Miss Universe Philippines

[OPINION] Chelsea Manalo: Black pearl as Philippines’ ace in Miss Universe 2024

Jairo Bolledo

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[OPINION] Chelsea Manalo: Black pearl as Philippines’ ace in Miss Universe 2024

MUPH. Photo of Miss Universe Philippines 2024 Chelsea Manalo.

Chelsea Manalo's Facebook Page

In Mexico, Manalo will shake up the competition and flaunt a different type of Filipina beauty that the Miss Universe pageant has yet to see. Will the stars align for the Philippines' black pearl?

In the bloodbath that was Miss Universe Philippines 2024, a dark horse emerged, beating pageant veterans and fan favorites. 

Bulacan’s Chelsea Manalo took home the highly coveted crown during the finals night on May 22. She bested 52 other contestants and earned the right to represent the pageant-crazy Philippines at the 73rd Miss Universe. 

This year’s edition of the Miss Universe Philippines removed restrictions on age and civil status. But the most exciting part for pageant fans and enthusiasts was the participation of pageant veterans or those who had previously joined pageants or were already successful in international contests. 

Among the top favorites were Miss International 2018 1st runner-up Ahtisa Manalo of Quezon, Miss Intercontinental 2015 1st runner-up Chrisi Lynn McGarry of Taguig, Miss Intercontinental 2014 2nd runner-up Kris Tiffany Janson of Cebu, and Binibining Pilipinas 2022 2nd runner-up Stacey Daniella Gabriel of Cainta, among others. 

During the pageant’s duration, Manalo was lurking behind these frontrunners, waiting for her time to shine. Her run was not so smooth either, as she was criticized for highlighting the New Manila International Airport in her tourism video for the pageant. 

When the preliminaries came, Manalo exuded a Naomi Campbell aura, with hints of Miss Supranational 2022 Lalela Mswane of South Africa. Bulacan surprised everyone with her sultry walk during the swimsuit competition. Dazzling in a flowy yellow gown, Manalo impressed fans as she exuded charisma in the evening gown segment. 

With her solid preliminary performance, pageant experts put her among the top 10 that have a shot at the crown. 

During the finals night held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Manalo once again displayed her fierce walk during the swimsuit round. For the evening gown portion, she donned a stunning Manny Halasan white ensemble, with a cape decorated with ostrich feathers. 

Finishing the glam look was her clean high bun that highlighted her face structure. 

In the end, the contestant from Bulacan bagged the crown. It was Manalo’s destiny to be crowned as Michelle Dee’s successor after proving she can go neck-to-neck with seasoned queens. 

In the land of Latinas

Manalo is the first Filipino-Black American Miss Universe Philippines titleholder. This distinction could be her edge in her upcoming tilt.

The next Miss Universe pageant will be held in Mexico, home to three Miss Universe titleholders.

A Miss Universe pageant in a Latin American country gives an advantage to Latinas since they can understand the language and they will be more relatable to the locals. This was evident in the flawless runs of Latinas when the Miss Universe pageant was held in Latin American countries: reigning Miss Universe Sheynnis Palacios, crowned in El Salvador; Miss Universe 2003 Amelia Vega, crowned in Panama; and Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres, crowned in Mexico, among others. 

Despite this, Manalo’s “black Barbie” features can help her stand out in the land of Latinas.

[OPINION] Chelsea Manalo: Black pearl as Philippines’ ace in Miss Universe 2024

Trinidad and Tobago’s Janelle Commissiong, the first Miss Universe black winner, bested all contestants and won the Miss Universe 1977 title in the Dominican Republic. Angola’s Leila Lopes repeated the same feat in Brazil when she was crowned Miss Universe 2011. 

Mexico also has a good history with black contestants. In 2007, the last time the pageant was held there, two ebony goddesses rocked the competition: Tanzania’s Flaviana Matata and Angola’s Micaela Reis who gave other contestants a run for their money and stood out, though they failed to enter the top 5.

If this is the direction that the Miss Universe Philippines organization is heading for, it could be a good choice because of Manalo’s innate fierceness and strong presence that bring to mind previous black Miss Universe contestants.

But Manalo is also unique in her own way, especially in the way she carries herself. This is her asset, as she clearly showed in the Miss Universe Phiippines competition. She also has the support of millions of Filipinos, who will cheer and support her all the way. 

Varying beauties

Aside from her exemplary performance and possible edge in Mexico as an ebony goddess, the reason behind Manalo’s victory could be explained by the Philippines’ track record in sending girls to Miss Universe.

Since Venus Raj in 2010, the Philippines has been sending candidates with different facial features and charm. For example, Raj is a dusky and statuesque beauty. Her successor, Shamcey Supsup, is known for her Latina-like features. She was followed by Janine Tugonon, dubbed as an “Asian vixen.”  

This trend seems to continue even up to the recent winners. Celeste Cortesi has European-Filipina features, while her successor, Michelle Dee, has oriental features. Now, Manalo. 

Sending candidates each year with different auras and features has proven to be effective, at least in the Philippines’ case, since the country has been placing consistently in the pageant. This also sends a statement to the international pageant scene about the diversity of Filipina beauty.

In Mexico, Manalo will shake up the competition and flaunt a different type of Filipina beauty that the Miss Universe pageant has yet to see. Will the stars align for the Philippines’ black pearl to clinch the country’s fifth Miss Universe crown?

For now, Filipinos will have to wait and see if Manalo would literally live up to her name again, this time on the world stage. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.