Miss Universe 1996 of Venezuela

Shortly after her crowning, Alicia was asked what she would do now that she was Miss Universe…Without hesitation, she replied, "EAT, EAT, EAT!!" Can you taste the irony?!

This was the woman who had the spunk and charisma to take it all. But could she "take it all" -- the criticism that came her way during her reign? Let me tell you an all-too-real fairytale that proves that dreams do come true but what happens when your dreams become a nightmare? The story of Alicia Machado would answer this question.

First, this 5'8" beauty from Maracay would take the coveted Miss Venezuela title, the most coveted national title in the world. She was so popular that she was even featured on a box of the breakfast cereal "Special K". She was on her way to stardom while undergoing some intense training from the ever-popular Osmel Sousa. Would it pay off? Yes it would but the consequences cost Alicia a lot.

The evening was electric in Las Vegas, Nevada, that night in May 1996. 79 beauties, vying for the Miss Universe title, from all over the world emerged onto the stage behind the reigning Miss Universe, Chelsi Smith. Only one of these beauties was a clear cut above the rest and that beauty was Alicia Machado. During the parade of nations, Miss Venezuela was announced and Alicia said, "Hola, my name is Alicia Machado. I come from the gateway of South America, VENEZUELA!!!" Her preliminary scores were very impressive. She came in second in every competition and second in the preliminaries. Only Russia's Ilmira Shamsutdinova beat Alicia in swimsuit, USA's Ali Landry beat her in evening gown, and India's Sandhya Chib beat her in the interview. She had a 9.43 for both interview and evening gown and the judges dialed "9.11" for her in the swimsuit competition!

Alicia was the last of the top ten to be announced but for this pageant they definitely saved the best for last! Alicia covered her face, blew a kiss to the air in front of her, took her spot, and blew another kiss to the crowd after the host, Bob Goen, announced her name. From there, it was downhill for Miss Alicia. She swept every competition comfortably from then on making her the clear winner. She was the only delegate who got higher than 9.8 throughout the evening. Her interview competition was quite memorable. As Alicia came forward, Bob Goen said that she was a 19-year-old law student and the daughter of a toy storeowner. When asked about her father's toy stores, Alicia, using her translator replied saying, "Yes, as a matter of fact, my father owns two toy stores in Maracay, where I come from, and he has had them for the past 20 years and I shared many of those toys." Bob Goen responded in saying, "So everyday is like Christmas at your house, right?" Using her translator again she said, "Yes, everyday is like Christmas at my house because my father loves children very much and we have had the opportunity to share the good times with children and that is something that everybody should do." That is indeed something that everyone should do and I was glad that Alicia immediately expanded on her answer without Bob having to follow up his closed ended question. To conclude, Bob asked her if she spoke any English at all. She said, "Yes..A little, okay?! Okay…Welcome to Entertainment Tonight…" The audience immediately responded with laughter. "with your host Bob Goen and me!" Bob Goen then said, "Oh and you! She can plug my show anytime. (To interpreter) Tell her that later." Alicia marched over to her spot with a boost of confidence. Her score was 9.80 and the scores just kept getting higher.

That old black magic had us in a spell as the fabulous 50s came back for the best swimsuit competition ever starring the sensational Alicia Machado. All the delegates followed the same routine but Alicia gave it a little more. Alicia was called out. She came out of the little tent at the top of the stairs, took off her sunglasses, and worked the cameras, as her black and white image appeared behind her on a large screen and did a freeze frame right when she stuck her arms out and head way back. Her signature appeared on the screen and Alicia walked confidently down the stairs. At the end of the stairs, the photographers called out "hey!" and Alicia turned at them and turned back to the audience raising her sunglasses to the jazzy trumpet blare in the music. She strutted towards the middle of the stage with her hourglass in her tight black Jantzen swimsuit looking sensational. The audience screams rose suddenly and Alicia decided that she would spice up this competition even more by a little bit of her magic. She did what I like to refer to as "Cheeka-cheeka" as depicted in the picture below.

She stuck one hand on her hip and the other up in the air while moving her shoulders up and down twice. She then whipped her head back and marched to her scoring spot where she received a whopping 9.82. Alicia did yet another whip of the head, maybe a little too hard this time since her earring fell off but she just picked it up and led the other girls back on stage to conclude. Indeed, that old black magic had everyone in a spell even Alicia who simultaneously cast a spell on everyone! After reading a book on body-language, this was pretty obvious, but it said that whipping her your head or hair as Alicia did the entire night is a sign of confidence. It's saying, "I feel good about myself." Alicia had every right in the world to do so that night because it truly was her night.

