With two of beauty pageantry’s “Big 4” crowns on the heads of Filipino queens—Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and 2016 Miss International Kylie Verzosa—the year 2017 began with the world’s most beautiful women flocking to Manila in the first month of the year for the staging of the 65th Miss Universe on January 30 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 2016 Miss Universe was belatedly held as final negotiations for the pageant were not ironed out until the stars aligned for the country’s hosting of the most prestigious beauty contest in the world for the third time.
It was fitting for the Philippines to stage Miss U’s latest coronation night as the current winner was Filipina, the same as the first time the country hosted the pageant in 1974 when outgoing titleholder was Filipina 1973 Miss Universe Margie Moran.
As 86 candidates arrived and went around the country to promote the islands as a tourist destination under the auspices of the Department of Tourism (DOT), three past Miss Universe winners also came to sit as judges—Dayanara Torres, who became a celebrity in the Philippines following her reign in 1993; 1994 winner Sushmita Sen of India, who was Torres’ successor; and Leila Lopes of Angola, who won in Brazil in 2011 with the Philippines’ Shamcey Supsup as her Third Runner-Up.
Miss Universe 2016 was produced by former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson’s LCS Group of Companies along with DOT and the Miss Universe Organization (MUO).
Wurtzbach crowned Miss France Iris Mittenaere as her successor at the end of the show, ending the European country’s 63-year title drought—the longest in the pageant’s history—and the first win from Europe in 14 years. The last European to be crowned Miss Universe was Russia’s Oxana Fedorova in 2002 but was dethroned and succeeded by Justine Pasek of Panama.
Placing First Runner-Up to Mittenaere was Raquel Pelissier of Haiti, with Miss Colombia Andrea Tovar placing Second Runner-Up. The Philippines’ Maxine Medina made it to the Top 6, along with Mary Esther Were of Kenya and Chalita Suansane of Thailand. Making it to the Top 9 were Siera Bearchell of Canada, Kristal Silva of Mexico and Deshauna Barber of USA. Rounding up the Top 13 were Misses Brazil, Indonesia, Panama and Peru.
PH asserts powerhouse position
Exactly three months after Miss Universe’s coronation night in Manila, six Filipinas were crowned as the country’s official representatives to various pageants through the Binibining Pilipinas pageant for the year.
First to compete was Elizabeth Clenci, who placed Second Runner-Up to Maria Jose Lora of Peru and Tulia Aleman Ferrer of Venezuela in the 2017 Miss Grand International held in Vietnam on October 25. Hosting the event were Filipino celebrities ABS-CBN actor Xian Lim and 2016 Miss Grand International First Runner-Up Nicole Cordoves.
On November 3 (November 4 in Manila), Nelda Ibe almost equalled the feat of Ann Lorraine Colis as Miss Globe 2015, but definitely improved from Nichole Manalo’s Third Runner-Up finish in 2016 when she placed First Runner-Up to Miss Vietnam Do Tran Khanh Ngan in Tirana, Albania.
The following day, Karen Ibasco proved that she is the most beautiful and smartest “warrior” when she bested 85 entrants and became the third Filipina Miss Earth titleholder in four years, and the fourth since the pageant’s debut in 2001.
Euphoria still fresh among beauty pageant aficionados, in less than 24 hours, Teresita Ssen “WinWyn” Marquez made history when she became the first Filipina and Asian to be crowned Miss Hispanoamericana 2017 in Bolivia. Although the number of delegates was just a third compared to the major contests, the daughter of basketeer-actor-politician Joey Marquez and actress-politician Alma Moreno beat the Latinas in their own turf, so to speak.
Luck went on lull for the Philippines, however, when Mariel de Leon failed to enter the semi-finals in the Miss International contest in Japan on November 14, dashing hopes for a back-to-back win forever. The winner, Kevin Lilliana of Indonesia (the first ever Big 4 crown for her country) was confirmed to have trained under a Filipino pageant expert.
