Miss Universe Philippines 2020 review: The birth of a 'phenomenal' pageant

The search and the finals of the Miss Universe Philippines 2020 spanned around 9 months – a fitting parallel to the birth of a new Filipina beauty queen. 

In its inaugural edition, the MUP Organization faced unprecedented birthing pains unlike any other. The coronavirus pandemic meant months of social media-centered pageant efforts for both the candidates and the organization. The MUP organization redefined their candidacy to become a rallying point, a role model, and a harbinger of hope.

The candidates accepted their new roles. Even though they were facing personal challenges, each one managed to go beyond self-interest and bring with them the hopes and dreams of their communities. 

As Miss Universe Philippines National Director, Shamcey Supsup fittingly said in the pageant’s opening, “As we all rise together to face a new dawn, the most empowered and passionate women are about to conquer their fears, reach for their dreams and create their own mark in history. This is Miss Universe Philippines 2020.”

Opening montage

The natural beauty of Baguio surrounded the candidates in the opening montage. They walked onto that stage in their glittery Albert Andrada mini dresses that screamed "pageant opening number look." American Idol Finalist Jessica Sanchez’s lyrics in her song echoed loudly, “Show it to the universe. We’re gonna light it up tonight, we’ll be flying up in the sky.”

Screenshot from Miss Universe Philippines/Empire.ph

Pageant host KC Montero welcomed the lucky few who were present at the Cordillera Convention Hall and those watching around the world as this was the first Philippine pageant to stream worldwide – even before the finals, through the Ring Light series. Montero provided the humor and light moments to an otherwise serious event. He was able to put the candidates at ease during the Q&A, which greatly helped them perform.

Screenshot from Miss Universe Philippines/Empire.ph

Pageant proper

Since the preliminary competitions were held days prior, MUP could proceed immediately to narrowing down the candidates to the Top 16. There were three areas of competition:  

  • Interview - All the candidates were given 30 seconds to answer the question, “Throughout this journey you have discovered that you are a phenomenal woman who is conditioned for greater. However, can you create a positive and lasting impact to the world around you?”
  • Swimsuit competition – The candidates wore one of several designs of white swimsuits by Furne One. They came out in these sheer cover-ups with ostrich feather details on the sleeves and a flock of birds on the front. 
  • Evening gown competition – The candidates sashayed down the runway in gowns they personally selected. Almost all the candidates chose to wear a gown different from the one they wore in the preliminaries. I feel this reflected a bold and confident move on their part, anticipating they would make it. Then on finals night, they would wear their best gown.

Miss Universe Philippines 2020

Rabiya Mateo, Iloilo City

During the course of the entire competition and quarantine, Rabiya was one candidate who leveraged the power of social media to her advantage. I, for one, took notice of her always tasteful and beautiful photos. She certainly inherited the best genes from her Filipino and Indian parents. Her beauty reminds me of Padma Laksmi and Shamcey Supsup-Lee. 

When I finally got to speak with her in a Zoom interview, I instantly felt her warmth and genuine spirit. She has one of the most beautiful faces in the competition. She’s fierce yet relatable, sophisticated yet endearing, articulate yet approachable. I was most impressed with the depth and substance of her answers. One knew she had a good heart and was raised well. Her Top 5 Q&A performance was outstanding. She spoke with conviction, calmness, clarity, and confidence. What I especially loved was when she said, “As a candidate, I know that I am not just the face of Iloilo City." At this point, a candidate should start presenting themselves as not just a regional queen but as one who is representative of the entire country.

I will be very honest in saying that I hesitated in putting her in my Top 5 because of her height. I am still from a generation that tends to gravitate towards tall glamazons. Physical distancing worked in her favor as she was able to stand tall on her own. Having won the Best in Swimsuit award proved that she was not to be unnoticed. Her Jung Candelario evening gown in a rich wine color and cape detail perfectly complimented her.

Rabiya is hard to ignore because of her authenticity and warm nature. It is that which makes her taller, more engaging, and interesting. She’s the type of queen that people would root for, would be inspired by, and would be an amazing rallying point, role model, and harbinger of hope. She’s the queen who has a crown in her heart and not just her head.

Photo from Miss Universe Philippines

1st runner-up

Ysabella Ysmael, Parañaque

My obsession with height kept me from noticing this amazing woman at the start of the pageant. But just like Rabiya, her social media posts drew me in. There’s something to be said appreciated by candidates who not only post but interact with her followers. When I had a chance to interview her, I was captivated instantly. She is a woman who has discovered and celebrated her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.  

She had the best evening gown performance for both preliminaries in her blush Furne Amato gown and the finals. Her stunning cobalt blue evening gown or shall we say “Pia” blue feels inspired by the Indian ghagra choli. Capitalizing on her ballet skills, she perfectly executed a double chaînés ever so gracefully. I believe it is the first time this was done in a pageant.

Had I known that she was a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she would have been an instant favorite. It’s very refreshing to see someone like Bella who sees pageants from a different eye. She’s not pageant patty and is just who she really is. She is the aspirational beauty queen type that many Filipinos obsess about having – someone from a good family, well-spoken, elegant, and as some love to describe her... “alta." But she is much more than her family background.