After it was announced that Alicia had won the in-style award, it was time for the evening gown competition. Ali Landry's evening gown scored big points in the preliminaries but Alicia would take this competition too with the highest score of the evening, a 9.87. Alicia walked down the stairs elegantly in her sky blue off-shoulder gown with a silver breastplate structure. Alicia looked classy and elegant and Ali Landry would come in second to Alicia for the announcement of the top 6. The top 6 delegates were: Aruba, Russia, USA, Finland, Venezuela, and Mexico. This round was the judge's questions and again Alicia proved herself to be a cut above the rest. After four ladies had passed with fair answers, Alicia wowed the crowd with her sharpness. She picked judge number 1, Maud Adams, who asked her, "If you could choose only one, would you choose smart, rich, or beautiful and why?" Alicia responded in saying, "I would choose to be smart because being smart you can also be rich and beautiful and besides that, when you are smart, you can develop yourself internally and that can help you do many other things." Bob Goen showed he liked the answer as did the audience and the judges since she received a 9.85, the highest score yet again. Alicia accidentally turned away too soon and started walking back to her spot but Bob Goen called her back for a brief period and then she went back. It didn't matter though because this was still Alicia's night.

The final three delegates were Finland, Venezuela, and Aruba. The crowd roared upon the announcement of Miss Venezuela and Alicia clearly must have known that she was already the winner which boosted her confidence for the final question. The ladies were asked what men could learn from women. Miss Finland, Lola Odusoga, said, "Well, I think women are very bright person, well, I think smart, because, uh, they have, they are the ones that give birth. They are the ones that have to share love with Man. They have to learn, Man, how to love. Thank you." It was a good answer but Lola's broken English didn't really help the situation. Alicia proceeded in giving a simple answer which the translator turned into an awesome answer. She said, "I believe men can learn very much because thanks to us women, the men are here in this beautiful theatre, seeing this beautiful contest and applauding me because I am a beautiful woman!" The audience roared with delight and Alicia whipped her hair yet again as she went to stand with Lola, then Miss Aruba, Taryn Mansell responded in saying, "I believe men can learn sensitivity from women, men can learn warmth from women. I believe that men can learn a great deal from everything we have to offer." It was a decent answer but Alicia was clearly the winner. It couldn't be any more obvious. After Chelsi's farewell, Finland was announced the second runner up, then there were kisses all around between the three ladies and Bob Goen brought the top 2 closer. The audience was screaming for Venezuela. Bob Goen told the girls to take a deep breath. Alicia did and Taryn just smiled a little because I think she knew that Alicia won. Bob Goen proclaimed, "The first runner up is Miss Aruba! Miss Venezuela, you are the new Miss Universe!!" The big screen behind showed Alicia, shaking her hand a little, covering her face. She then pushed her hair off her shoulders and turned as Keylee Sue Sanders, Miss Teen USA 1995 gave Alicia her roses and put on her sash and Chelsi gave Alicia a kiss and crowned her. It was kind of a weak reaction because Alicia knew that she won. She then immediately turned to go to her throne holding her crown but Bob Goen pulled her back and made her say hello to her world! Unfortunately, Alicia still holding her crown with one hand and roses in the other tilted the crown slightly and she had to say hello with a crooked crown placement. Alicia was sort of restricted from waving because of that so she just held on and approached her throne. The delegates did not seem to react too well to this win. Some delegates clapped for her and others just watched. Just as the pageant ended and Alicia climbed the stairs to her throne, Miss Hungary, Andrea Deak, 15th place, standing right next to the throne, shook her head at Alicia in sad disbelief. On that sour note, this Miss Universe would not fade from the public eye like many others. Alicia stood out from the rest but not in the good way that she enjoyed during that night. Everything went downhill from there as Alicia's adventure would begin.

