Before getting crowned Miss Universe on Dec. 20, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach had to win the title of Binibining Pilipinas Universe first. She tried and missed twice before finally winning the title in 2015. She's arguably the most memorable Miss Universe winner ever in the history of the competition due to host Steve Harvey's naming the wrong winner during the competition. But she brushed herself off, put on her crown, and started her reign as Miss Universe officially this week. She spoke to Cosmopolitan.com about what her life is like now and what it took to get where she is today.
Tell me about how much your life has changed since you won.
It was overnight. After the show, I had the press conference and then they moved me to the [winner's] suite at the hotel. All my things were there already and I was thinking, It's a good thing I didn't leave a mess in my room and they were able to tell which of the things were mine! I checked my phone and I had so many messages. Never had so many messages like that ever.
How many messages did you have?
I got, like, 800 on WhatsApp and around the same on SMS messaging. That's not even including the ones that are on social media and the inbox and direct messages. It took me more than two days to read everything and reply to each one. So, it took me a long time to get to say thank you to everybody. My followers jumped from 155,000 before the show, and after the show ended it was at 600,000. The next day it was at a million. It really jumped.
Can you tell me about the pressure leading up to the competition?
As soon as I won Miss Philippines, I was training every day—even on weekends, even on Sundays. I did something little by little every day to at least brush up on something, to improve on something. I really lived and breathed Miss Universe. The Philippines has been doing so well in the past couple of years and you don't want to be the one to break that streak. I was thinking, I'm only going to be able to do this once. This is just one time and I'll never be able to do it again. On top of that, the whole world is watching. I'm not going to be wearing a sash that says "Pia." I'm carrying the whole country with me. That's what it feels like.
I actually quite miss being called Philippines because in the pageant it's normal for us to be called our country instead of our names. If somebody goes, "Philippines!" I turn my head and I know that's me. Now they go "Pia" or "Miss Universe." Of course that's better. But I also miss that, being called my country.
Can you tell me about where the dream to become Miss Universe came from?
When I was younger, I would see my mom watching it, and then I was just hooked. It's her fault. I would try on her heels—of course, they were too big for me—and walk from end to end of the living room. I'd try to pose and wave and all that. Then my mom would ask me questions like, "What's the essence of a woman, Pia?" and then you know as a kid I would never be able to answer that. I think I was around 9 or 8 years old.
I started modeling when I was 11 years old and acting when I was 12. They would sometimes give me beauty queen roles or they would dress me up just for fun. They'd give me a bouquet of flowers and a sash. I guess people saw it in me. It was always at the back of my mind, but I couldn't pursue it at the time because I was relying on my acting career to support my family. When you join a pageant in the Philippines, you have to really dedicate a lot of your time and effort. It was just a sacrifice that I couldn't make because I needed my job. When my mom got remarried and got settled in England, that's when I joined Miss Philippines.
What was the hardest part about your journey from when you started doing Miss Philippines to now?
The waiting. You just think about it all the time for more than three years. There are going to be moments when you're thinking, Is this what you really want? Are you sure you want to do this again next year? You're putting yourself at risk for being embarrassed in public. There's always going to be the possibility that you won't make it. I was willing to take that risk because I really wanted to know if it was meant for me or not. That's the thing with me—I'm quite persistent. When I want something, I stop at nothing to get what I want, even if it takes a while. Especially when I have that gut feel that it's meant for me. So now everything makes sense. Now I understand why I had to wait for three years. Why I was meant to be Miss Universe instead of an actress back home.
What does this title represent to you?
I always wanted to be a bigger influence to other people. I felt like I had so much to say. So much stories to share and I needed a platform to do it. And to me this is the best way to do it. I always felt like I had the drive and I could be a leader, but how?
It's also very important to my family. It makes them very proud of course. And most of all, it's a big deal back home. Because the relevance of beauty pageants in the Philippines is that it gives people hope. If they see a girl win a pageant like Miss Universe, it looks so far-fetched. It's like saying, "I want to be an astronaut one day," and your mother goes, "That's nice." But when they see me, they know my story. They know how long it took for me to get here. It's like seeing Manny Pacquiao win a boxing fight. It's very inspirational and it makes them feel like, If it can happen for her, then why can't it happen to me? And it's exactly the kind of inspiration that I want to show them, that it's not impossible.
Did the way you won make your victory more complicated?
I'm OK with it now. Of course, I'm also concerned with how Ariadna [Miss Colombia] must be feeling, but I guess that she's OK and that she will be OK. I'm just seeing the positive in this. Now that I have everybody's attention I would like to use that attention to grow the reach for my causes.
Totally unrelated: I want to know about standing and walking in heels for hours at a time. How did you get good at that?
Your core has to be strong because you have to be able to support yourself in heels. It took me a while also to get used to it because in the Philippines, I'm quite tall [5-foot-8]. My mom wouldn't let me wear heels before. She would say, "You're so tall already, just wear flats." When I joined pageants, I really had to really learn everything. And not just in 4-inch heels, at least 6.
I realized that you can't support yourself or walk properly if your legs and your core is not strong. You can't be starving yourself or you won't have any energy, and you have to be fit, and you have to exercise so you can support yourself.
I don't know if you had the chance to watch your performance, but looking back, how would you rate your own performance at Miss Universe?
Well, my lucky number is 10 because I was number 10 in Miss Philippines. So, I would rate it a perfect 10!
You're happy with the way you did?
I was confident with my swimsuit and evening gown. For the evening gown, I was very fortunate to choose the color I wanted, the cut I wanted. I had a lot of say in how I wanted the gown to look like. The question and answer was actually my favorite part of the pageant. I was very confident and I think I gave strong answers, so I am pretty happy with my performance. I'm sure that whatever the result was going to be, I made my country proud. That's the most important thing.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.