Four days later, Laura Lehmann advanced to Top 40 in the Miss World pageant in Sanya, China but came short making it to Top 25 in the second round. If it is any consolation, the former Blue Eagle University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) courtside reporter was among the Top 5 Beauty With A Purpose finalists, and the humanitarian award was bestowed on Filipino priest Father Marciano “Rocky” Evangelista of Tuloy Foundation. That, of course, was on top of the accolade that Filipina Miss World 2013 Megan Young hosted the show. There was even an exchange between the priest and Young in Filipino onstage.
The most awaited pageant of all was the 66th Miss Universe in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 26 (November 27 in Manila). Strong during the preliminaries, Philippine bet Rachel Peters managed to advance to Top 10 from Top 16 but failed to make it to Top 5. Had there been a Top 6, she would have equalled the placement of Medina in the 65th edition of the pageant in Manila.
During the send-off party for the remaining three Binibini queens, Peters already said that although she had not checked on the other girls yet, she pointed to Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters and Miss Thailand Maria Poonlertlap as her two strongest rivals. Peters must have a very strong discernment and foresight as the South African delegate was crowned as the new Miss Universe and the Thai beauty made it to Top 5.
Nel-Peters ended her country’s long drought of the crown which was last won by Margaret Gardiner in 1978. Miss Colombia Laura Gonzalez was First Runner-Up and Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett was Second Runner-Up. The other girl in Top 5 was Miss Venezuela Keysi Sayago.
Rounding up the Top 10 were Misses Brazil, Canada, Spain and USA. Completing the Top 16 were China, Croatia, Ghana, Great Britain, Ireland and Sri Lanka.
Sitting among the judges was Wurtzbach, while Filipino Slay Models director and founder Cecilio Asuncion sat in the panel during the preliminary competition.
On December 1, Filipino-Australian Chanel Olive Thomas made it to Top 10 and voted Miss Friendship in the Miss Supranational pageant held in Poland. It was won by Miss Korea Jenny Kim, the very first title won by a Korean in a major pageant. In 2013, Mutya Datul became the first Filipina and Asian to win the crown in the Europe-based beauty contest.
Miss Universe 2017 in Manila
One Filipino who is as “confidently beautiful with a heart” like Wurtzbach during the Miss Universe 2017 proceedings is noted stage actor-entrepreneur Raymond “RS” Francisco.
With his introduction to the MUO officials by Wurtzbach’s mentor and manager Jonas Gaffud, the chief executive officer of multi-level company Front Row did not hesitate to make an offer for the immediate past and reigning Miss Universe to visit the Philippines after the pageant.
“MUO Vice President for Business Development and Marketing Shawn McClain said they wanted to visit a country as part of the new queen’s responsibility. I told him, whoever’s gonna win I’ll bring her over to the Philippines along with Iris [Mittenaere]. That was the night before the coronation,” Francisco told The Sunday Times Magazine during the welcome party of the Miss U beauties at Solaire Resort and Casino on December 5.
In coordination with DOT, the MUO agreed to bring to Manila not only the new queen and the previous titleholder but the delegates of chosen nations who have strong tourist arrivals to the country as well.
“They immediately said yes and were excited that the first country the new queen was set to visit is the Philippines. Of course, it’s the charity component [of the pitch]that made [MUO president] Paula Shugart and her team embrace the idea,” Francisco added.
“We know how big is Miss Universe here at home, and whether I managed to get co-sponsors or not, I was all set for it. Parang [the visit]is a Christmas gift for the Filipino people,” Francisco related further.
Given the opportunity to continue MUO’s work with Hope for Change Foundation, as well as the chance to give back to the Department of Tourism [via its "Bring Home a Friend” campaign]for the agency’s all out support during the Miss Universe 2016 pageant in Manila in January, there was no reason for Shugart and her team to decline.
And so, on December 5 until the morning of December 10, the Philippines was adorned with international beauties promoting the beautiful characteristic of Filipinos as the most hospitable people in the world, highlighting three major tourist spots of the country – Batanes in Luzon, Bohol in the Visayas and Camiguin in Mindanao.
The entourage included Misses USA, Canada, Great Britain, China, Russia, Italy, Netherlands, India, Malaysia, Spain, Singapore and Korea.