"EAT, EAT, EAT!!!" Remember those words? Donald Trump snickered and said, "Some might even call her an eating machine!" Alicia Machado weighed 118 pounds when she won the crown but according to some sources she ballooned up to 150 pounds only a few months after her crowning. Alicia believed that the reports started because someone saw her with a swollen face after having her wisdom teeth removed and started that rumor. But it was no rumor, Alicia really had gained 30 pounds and succumbed to the media frenzy that would follow during her reign. The rumored threats to take away her crown began shortly before the Miss Teen USA pageant in August 1996. During her brief appearance in that pageant, you could see that Alicia had gained a little weight but it did not seem like a huge difference. It wasn't up until the Miss USA pageant in February 1997 that the weight loss program that Alicia was under was made public. Under the watchful eye of Donald Trump, Alicia sporting an "Exude" shirt and tight black sweatpants exercised with hired trainer Edward Jackowski in front of a mass of photographers and reporters. Alicia tried to smile and show that she was comfortable but later admitted that she wasn't. Who wouldn't when reporters are scoffing at you, photographers taking humiliating pictures, and rude comments from some people like, "Alicia, you can pull your leg back further than that, can't you?!" Alicia just looked up but continued to do her exercises with a smile. The unmistakable confidence of Alicia was crumbling before our eyes but Alicia was determined.

"147 is my weight, please, it's not 165!" squeals Alicia. "I'm no cow, okay?!" Alicia vowed to get back down to supermodel slimness and said that she was doing it for herself and not for anyone else. But, eating healthy food and doing regular exercises would be the routine this time around. Prior to Miss Universe, she only knew the world of diet pills, powders, and liposuction, which was how she got that figure during the pageant. Alicia read trainer Edward Jackowski's book, "Hold It, You're Exercising Wrong" and was on her way back to the top. You could hear the music from "Rocky" playing as she skipped rope, ran, and stretched. Prior to the Miss USA pageant, Alicia weighed in at 143 pounds. She then said that she lost 12 pounds that week. This would have meant that she was actually 155 pounds the week before, not 147. Alas, Alicia had seen it all and experienced all the hassles and criticism of a regular celebrity. The Miss USA pageant began as the outgoing Miss USA, Ali Landry, said that Alicia should be commended because she was not anorexic or bulimic like so many young girls. "Who cares that she gained a little weight?" said Ali. Well, the answer to that is everyone as was proven for the final question of the Miss USA 1997 pageant. George Hamilton asked the top three ladies, Tennessee's Towanna Stone, Hawaii's Brook Lee (who became Alicia's successor), and Idaho's Brandi Sherwood, Miss Universe is the subject of a lot of press attention because of her weight if this happened to you, how would you handle it?" Tennessee said, "I think it's very important to be your best self no matter if you're Miss Universe or whatever arena that you're working in. If I were faced with the position like that, I would try to be my best self. There isn't a weight restriction, as far as I am aware of and I would try to…probably lose the weight. I would. I would try to be healthy and handle it in a very healthy way." The soon-to-be Miss Universe, Brook Lee, gave an excellent concise answer, "I think I would take a good hard look at myself and I'd look from the inside out and I'd know that I was the same girl that was crowned that day and it really didn't matter what I looked like on the outside because I won for what I was in here. So if I go up, I go down, I get taller, I get shorter, my nose gets bigger or smaller, I'm still who I was when that crown was on my head and I'm a good representative no matter what." Idaho said, "Well, I think it's difficult for women to handle weight fluctuations and we all have to deal with that at certain times in our time. But I feel Miss Universe won for a certain reason. I saw the young woman compete who won and she was amazing. She had an inner beauty that came through. You can look at someone to a point but there's something that comes from inside and that's the woman who won the title. And so I feel the children that meet with this woman, that's the person they love. It's not what she looks like. It's the inner beauty." Alicia waved to the audience looking noticeably bigger than in Miss USA or even in the interviews prior to the pageant. That make-up made her face look huge. Could this have been done on purpose? Anyhow, Alicia rushed up to Brook who was proclaimed the new Miss USA with the sash and gave her a big hug. What did Brook have to say about this controversy? "I could see Alicia sitting in the audience and I felt for her and I was a little shocked by the question so I just spoke what I felt and I'm glad everybody agreed with it."

Alicia was officially an icon now. A positive role model who was criticized immensely over such a small issue. The founder of the Ms. Plus USA organization did not see what the fuss was. "Alicia is a beautiful woman no matter what size she is. Even if she weighed 200 pounds, I'd still believe that she's beautiful. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes." Alicia was the victim here but she won praise simultaneously. Her final appearance on Regis & Kathie Lee was quite memorable and still showed that same Alicia spunk that we loved so much during the Miss Universe pageant. Regis humorously blamed himself for the gain because he asked her to participate in a pasta cook-off and shortly after her crowning was asked to sample some cuisine. Alicia came out, waved to the audience, and seductively placed her hands on Regis' thighs and in a deep sexy voice said, "You no like my weight?" Kathie Lee responded in saying, "Should I leave you two kids alone?!" Alicia then said she was the new image for Diet Snapple and flashed the Diet Snapple logo which was on the "ahem" back to the audience. Kathie Lee then exclaimed, "Nice Snapple you got there!" Alicia talked about her new exercise regime, her love of American men, and what she was doing as Miss Universe. Alicia expressed her discontent in saying that sometimes people can be so cruel. Being Miss Universe was not easy work. She had to be around "sick childrens, and very bad situations, very cry situations" but overall the criticism was what weighed her down but she was determined to come back up. As Kathie Lee said, "Most of this criticism just comes from people who are just jealous."

