Quezon City, May 29, 2002 (STAR) FUNFARE by Ricardo F. Lo - Funfare’s feature on the ongoing 2002 Miss Universe Pageant in Puerto Rico (grand finals will be held tomorrow, May 30, covered live by RPN 9 starting at 9:30 a.m., with a replay at 7 p.m. same day, with The STAR among the sponsors) drew enthusiastic reactions from all over, with some Miss U fans (aside from Funfare’s "beauty experts" Joey Cezeare, Gery Yumping, Francis Calubaquib and Felix Manuel) contributing their own Miss U trivia, to wit:

• In the pageant’s 51-year history, only four Filipinos have been invited as judges, namely the late Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, Kuh Ledesma, world-class designer Josie Cruz-Natori and Bulletin Publisher Emilio Yap.

• Kuh sat as judge during the 1991 pageant (won by Mexico’s Lupita Jones) in Las Vegas where the Philippines was represented by Alu Gonzales who took the place of Anjanette Abayari when Anjanette was dethroned due to technicality in residency requirement. A minor "controversy" occurred back home when rumor spread that Kuh, who happened to be Alu’s lookalike, didn’t vote for Alu that’s why she lost (as if Kuh’s one vote was that decisive). The rumor turned out to be baseless.

• Several Miss U winners have paid the Philippines a goodwill visit, including Finland’s Armi Kuusela (1952), Brazil’s Ieda Maria Vargas (1963), Brazil’s Martha Vasconcellos (1968), Venezuela’s Irene Saez (1981), Canada’s Karen Dianne Baldwin (1982) and Puerto Rico’s Dayanara Torres (1993).

• Two Misses Universe won their titles here – Spain’s Amparo Muñoz in 1974 and India’s Sushmita Sen in 1994.

• Did you know that Germany’s Marlene Schmidt (1961) was romantically linked to a Filipino ambassador?

• Of course, we know that Armi Kuusela, the first Miss Universe, married a Filipino, the late Virgilio Hilario, with whom she even starred in a movie called Now and Forever.

• Besides Armi, there were other Misses U who ventured into showbiz, including Greece’s Corinna Tsopei (who co-starred with Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse), Amparo Muñoz (who did sexy movies in her native Spain and also did two movies here, Hayop sa Ganda with Gloria Diaz and Isang Gabi sa Buhay ng Isang Babae; later falsely rumored to have died of AIDS), USA’s Shawn Weatherly (who did a TV show), Chile’s Cecilia Bolocco (a CNN anchor lady who last year married former Argentina President Carlos Menem), Dayanara Torres (remember her romantic starrer with Aga Muhlach who became her boyfriend before she married Latin Salsa King Mark Anthony?), Sushmita Sen and Venezuela’s Alicia Machado (who topbills Samantha, a telenovela currently airing early afternoons on GMA 7).

• Margie Moran also starred in a movie, Oh, Margie, Oh!, with Cocoy Laurel while Gloria Diaz has matured into a respectable, award-winning actress.

• In 1979 (or was it 1980?), a minor accident marred the pageant in Australia when a portion of the stage caved in. At that time, the country’s candidate was Dang Cecilio (one of the loveliest Bb. Pilipinas beauties, if you ask me). Fortunately, not one contestant was injured; they got only minor bruises. That was the time of the dreaded Skylab dropping from Outer Space, remember?

With the trivia part done with, let’s focus on Karen Loren Agustin who’s the country’s bet in the current Miss U contest. The good news is that Karen is included in the early 12 favorites, along with Misses Venezuela, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Russia, Slovenia, Germany, Czech Republic, Turkey, Nigeria, India and China (joining the contest for the first time).

Stella Marquez de Araneta told Funfare that Karen began attracting attention during the opening ceremonies with her stunning gowns designed by Oscar Barraza of Colombia, including the Maria Clara-inspired showstopper which Karen wore during the National Costume competition (published on the front page by The STAR a few days ago). Barraza has so far made 26 gowns that have won in international beauty contests. He was the same guy who did the gown of Zorayda Andam in last year’s Miss U also in Puerto Rico, for which she won as first runner-up.

According to reports quoted by Madame Stella, Karen has been getting positive nods from Miss U-watchers – and, hopefully, the judges – with her wit and intelligence, and her being down-to-earth and unpretentiously charming.

Giving Karen moral support in Puerto Rico are fellow 2002 Bb. Pilipinas winners Katherine Ann Manalo (Bb. Pilipinas-World) and Kristine Alzar (Bb. Pilipinas-International). The three beauties have become known as the "KKK Trio" because all of them underwent training in Colombia, unlike Miriam Quiambao (1999 Bb. Pilipinas-Universe and Miss U first runner-up), Nina Ricci Alagao (2000 Bb. Pilipinas Universe) and Zorayda Andam (2001 Bb. Pilipinas-Universe) who were trained in Venezuela which has a school exclusively for beauty queens (some of its own Misses Venezuela admitted having undergone surgery for looks improvements before competing abroad).

The trainor of Karen and the two other "K’s" was Javier Murillo who has trained dozens of international beauty-contest winners, including Colombia’s very own Carolina Gomez who placed first runner-up (to Sushmita Sen) at the 1994 Miss U held here.

So tomorrow, let’s all hope and pray that Karen Loren Agustin will figure well in the Miss U.

Will she make it to the semis or to the finals? Or, knock on wood, will she end up as the country’s third Miss U (after Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran)?

Let’s see.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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