Janine Tugonon's name has been making the rounds on social media since her Victoria’s Secret Pink ad went viral—she is the first Pinay to model for the brand, after all. Before moving to New York, Janine won first runner-up in the 2012 Miss Universe, then went to Los Angeles, where she bagged a modeling contract. In this Elle.com exclusive by Kristina Rodulfo, Janine talks about her beginnings and why she decided to ditch her original plan to become a pharmacist.
1. Janine was always an honor student.
"From grade school to college I graduated with honors, so I was really a very, very studious student. The original plan was to graduate then go to Guam where my family has a pharmacy and take over the business."
2. She started out in the pageant biz as UST's "Miss Pharmacy."
"In my fourth year of university back in 2010, I joined my first pageant at the University of Santo Tomas. Every section of the class needed to have a representative, and my class pitched me in. I represented my class as "Miss Pharmacy.""
3. She already had a life plan, but felt she needed to take a different direction.
"I was ready to be a pharmacist and in your head that is your plan: You graduate, you work, get a family. Maybe go abroad and earn more money. But I felt like I was meant to take a different route."
4. Why she left the Philippines after being crowned as the first runner-up of Miss Universe 2012:
"I got endorsements in the Philippines but I kept wondering, What's the next step? I love new challenges and I wanted to really, really try it in the U.S. I love my country, obviously, but some people are just meant to fly away, you know what I mean? I feel like I'm one of those people who are really meant to go out and try something else."
5. She wanted to act.
"I always wanted to try living abroad in the U.S. because I grew up watching American shows. I wanted to be in those shows. My mom saw this flyer they gave us at Miss Universe for the New York Film Academy for an acting program with a scholarship. I was supposed to throw it out but I thought it was a sign. Maybe I should go to the U.S. and live life there, start acting or modeling. So after a few weeks, I flew to the U.S., got signed to my [Los Angeles-based] agency, MSA, got my green card, and that was it. I really risked it."
6. On the big risk to pursue modeling in America:
"It's really uncertain going into modeling and blending into this culture where there are a lot of models that are blonde with blue eyes. It's tough, but I'm like, let's [take] that route, because that's what I wanted. Let's just take the risk, let's do it."
7. She moved from L.A. to New York to be a Victoria's Secret model.
"The first thing I asked my agency was, "Do you send girls to Victoria's Secret Fashion Show?" and they were like "No, they're booked in New York." So that's when I decided I'm going to New York."
8. It was tough to deal with the rejection she got in modeling.
"When I moved to the U.S. and started modeling, it was tough to get rejected. You think it's just a phase and that you'll get a lot of jobs, but you don't. That's so hard to take sometimes. I do four or five castings a day, then I don't get the jobs. You wonder: What did I do wrong? Am I too fat, or what? Should I even be here? Those things come into your head and get the best of you and you feel discouraged. When is the break going to happen?"
9. On her viral Victoria's Secret Pink ad:
"I didn't expect the crazy reaction I got from the Philippines [as the "first full-blooded Filipino VS model"]... I'm like Wait, what? I wasn't even the lead—a lot of people were asking if I'm a VS Angel now. I got really big in the Philippines. Filipinos are supportive like that, it's really amazing."
10. What it was like going through the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show casting:
"It was a three-day screening, then the callbacks are two-day castings. I looked around and a lot of them are blondes and brunettes. I was sitting there like, shit. They call models from big agencies and I'm just thinking, okay, this is really tough. There are Asians, but I'm a very different look. Plus, if I see someone that is the same ethnicity as me, then I know already for a fact that if she gets it, I won't. I think about that all the time because being from a different country with a different look—it's just hard. It's hard to get in that role when you're in the minority."
11. She's in it to make it BIG.
"Of course, you still want to get there. I really want huge campaigns. Or billboards in Times Square–that level. I want Victoria's Secret. Runway shows. For me, I believe that each and every one of us has a purpose. It's just finding and knowing that purpose."