Photo from Miss Universe Philippines

2nd runner-up

Michele Gumabao, Quezon City

My fellow Archer Michele Therese Imperial Gumabao, was, to many, the one to beat because of her communication skills. Without a doubt, Michele proved that in all the Q&A rounds and media interviews in between. She’s a professional athlete who knows that it takes guts, perseverance, and a lot of hard work to become a winner.

To Michele’s credit, she worked tirelessly throughout the 9 months, and even though she admitted it was tough at times, she kept pushing. She started her own initiative, @Your200Pesos, which gave out food and supplies at the height of the quarantine to those in need of help.

Being a professional athlete, a host, and a former Bb. Pilipinas, Michele had the biggest social following with around 608K followers on Instagram. That’s close to almost 500K over the candidate with the second largest following. I mention this because in today’s new normal, having a huge social media following is definitely an asset, no just for the competition but in her professional career.

Michele had never looked better than in her Ezra Santos evening gown. She looked tall and slender in that simple silhouette accentuated with emerald stones on the bodice with a spiral galaxy pattern on the skirt. Michelle was also the recipient of the aptly named Miss MG (Morris Garages) special award.

Photo from Miss Universe Philippines

3rd runner-up

Pauline Amelinkcx, Bohol

Having won 4 special awards, it was clear that Pauline had the beauty and personality that gains the notice of the sponsors. This quality is a very important consideration in choosing a winner because they don't just represent the organization. A candidate with proven commercial appeal can translate into campaigns, guesting, and business for the organization.

She wore evening gowns by Mikee Andrei for both the Preliminary competition and Finals. Pauline looked like a regal queen in a royal blue, crisscross halter gown. She had the momentum going into the finals and all she needed was that crown to be put on her head. Pauline is also one of the best talkers in the batch and a likable personality.

Personally, I felt that the first question wasn’t well thought out, which was “What factors influence you on what to buy or post online?” When I first saw it, I thought that she had totally missed the mark because I thought it was a fun question about online shopping. But after rewatching it, it was only then that I noticed that her answer, although not delivered to the standard of what I know Pauline is capable of, did answer the question. So this could have also affected her scores. I do hope that this is not the end of Pauline’s pageant career because I do see her potential for an international crown.

Photo from Miss Universe Philippines

4th runner-up

Billie Hakenson, Cavite

Her short hair, supermodel styling, and sexual orientation may have gotten her noticed. Billie Hakenson showed that she is far more than what many obsessed over. She is a fully realized, empowered woman who speaks from a wealth of experience. Her answers resonate with people not only because she expresses them well, but because these are her truths. Most times, candidates get so caught up in trying to prove themselves as “independent” or “empowered” that they forget to be real. Billie said she found strength in acknowledging that she needed to reach out to people. She said that altruism should always be practiced and cooperation is always the key to survive the pandemic.

On a lighter note, I love that Billie was in a chartreuse gown by designer Louie Pangilinan. During the preliminary interviews, when asked what color symbolizes a phenomenal woman, Billie said “chartreuse." When one of the panel judges joked and said “spell chartreuse.” She replied, “Green na lang" – which made everyone laugh. Billie has also consistently put out amazing images on social media during the quarantine.

Photo from Miss Universe Philippines

I would have loved to see a Top 16, Top 10, and Top 5 Format to build up the excitement. But in a way, when all that matters is having a Top 5 and a winner, it might have also been comforting for the remaining candidates to not know their ranking.

The remaining 11 semifinalists are:

Skelly Ivy Florida, Biliran – She was the Lazada Online Voting winner, which earned her an automatic spot.

Paula Madarieta Ortega, Albay

Christelle Abello, Aklan

Tracy Maureen Perez, Cebu City

Alaiza Malinao, Davao City

Apriel Smith, Cebu Province

Caroline Joy Veronilla, Misamis Oriental

Marie Fee Tajaran, Romblon

Rianna Agatha Pangindian, Pasig

Lou Dominique Piczon, Mandaue City

Sandra Lemonon, Taguig City

Before the announcement of the winners, it was heartwarming to see Miss Universe Philippines 2019 Gazini Ganados' farewell walk. She looked magnificent and every inch a winner in the black Cary Santiago evening gown in a classic movie siren silhouette with flower details on the skirt.

It felt like a symbolic transition between the legacy of the Bb. Pilipinas Universes who have come before and the new dawn of the Miss Universe Philippines winners. Hearing Gazini thank Mr. and Mrs. Araneta on the Miss Universe Philippines’ stage was touching a gesture that made it clear: there is love and peace in Philippine pageantry.

Screenshot from Gazini Instagram

What an amazing ride for the Miss Universe Philippines’ first edition!

It was a baptism through fire for the MUP Board of Directors who bore the weight of this task. Congratulations to the pillars of MUP – MUP National Director, Shamcey Supsup Lee, MUP Creative Director, Jonas Gaffud,  Mario Garcia, Atty. Nad Bronce, Albert Andrada, and Lia Andrea Ramos. The pageant would also not have been possible without their major sponsor Frontrow.

The foundation has been laid for a new legacy that is Miss Universe Philippines. – Rappler.com