Passions and Obsessions

Judging in the Miss Universe-Miss Philippines—my dream come true

I must say it was nerve-wracking

The top 5 finalists, from left, Miss Cavite Kimberly Hakenson, Miss Iloilo Rabiya Mateo, Miss Paranaque Ma Ysabella Ysmael, Miss Bohol Pauline Amelinckx and Miss Quezon City Michele Gumabao

Judging in the Miss Universe/Miss Philippines was a dream come true.  When Miss Universe-Miss Philippines organizer Jonas Gaffud invited me to be a judge, I was speechless and you couldn’t imagine that little boy literally jumping for joy.  It is after all considered the Super Bowl in Philippine beauty pageantry.

Our fascination for all our contestants in the Miss Universe has been there as if forever. I felt as if I had won the title myself just by being part of the jury.  I felt like I had arrived.

I was willing to go through the health and travel protocols just to be in Baguio where the pageant would be held. I had to have a swab test, my very first, at St Luke’s two days before departure, October 18, and to wait for results the next day which I knew would be negative.  After receiving in the email all the documents, the medical certificate, travel papers, I had to register online with Baguio Country Club and the City of Baguio, to upload all necessary documents, then I was given numbers for both the club and the city.

Arriving in Baguio I was escorted to the Triage where my documents were checked, then I was given a pass to show when moving around the city, which I had no chance to do at all.

The beauty pageant experience exceeded all my expectations, and so much more.  What began as a thrill has become a reality now and before the preliminaries’ judging, it finally dawned on me how the task of judging was a real responsibility.  We were to choose not only a winner to represent our country, but also a potential Miss Universe.

My memories were made long before pageant night. I had the privilege of having Venus Raj, the beautiful woman who ended the country’s beauty pageant drought and started our renaissance,  as company on the way to Baguio.  The driver, I and Venus wore masks and face shields the entire trip.

I am amazed at how Baguio handles its safety protocols and how the Miss Universe Philippines organization followed all safety measures.  I mean they were really quite strict, which I appreciated.  Funny, I packed so many clothes thinking there would be official functions, but upon arrival I was given the guidelines.  All of us were requested politely to confine ourselves to our rooms where all meals were delivered; they were packed meals by the Baguio Country Club but they were so delicious.  This really ensured minimal interaction with anyone.

Wearing masks and face shields was a must.  We could leave our rooms only for our judging duties.  I found out that everyone had to take the swab tests again after five days to ensure utmost safety.  At the judging table for the swimsuit and evening gown preliminaries, the judges were separated from one another by a specially built plastic wall installed following social distancing.

I must say it was nerve-wracking as you had to muster all your experience as judge and be mindful of the scores you gave each contestant.  The next day we watched the taped interviews of the contestants as they answered the same question.  We gave each contestant a score from 1 to 10 for each segment.  From these scores would emerge the 15 semi-finalists.

On the day of the finals we all gathered in the Forbes Ballroom where I met the other judges and we were briefed on the scoring guidelines.  We were then led to the Cordillera Hall where the finals would take place.  Choosing the top five followed the same system as the preliminaries.  The final five were asked two questions each, then we ranked them from one to five, with five as our winner.  What I was proud of was the fact that the top five were my top choices as well.  During breaks, we got to talk with the other judges and agreed how hard a responsibility it really was.  Even Secretary Harry Roque was quite cute in saying how difficult it was.

The day after the pageant, a dinner was hosted by FrontRow executives Sam Verzosa and RS Francisco.  I am not sure if it’s true that some girls did not attend it.

Before I left Baguio I had to take another swab test.

What were the suspenseful moments?

The Q&A always proves to be suspenseful as you don’t know how each semi-finalist will respond.  I must say all 16 semi-finalists had their individual moments when you could already pinpoint the ones with the potential to make it.  Some girls looked rehearsed, and the true winners were those who were eloquent and really spoke from the heart.

The most dramatic was when some smart ass tried to livestream the proceedings; thankfully, it was caught early on and stopped.  Unfortunately some pictures were still leaked.

To make sure the winner’s identity wouldn’t be leaked, a special way of crowning was devised.  It may be good to note that the scores were so close, which only proves how hard the selection process was.

Did I feel I did a good job of judging?  I will feel successful only if Miss Iloilo places in the Miss Universe—the proof that we made the right decision.  I know I did my best and prayed before each segment for guidance and wisdom.  Trying to be objective in a very subjective competition was daunting.

When the top five stood onstage I could not take my eyes off Miss Iloilo.  She had the aura of a real queen.  Only after the pageant did I learn about her back story; like Cinderella she found her glass slipper.

Today’s beauty candidates are prettier and more style-savvy. It has been proven that beauty pageants could be a stepping stone to something greater and bigger.  Filipinos adore their beauty queens who can inspire each generation, their influence palpable in all aspects of our lives.

A winner will always be a winner but nowadays it helps if you are with a beauty camp that does practical coaching and has a good and stylish glam team.

But fate and destiny I still believe in.  Perfect example is Miss Iloilo herself, Rabiya Mateo.  This is her first national pageant and against all odds, over a strong batch of contestants, she won. Wanting to win must be your first priority.  Doing it right is the second.  One should always stay true to oneself and surround oneself with a great team.  Being kind and grateful is a plus.  Plastic surgery to enhance, why not…  but altering is a different story.

Being a contestant is time-consuming and these days you must look at it as a business exercise since it could be expensive. But if you know how to invest correctly and to gather support from correct and valuable sources, that will make it easier.

I have been fascinated by pageants since I was 10, when Aurora Pijuan became Miss International. My Miss Universe obsession started when Margie Moran won.  Like any young gay, I fantasized about being a beauty queen.  I even went through that phase where I borrowed my sisters’ dolls and made crowns and sashes for them.  I also had my younger sisters play Miss Universe candidates. I recreated the Miss Universe crown using cardboard and tin foil.

My dream then was just to meet one beauty queen.  Never did I imagine that not only would I meet one but also almost all and that I would get to work with them.

My top five most memorable pageants:  1) Miss International 1970 where Aurora Pijuan won;  2) Miss Universe 1973 in Athens, Greece, where Margie Moran won— the first two pageants I had to wait with so much drama and suspense since they were telecast here on a later date; 3) Miss Universe 1974, which was held here and I memorized all the names of the contestants, up to the point of how they introduced themselves;  4)  Miss Universe 2010 when Venus Raj finally ended the drought; to me, it still has the best opening number.  5)  Miss Universe 2015 when Pia Wurtzbach  won and I knew that there was something wrong when Steve Harvey did not say the “extro” lines and there was a lull. My instincts were correct—he had to correct himself.

My top five beauty queens ever:  1) Aurora Pijuan, whose victory introduced me to beauty pageants;  2)  Margie Moran, the Miss Universe of my generation;  3)  Chiqui Brosas, who was 4th runner-up in Miss Universe 1975, the very first beauty queen I met;    4)  Izza Gonzalez-Agana, 2nd runner-up in Miss Maja International 1985 and up to this day I believe, she would have placed had she gone to Miss Universe instead; Desiree Verdadero-Abesamis (3rd runner-up Miss Universe 1984). Izza and Desiree tied at 4th, both my dear friends.    5)  Pia Wurtzbach, whom I first met when she competed in Miss Teen Philippines. I witnessed how she transformed herself and worked hard to become a winner.

About author


He is a leading fashion show director and events organizer in the country, who directed milestone fashion show series such as Metrowear and FaceOff.

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