who will represent Venezuela in the major international pageants are accorded unparalleled fame and opportunities in the country and throughout Latin America, although they too will undergo continuous preparation to win their respective pageants.
All these efforts, funded by the extensive corporate sponsors (including Pepsi, Palmolive, Colgate, Ebel and Lux) attracted to the pageant (which can draw up to 80% ratings) and Venevision Television, have been rewarded by an incredible record particularly at the Miss Universe contest. Between 1983 and 2003, Venezuela placed into the semifinals uninterruptedly, and between 1991 and 2003 into the final five or six positions. Venezuela has also twice held the two top international beauty crowns simultaneously: in 1981 with Irene Saez (Miss Universe) and Pilin Leon (Miss World), and again in 1995-1996 with Alicia Machado (Miss Universe) and Jacqueline Aguilera (Miss World). This unmatched streak was ended in 2004 when Ana Karina Anez shockingly was eliminated from the finals held in Quito, Ecuador. It is said that Osmel Sousa will retire from his two decades of directing the pageant after seeing a Venezuelan crown another Venezuelan as Miss Universe-in a pageant where no country has ever won on consecutive years. In total, Venezuela has won over seventy international crowns under the guidance of the pageant, and the country's representatives never fail to bring back at least one international title each year.
Winning the pageant is by no means a prerequisite for success, which explains its intense popularity. Simply competing is enough to get a contestant noticed and launch her television or print career, and at least a dozen models are produced every year by the pageant. Virtually all of Venezuela's top models and television personalities are alumni of the pageant, including Maite Delgado (who competed in 1986 against future Miss Universe Barbara Palacios). In fact, only Gaby Espino and several other entertainment figures stand out as never having competed in the pageant.
Nowadays, familiar faces on Spanish networks around the world include Norkys Batista, Daniela Kosan, Marjorie de Sousa, Chiquinquira Delgado and Natalia Streignard. Two of the Latin world's most famous personalities, supermodel Patricia Velasquez and singer/actress Maria Conchita Alonso, also participated, in 1989 and 1984 respectively. Miss Universe 1981, Irene Saez, is perhaps most famous as the beauty queen who became a mayor, governor, and high-profile presidential candidate in 1998. Interestingly, Miss Venezuela 1986, Barbara Palacios, won the Miss Universe title just ahead of Miss USA Christy Fitchner, who in turn won Miss USA a few points ahead of Miss Ohio 1986--Halley Berry.
Miss Venezuela and other countries
In 2002, Natascha Borger became the first Venezuelan to country-jump. She had placed 14th in Miss Venezuela 2000 before moving to Germany, where she won the Miss Germany pageant easily. At the Miss Universe 2002 pageant she gave a formidable performance, placing sixth behind Miss Venezuela 2002, Cynthia Lander by only a fraction of a point. Natascha has since gone on to become one of the most decorated beauty queens in history, sweeping numerous contests and placing in virtually every competition she has entered. The prospect of former contestants transferring their schooling to other countries seemed to become a reality when rumors flew that Astrid Carati, who had placed four spots ahead of Natascha in 2000, would go to Dominican Republic to contest that nation's crown. Though ultimately she did not compete in that country (where she would have gone up against future Miss Universe Amelia Vega), the rumors were enough to spur the pageant to allow former contestants (not winners) to try again. The policy was revoked after an experimental year.
It should also be noted that the Miss Venezuela school of beauty achieved such fame in the late 1990s that numerous countries would petition to have their girls trained by Osmel Sousa and the pageant's team. Among these countries were archrival Miss Colombia, Philippines, Brazil, and others. In 2003, Amelia Vega of the Dominican Republic received training in the school before going on to win the Miss Universe pageant; Mariangel Ruiz, Miss Venezuela 2002 placed second behind her. The result was a ban from Venevision executives on the school training any future foreign contestants.
Further notes of interest
Between 2000 and 2002, the Miss Venezuela pageant was split into two contests: the Miss World Venezuela pageant, to elect the representative to Miss World, from which a reduced group of contestants would go on to compete in Miss Venezuela to go to the Miss Universe contest. The two pageants were rejoined in 2003.
