Even as the entire Luzon and Visayas was drenched with intensifying monsoon rains on Sunday evening, August 18, at the safe and dry confines of the ballroom of the recently built Solaire Resort and Casino the search for Miss World Philippiines 2013 proceeded with its coronation finale. As directed by runway show veteran Robby Carmona, the pageant promised to be a sleek and stylish affair. The event began auspiciously at 8 PM with the 25 candidates looking fierce in black and grey bias-cut dresses designed by Arnold Galang that are above-the-knee at the front and floor-length at the back, while the outgoing queen Quenerich Rehman sang Rihanna’s “Right Now” that then segued to a recording of Jennifer Lopez’s “Live It Up” as the candidates danced and struck glamorous poses (choreographed by Nancy of the famous dance group The Hotlegs).
Hosting the event were two of the stars of GMA 7’s runaway hit soap opera My Husband’s Lover, Carla Abellana and Victor Basa, with vetaran host KC Montero. Providing color commentary throughout the proceedings were Miss World 2011 1st runner-up Gwendoline Ruais and socialite Divine Lee. I could not find any serious fault with any of the hosts and commentators, except that spontaneity and energy was sacrificed as they all delivered their spiels by reading cue cards.
The structure of the pageant was generally straightforward–after the hosts introduced themselves, then came the contestant introductions, followed by an initial set of special awards (that was actually pre-taped prior to the actual pageant), then the swimsuit round, a second set of special awards, the evening gown round, a final set of special awards, the selection of the Top 13 semifinalists, an interview with the Top 13, the selection of the five finalists, the final interview, and then of course the announcement of winners. Though there were the expected lulls as they transitioned between the major rounds (for wardrobe changes for swimsuit and gown for instance) and tabulation of the results, at the live venue it seems to be a well-paced event. In between the rounds, there were some song numbers, of course. After the initial set of special awards, singer Kris Lawrence performed three of his latest songs. After the swimsuit and evening gown parades there were song numbers from other cast members from My Husband’s Lover: the renowned singer/actress Kuh Ledesma (who plays the “husband’s” mother) sang the soap’s theme song “One More Try” after the swimsuit competition; and leading man Tom Rodriguez (yes, the “husband”) navigating adequately through the standard “The Way You Look Tonight”. It should be also noted that another cast member from this soap, Dennis Trillo (the “husband’s lover”), was part of the board of judges.
As usual, where director Robby Carmona left his indelible stamp was in the conduct of the swimsuit and evening gown competitions. Both sequences feature top notch use of appropriate mood-setting music that is modern and stylish. For the swimsuit round, the extended remix of France’s 2010 Eurovision entry “Allez Ola Olé” by Jessy Matador was used to provide an appropriately lively and festive mood as the 25 candidates (with one exception) parading in red Fila bikinis. For the evening gown round, the fusion of live orchestration from the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra performing a medley of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” with beats supplied by DJ Samir Ayeb (who looks almost as dashing as DJ Callum David back at the Bb. Pilipinas 2012) provided a hip and fashionable backdrop that best showcased the gown designs by various Philippine designers. The gowns are done in a red, white, and blue theme–the 25 candidates were free to choose any of the three colors to parade in, and there is a free rein in the kind of design, and after individually presenting the gowns in the usual order, the final sequence in this round featured the candidates grouped together by color. It’s far superior than the Cumbia parades at Bb. Pilipinas over the past several years.
This year’s semifinalist question-and-answer round featured video questions posted by Miss World Philippines followers from around the world (also including our shores). Several of the questions are generally simple fluff, but then again, those are the kinds of questions that are expected in the actual Miss World pageant. With this, I will now segue to my review of the Top 13 semifinalists.
In general, the 13 semifinalists were in the radar of several pageant fans and pundits though I missed out on two of them in my homestretch review as lookswise I personally was not into them. Even with the absence of Candidates No. 9 Pia Kamil Ochengco, No. 14 Vina Openiano and No. 23 Ria Rabajante, in general this group of Top 13 is a solid bunch. Let me start with:
CANDIDATE NO. 7 – Samantha Mae Bernardo. As I predicted, she was rewarded for her dancing talent with a Best in Talent special award. She also struck a sexy presence as she looked trim in swimsuit and sported a cleavage-baring white gown in the evening gown round (I liked it though Project Runway alumni Nick Verreos panned it in his blog). But she fell apart in the Q&A round (which is why she appears first in my list), as she tried to explain about that old saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” but she couldn’t really quite exactly state the saying itself and rambled on a bit.