Shugart told The Sunday Times Magazine during the welcome party that it was the first time in the history of Miss Universe that three consecutive winners were together in an endeavor. She also explained how in her many years as head of MUO since 2001, the 2016 staging of the Miss Universe pageant in Manila in January was the “best show” she has seen.
The fashion show titled “Give Back: A Charity Fashion Gala” at the Grand Ballroom of Solaire on December 6 was truly a sight to behold three consecutive Miss Universe queens—Wurtzbach, Mittenaere and the reigning titleholder, Nel-Peters —share a single stage for the first time, in gowns designed no less by Filipinos.
Making the show more special was the participation of eight Binibinis who represented the county in the Miss Universe:
Bianca Manalo (2009); Venus Raj (2010), who placed Fourth Runner-Up to Mexico’s Ximena Navarette in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA and broke the curse of non-placement of Filipino beauties in the finals since Miriam Quiambao’s First Runner-Up placement in 1999; Supsup; Miss Universe 2013 Third Runner-Up Ariella Arida—the year Gabriela Isler of Venezuela won the crown in Moscow, Russia.
Mary Jean Lastimosa (2014) who finished in the Top 10 in Miami, Florida, USA when Paulina Vega of Colombia won the grand title three years ago; and Medina. Missing was Janine Tugonon, who placed First Runner-Up to USA’s Olivia Culpo in 2012 in Las Vegas. She is currently based in New York and pursuing a full-time modeling career.
Miss Tourism International 2017
In the thick of the Miss Universe 2017 beauties’ presence in the Philippines, another Filipina emerged the fairest of the fair and crowned Miss Tourism International in neighboring Malaysia.
Former “Wowowin” co-host Jannie Loudette Alipo-on bested 45 other candidates on December 6 as successor to Ariel Pearse of New Zealand. The 25-year-old De La Salle College of Saint Benilde BS HRM Travel and Tourism Management graduate also won a special award, Miss Gintell Wellness.
Alipo-on became the fourth winner of the Malaysia-based pageant after Esperanza Manzano in 2000, Rizzini Alexis Gomez in 2012 and Angeli Dione Gomez in 2013—a rare feat for [a[an Asian country] have a back-to-back win.
Other titles, placement of PH beauties
Mary Eve Adeline Escoto was crowned Miss Asia Global 2017 in Kerala, India on November 21. It was a back-to-back win for the Philippines as last year’s winner was Trixia Marie Marana. Escoto also won the Best in National Costume, Best in Formal Wear and the Missosology Choice Award.
According to organizers, Miss Asia Global pageant seeks to find the “most beautiful and talented women from the Asian region.” Crowned Miss Asia 2017 was Miss China while the First and Second Runner-Up were Miss Bashkortostan and Miss India respectively.
On November 13, Cebuana Jodel Mesina bagged the Miss Top of the World Plus Size 2017 in Singapore besting 15 other candidates from different countries.
On October 31, 13-year-old Diosen Llyed Budios was crowned Miss World Tourism in Tokyo, Japan also winning Best in Interview, Best in National Costume, Teen Photogenic and Teen Social Media special awards.
In June, Maureen Wroblewitz became the first Filipina winner of the reality show “Asia’s Next Top Model” Cycle 5.
In May, John Raspado was proclaimed Mr. Gay World in Spain, the first time the country won the title since it began in 2009.
On November 5, Sammie Ann Legaspi finished First Runner-Up to Diana Krasnova of Siberia in Miss Lumiere International World 2017 held in Singapore.
Still to compete in January is Binibining Pilipinas-Intercontinental Katarina Rodriguez in the contest in Egypt, which was moved from Sri Lanka supposed to be on December 21.
All in all, for 2017, more than 50 Filipinos have won crowns and titles in various international pageants – major and minor – held at home or abroad.
The wins have given the country its most bountiful harvest yet, although may not be as strong as the impact in 2013 when the Philippines won Miss World, Miss International, Miss Supranational, Miss Tourism International and placed strongly in the Miss Universe.
Nevertheless, 2017 indeed has been another beauteous year for the Philippines, asserting its position as powerhouse in all kinds and genre of beauty pageantry available in the whole universe.