The most coveted symbol of the pageant, its crown, is a specially designed masterpiece by engineer George Wittels. It is changed about every five years, and is currently a heavy piece made out of white gold, platinum, silver, Austrian crystals and pearls. Since 2000 Miss World Venezuela carries a crown inlaid with turquoise. Winners retain their sash but are not allowed to keep the costly crowns which are passed from year to year.
The great pride the organization carries in its winners is never in dispute, although there remains, according to popular legend, regret for only one "stolen" crown: Carolina Izsak, Miss Venezuela 1992, often considered the greatest winner produced. She was considered all but assured the Miss Universe 1992 crown when a shocking interview score dropped her out of the final three. Interestingly, Michelle McLean of Namibia won the title that year, but was only a finalist several months before at Miss World 1991 which was won by Ninibeth Leal--who in turn lost the Miss Venezuela 1992 title to Carolina.
Very few black women have ever participated in the pageant, but when they do, they always sweep the contest: Carolina Indriago (winner, 1998); Dayra Lambis (fifth, 1998); Aineta Stephens (fourth, 2000); and Stephanie Thomas (fourth, 2004).
The ideal measurements for a contestant in Miss Venezuela are 90-60-90. Officially a minimum height of 5'7" is required, but winners are almost always at least 5'9" and actually average 5'11" in height.
In recent years the pageant has begun to "import" expatriates who have been working as international models. Miami alone has produced Valentina Patruno (Miss World Venezuela 2002), Andrea Gomez (Miss International Venezuela 2004), and Monica Spear (Miss Venezuela 2004).
There is a strong relationship between doing well in Miss Venezuela and the highly prestigious Miss Italia nel Mondo (Miss Italy in the World) pageant: all three Venezuelans who have won the latter placed in the final five of Miss Venezuela.
A little known fact: Maria Andreina Abrahamz (Miss Vargas 2002) was appointed Miss Vargas in 1998, but withdrew due to illness. She represented the state 22 years after her half-sister, famous actress Hilda Abrahamz, wore the title to become Miss World Venezuela 1980.
At its height Miss Venezuela commissioned a wardrobe worth up to half a million dollars US for the Miss Universe contest. In 2000, Claudia Moreno carried several hundred articles of clothing, two dozen pairs of shoes, a dozen pairs of swimsuits, four full-length evening gowns, a handmade national costume, and a dozen purses to Cyprus for the pageant. All of the pieces were custom-made by top Venezuelan designers as well as Carolina Herrera and Escada.
Each of the 28 to 32 finalists in the pageant will wear a custom-designed gown, average worth around $8000, for the contest. The country's top fashion designers compete to present their portfolios months before the contest. Although it has been claimed that certain designers such as Durant & Diego and Jose Maria Almeida always dress the winners, there is no apparent pattern to back that allegation.
A Miss Venezuela candidate will spend up to three hours a day, for four to five months, in a gym working on cardio and weights to prepare for the pageant. In 1997 the Miss Venezuela school, which teaches candidates everything from diction to walking to current events and politics, ran hours from 7 in the morning to past midnight.
Between 1977 and 1984, there were intermittent backstage revolts against the results of the pageant. Among the most spectacular moments was in 1977 when Vilma Goliz, Miss Falcon, tore off her sash as first runner-up and stormed off the stage.
Though she was the first Venezuelan to take the Miss Universe crown, an honor the grateful nation paid homage to 25 years later in the Miss Venezuela 2004 pageant, Maritza Sayalero did not have easy victories. When she won the Miss Venezuela 1979 title, her first runner-up Maria Fernanda Ramirez refused to acknowledge the results; her family then attacked the jury, with her mother and brother physically accosting the judges. Maritza recovered enough of her legendary poise to take the Miss Universe title in Australia, but immediately after the live telecast ended the stage collapsed as too many journalists and photographers stormed to get a photograph of the new queen. She managed to save another contestant from falling into the gaping hole left in the middle of the set, although several unfortunate women including Miss Turkey and Miss Brazil were injured.