It was the year 2012, and just like clockwork, the nation tuned into their televisions in the middle of the day to cheer on the Philippines’ candidate to the Miss Universe pageant.
She may not have won the crown that year—albeit landing an impressive first-runner up finish—but four years later, she would bring pride to her country all the same, gaining wings and flying high all on her own in the Big Apple.
From the Universe to NYC
New York City is filled with beautiful people, and right smack in the middle of this pulsating vibe is the Filipina runner-up of Miss Universe 2012, Janine Tugnon.
Now 27 years old, the former beauty queen exudes a different kind of confidence. It is the kind of confidence that belongs to someone who has seen the world, and because of it, developed a depth that wasn’t quite there before. This, despite the fact that she has had her share of notable achievements even before she decided to move to the United States in 2013.
To be sure, Tugonon knows what it feels to succeed. A consistent honor student since her elementary days, she was crowned Bb. Pilipinas-Universe shortly after graduating Cum Laude as a Pharmacy major at the University of Sto. Tomas.
Diverted by the beauty queen path from her college degree, she found herself uncertain what to do next with only a first runner-up sash from Miss Universe to her name.
“I consider that phase of my life as a transition period. I steered away from the plan I created for myself and ventured into [what I felt]was God’s plan and purpose for me,” recalled Tugonon in this one-on-one interview with The Sunday Times Magazine.
“I remember being so raw and new in the [modeling]industry. I have always been known to speak my mind, and I learned the hard way there’s a downside to that, especially in this industry. I was overwhelmed at that time yet I knew in my heart that I had to keep going.”
Criticized and bashed for her bold move, Tugonon also learned through this time to keep her head up no matter what. “I’m the type of person who forgets criticism, which is good. I don’t focus on the negative and instead choose to focus on people who encourage, help, and support me. I just work hard and try to offer words of love, life, and encouragement.”
“I have always wanted to live somewhere in the West,” shared Tugonon of her decision to try her luck abroad. “I grew up watching American shows and I was always curious what it was like to live there. It was my mom who saw the scholarship offered by Miss Universe for the New York Film Academy, and with her encouragement, I decided to fly across the world to pursue my interest in acting.”
With a dream in her heart and an unwavering faith that she will be guided by the heavens, Janine took on her life’s biggest adventure. Besides studying, she also pursued modeling, which initially she thought would be easy. She humbly confessed, however, “When I started modeling, I thought I was going to book a lot of jobs constantly. Because to be honest, Filipina beauty is appreciated everywhere, most especially in the States.
Even people in the streets would be quick to approach you to say so but in the first weeks after signing with my agency, I wasn’t getting the jobs. I was worried my agent would drop me.”
Luckily, her agent, Francis Arden believed in her spirit and kept her on, but all the same, the usually optimistic young lady still felt dejected.
“I was thinking that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t booking jobs. I focused instead on losing weight while figuring out the modeling industry. It was extremely frustrating, but eventually patience paid off, and the projects became more consistent. They weren’t huge jobs, mind you, but enough to tide me over—to pay the bills, and the rent.”
Frugal with money, she sustained herself through her time in New York and stints in Los Angeles. Soon enough, Tugonon became the face for many US brands including Wells Fargo, Walmart, and Kohl’s.
Asked how she overcame rejections before her modelling career finally picked up, she replied, “The idea of doing something else kills me. I knew this was what I wanted to pursue, and while there were days questioned it—when I didn’t have jobs lined up—something came up soon enough. The Provider provides if you’re on the right track, you just have to trust Him.”
The determined lady also credits a strong support system for seeing her through her toughest times, like her friend Rasec Marc Ortega who pushed her to keep going. “He just told me, ‘Keep at it, keep at it.’ There are people placed in your life for a reason. Keep them, love them, and support them too.”
Most of all, Tugonon believes her faith was her strongest and most effective shield from giving up. “Faith is everything. Without it, I would have given up a long time ago. I never liked rejections. I grew up an achiever and was a consistent honor student, so imagine how I feel about rejection. It’s discouraging, but the thing is, when God puts something in your heart, like I said the Provider provides, even in the most challenging moments. And while He won’t give it quickly, because He is building your character to prepare you for what He has in store, He is always there for you.”
She is grateful for the challenges that taught her the virtue of humility. “I realized it’s because of Him that I am where I am.”
It was in August this year that Janine Tugonon became the very first Filipina model to join the exclusive clique of Victoria Secret Angels. She appeared in a 50-seconder online ad known as “VS Pink.”
She said of her big break, “It felt really great and I will be forever grateful to the team [behind the project]. It is one of those ads that you think is a stepping stone to something more, and true enough they called me for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show casting.”
Despite missing the cut, Tugonon served as an inspiration to Filipinas who hope to break through the international modeling scene. And like she said, when something you hope for does not happen at first, it only means “the Provider” has a different plan for you.
Sure enough, she was chosen as one of the 12 winners of the annual search for the Nu Muses Calendar, which gave her the opportunity to work with renowned French fashion photographer David Bellemere whose works fill the pages of Vogue Paris, Marie Claire Italy, Nippon Vogue, and Elle USA to name a few.
Her shoot for the calendar in the Dominican Republic was only the beginning of this exciting project, which has taken Tugonon back home to Manila. Apparently, each of the 12 featured models will be filmed in their home country as part of an exclusive documentary, and the beautiful balikbayan is now here for her part of it.
According to Tugonon, both the docu and the calendar will be launched at Art Basil in Miami, after which she and the other featured models will be given the chance to grace the covers of international glossy magazines.
It was the smart lady’s definition of timeless beauty, which landed her a place among the 12 winners. Tugonon said, “The question to define timeless beauty was actually tough. But as cliché as it may sound, I said beauty comes from within and it’s true. If we fill our minds with comparison, insecurities, hatred, it will reflect in our overall aura and how we deal with people. Inner peace and security goes a long way.”
She also said that Filipinas stand out among women around the world “because our beauty is unique, and because of our good work ethic.”
Tugonon is happily busy these days—thriving in a career she continues to work hard for.
“I’ve taken a part time job in a clothing store at night, while I continue to pursue modeling,” she humbly said. “I don’t consider myself ‘there’ yet but I thank God for the projects that are coming. I won’t have to worry about rent for the next few months!” she added laughing. “But there’s more work to be done—I’m just hopeful, expectant, and positive.”
When asked what her advice is to women who are passionate about their dreams, she replied, “First, never
compare. Each and everyone has a purpose. There are different routes for different people. Never compare your journey to another person’s journey. Just stay on your path because comparing makes you lose sight of where you’re going.
“Comparing ourselves leads to doubt, anger, and jealousy and we become discouraged and insecure,” she continued. “This is where crab mentality stems from. We all have a different and unique purpose so once you find that purpose, never give up, just keep at it.
“It’s not going to be easy, there will be pain and heartaches but you have to keep running your race. Work hard and strive for excellence. Don’t settle, and be the best you can be. Be right with people, have fun through the journey, and have faith you’ll be fine.”
Finally asked to describe Janine Tugonon today, she declared, “I am more confident and convinced that this is the path I was made to take. When I was younger, I was hesitant and terrified to pursue it. Now, I am more focused on what the Lord has planned for me.”