CANDIDATE NO. 13 – Maria Paula Estenzo. I found her performance in the two rounds generally solid overall that I was not surprised she made the final cut. Yes, her red lacy minidress with train was not really my cup of tea (and yes, listed as one of Nick Verreos’s least favorites in his blog) but she worked it well in my opinion. In the Q&A round, she was asked about what makes her smile. She hesitated then gave a terse answer: “When I’m with someone I love.” There was an awkward pause that gave a hint that she momentarily intended to elaborate on this further, but decided not to anymore as she seems to now be at a loss for words and was fearful of embarrassing herself.
CANDIDATE NO. 6 – Karla Patricia Alas. Though she garnered a special award prior to the finals (a tie for the Heart of Miss World Philippines award with Bianca Paz), I was not into her features that I didn’t include her in my “fearful” forecast (nor in my bubbling under list). But she won me over with her good diction when she introduced herself, her effortless speech in an interval video about their charity work, and that stunning white flouncy evening gown. But her answer in the Q&A round simply left me wanting, as she was asked a question about shopping and after first stating about what makes it enjoyable she then abruptly tried to then tack in about shopping not being as important as giving to others. It could’ve been a good answer but it was just awkwardly constructed (think Venus Raj and Luo Zilin at Miss Universe).
CANDIDATE NO. 12 – Angelica Lopez. This is another candidate whose looks I’m not that into (generally she is attractive though lacks any standout features in my opinion) that I didn’t include in my “fearful” forecast. I generally also found her performance in the finals so-so, and probably would’ve preferred Vina Openiano in her place, but well, I suppose the judges on-hand took a liking to her features better to advance. Though Nick Verreos raved about her simple red satin gown, I personally found it a tad too threadbare that it didn’t register a major impression on me (though in hindsight after reading his blog, I do appreciate its impeccable construction). Anyway, she was solid in her answer to the question about what her ideal man is–she likes a compassionate man who gives everything he has for the people he loves, including his family.
CANDIDATE NO. 11 – Mercegrace Raquel. After missing the cut in Bb. Pilipinas earlier this year, she’s at least rewarded with a placement in this pageant. Deservingly so with her trim figure and the way she worked her lacy white cocktail minidress with chiffon train (Nick Verreos disliked the dress, but I did like the way she walked in it). She was asked regarding who is her favorite Disney princess. She gave a solid answer about Cinderella with a fresh take about a Prince Charming who would accept her despite her station in life.
CANDIDATE NO. 17 – Jennifer Hammond. As I expected, with a predominantly Filipino panel, this lady would make the final cut. I have to concede she looked impeccably styled in her blue gown (though I found it a tad too simple-looking, but Nick Verreos raved about it) and so she was worthy of making the final cut. In the Q&A round, she was asked about the qualities needed to become Miss World besides beauty. She gave all the points most would think of, like the X-factor, charm, the willingness to help, the intelligence of presenting ideas and the personality to mobilize other people to achieve her goals.
CANDIDATE NO. 24 – Zandra Flores. All that hard work participating in all those other national pageants reaped some rewards, as she also made the final cut in this pageant (in a way, her path is like an upward trajectory, as she made the cut in the most recent pageants she joined, Mutya and this pageant). In her Q&A she was asked about what she would do to help her country progress (or something in that line). Her response was that to teach people to become entrepreneurs like herself, as she mentioned about setting up her own beauty salon.
CANDIDATE NO. 22 – Patricia Lae Ejercitado. Among the semifinalists, at least she had the luck of garnering two special awards, Miss Prudential Life and Miss Novu Hair. As expected she performed very strongly in both swimsuit and evening gown (she worked her otherwise just-okay white evening with aplomb). In the Q&A round she was asked what does she do to be fulfilled. She gave a “correct” answer about finding fulfillment in giving. I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt and trust she is sincere in that sentiment, but perhaps the key reason why she fell short of making the Top Five is that the ones who made it had expressed more sincerity and conviction in their answers.
All images courtesy of Bruce Casanova, Melvin Sia, and Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide unless otherwise indicated.
COMING UP: THE TOP FIVE