Alicia and Brook also made appearances on the Fran Drescher hit show on CBS, "The Nanny" where Mr. Sheffield was asked to be a judge for Miss Universe and Alicia greeted Fran who was in the back. "Hi, hello, I am Alicia Machado." said Alicia. "Oh, from Who's the Boss?!" replied Fran. "No, that is Alyssa Milano but I get that all the time. I'm Miss Universe (holding out sash), look at that!" "Oh, Miss Universe!!" Fran bursts into tears. "Que pasa, chicken, why are you crying?" Alicia says as she comforts Fran. "I just saw a contestant that reminded me of my mother!" "Who?!" "Miss Hungary (hungry)!!!" Can you believe that Fran plugged Ildiko Kecan?!! The next Miss Universe only had one line. Mr. Sheffield asked Brook what interests her. She replies, "You mean other than handsome judges?!" Alicia's controversy thrust Brook into the spotlight as Miami Beach saw Alicia's triumphant return.

This time around, Alicia was not the controversy. Rather it was the divorce of Miss Universe owner Donald Trump and co-host of the pageant Marla Maples Trump. For Miss Universe 1997, Alicia danced during the opening number with her hands in the air. She only danced closely with Enrique Iglesias as he performed "Only You". Alicia had to endorse that Jantzen swimwear one last time. She did look noticeably bigger but no one wanted to see Alicia at 118 pounds ever again because she had done so by unnatural means and in a very unhealthy manner. When Marla asked Alicia about her year, she responded in saying, "Ah, Marla, to be Miss Universe was a great experience and I learned about different cultures around the world and I learned to be stronger in my personal life and in my future." Her reign came to an end. As Alicia took her farewell walk in a brown gown, her farewell speech went, "I thank God and my family for giving me the peace and spiritual support in this past year and I thank everyone around me for your support and belief in me. Being Miss Universe has brought me wonderful experiences, and has given me wisdom and above all strength. I also thank my country Venezuela, and my beloved city of Maracay for giving me the opportunity to represent them around the world with pride and honor. I want you to know that my concern will always be the deserving children of the world. They are the hope for the future." Alicia stepped back as Trinidad & Tobago's Margot Bourgeois was announced 2nd Runner Up, and Venezuela's Marena Bencomo was 1st Runner Up, USA's Brook Lee was the new Miss Universe. At the last moment, Alicia hugged Marena and gave her a kiss. Brook was sashed and Alicia not looking too happy at all, plopped the crown on Brook's head and tilted it slightly so it would fall. Remember what happened with Alicia's crown? But Brook caught the crown and her hairdo held it in place nicely. No crooked crown for Brook!! Alicia then rushed back to Marena's side rubbing her arm and comforting her as Brook took her walk for the audience greeting her with a standing ovation. Alicia faded away but she would resurface.

Alicia returned to Venezuela and became an actress starring as the title character of a soap called "Samantha". In January 1998, she came back into the news. Alicia's boyfriend was accused of killing his brother-in-law (widow of Alicia's boyfriend's sister) after the death of Alicia's boyfriend's sister. Alicia was accused of driving the getaway car but Alicia told everyone that she was filming her soap opera at the time. She was not guilty. Alicia is now an accomplished actress and she is living comfortably at a decent weight.

Overall, I loved Alicia Machado when she competed for Miss Universe. Her spunk and spontaneity put her way over the top. Miss Universe 1996 was no competition because of Alicia. She was it all the way. I wish more delegates would dare to bring a little excitement and live in the moment like Alicia because then we would really have us a competition!! The weight issue was blown out of proportion but you have to admit that it was Alicia that brought the Miss Universe pageant the popularity it was aching for prior to her reign. Of course, the Donald may be an additional factor but I have to commend Alicia for putting up with it all and handling everything with such poise. Other Miss Universes just come and go without any real significance but Alicia will always be remembered. But underneath all the bad press, the issues, and the criticism, she was first and foremost, Alicia.

Thank you, Alicia, for being you.

(This article was written in 1998)