These days, it’s almost impossible to go through an entire day without talking about the biggest international beauty pageant: Miss Universe. The Preliminary Competition, hosted by Pia Wurtzbach and Derek Ramsay, took place in the Mall of Asia Arena on January 26, and the entire country watched. But what does it really take to be a beauty queen? How do you prepare to compete in international pageants?
We already know that to represent the Philippines in Miss Universe, you have to win the title in Binibining Pilipinas first. We spoke to Ella Espinosa, a pageant enthusiast since 1994, and she said that technically anybody can audition for Binibining Pilipinas: “Most people think you have to have a lot of pageant experience to join or qualify, but that’s not really true. Sina Shamcey [Supsup-Lee] and Maxine [Medina], first pageant nila 'yung Binibini, and we all know things turned out great for them.”
It’s not as glamorous as you might think, however. For one thing, when you’re just starting out, you have to spend a lot of your own money to participate in beauty pageants. According to Ella, most women buy their own gowns and shoes, especially if you want to try your luck without the support of a training camp. Perhaps the most sought-after training camp in the country, Aces and Queens, trained Venus Raj, Shamcey Supsup, Gwen Ruais, Janine Tugonon, Ariella Arida, Megan Young, Pia Wurtzbach, and Maxine Medina. It’s safe to say that most aspiring beauty queens know that if they want a shot at competing in one of the four major international pageants, they need to be mentored by a well-established camp like Aces and Queens. And yes, you still have to audition.
In an interview with The Philippine Star, “beauty queen maker” Jonas Gaffud, who heads Aces and Queens, revealed his “formula” when it comes to finding a potential beauty queen: “Well, number one is the physical attributes of the girl. She has to be beautiful, tall, long-legged and her body structure must be proportional. Then another part is ‘instinct.’ I can’t really describe it, but when we ‘discover’ girls, I just know that certain girls have [beauty queen potential]. But you still need to train them on how to ‘act’ like a beauty queen, which includes walking, posture, and how to answer questions.” We also spoke to Dave Grona, a hair trainer at Aces and Queens, and he added, “We don’t just go for a girl with one particular look. We’re open to all: morena, mestiza, chinita, girls with deep-set eyes—lahat-lahat na.”
The girls are “scouted” six months before pageant season, and once training begins, they’re in for a particularly rigorous routine: “Our contestants go to the gym three times a week; we train for the Q&A every week; and I train them to walk twice a week,” shared Jonas. "For the Q&A, a lawyer—Atty. Nad Bronce—who teaches in UP and FEU trains them. We study the questions from all the beauty pageants from the past. Part of our training is to answer the question without negating the Q&A or else your answer will become longer and you won’t have time to finish answering the question in 30 seconds.”
The girls are “seated as classmates” and Atty. Bronce asks potential questions and the trainees take turns answering. The environment is really supportive, and the girls give each other tips on how to improve. In an interview with CNN Philippines, Atty. Bronce spoke of his experience training Pia: “Si Pia, palagi siyang nagtataas ng kamay, giving alternative answers. Ganoon siyang kapursigido.” Maxine also went through the same workshops and training sessions, but on top of that, she read three articles a day to keep up with current events and issues.
If you’re wondering whether or not the girls get scripted answers, Dave insisted that that's not how training’s done: “We let the girls answer so we know the way they think, and then we give them advice on how to improve. We teach them how to stand and how to project confidence. And you know, they’re human. Hindi maiiwasan magkamali. We give them tips on how to rise when they fall, but nasa kanya na talaga 'yon—kung paano siya babangon, kung paano niya iaangat 'yung sarili niya.”