This year’s Bb. Pilipinas pageant featured a slew of third-time veterans who were aiming for their final shot of glory as they vie for one of the titles, most particularly Miss Universe Philippines.  These highly regarded veterans include Toni Alyessa Hipolito (2008 semifinalist and 2010 candidate), Patricia Lae Ejercitado (2010 candidate and 2012 semifinalist), Hannah Ruth Sison (2013 candidate and 2014 2nd runner-up), and most especially Pia Wurtzbach (2013 1st runner-up and 2014 semifinalist).  Most pageant fans and pundits’ eyes were on Pia as in her two previous go-rounds she was regarded as a shoo-in to garner a title, only to see those prognostications (and her dreams) dashed–yes, she made the final cut in both go-rounds, but everyone (including myself) believed she deserved much better.  These ladies took a big gamble as there are only two available outcomes–a big reward with a title, or nothing (a runner-up or semifinalist finish is not going to be consolation enough).

Making the path to victory even more treacherous for those veterans were the appearance of some major first-timers, either with pedigree or with prior splashy experience in other national pageants.  Garnering the heaviest press prior to the finals was Teresita Ssen “Win-Wyn” Marquez, niece of Miss International 1979 Melanie Marquez and daughter of actor-politicians Alma Moreno and Joey Marquez.  Then, there was Janicel Lubina, the dusky sexy bombshell who won Miss Bikini Philippines 2012 and was 1st runner-up at Miss World Philippines the following year (her obstacle to the crown?  The one and only eventual Miss World winner Megan Young).  Also making a major splash and looking in major contention for a title was Mutya ng Pilipinas 2010 titleholder Christi Lynn McGarry, who got to compete successfully at Miss Intercontinental (with a Top 15 finish and a continental queen award) as that pageant was originally under that franchise before Bb. Pilipinas acquired it last year.

Before we continue with the outcome of this exciting showdown, let’s get the discussion of the production aspects out of the way.  This year’s production seems to follow an urban-industrial them, featuring an assymetrical stage.  This theme is evident in the opening number, as the screens projected skycrapers (as the candidates strutted and danced fiercely to Little Mix’s “Salute”, and in the swimsuit competition as the candidates paraded with hunky male models dressed as wifebeater-and-denim-clad construction workers as the backdrop.  The evening gown competition is more of an upbeat pop tone that fits the urban theme, as the two sections of this segment featured pop/R&B songs sung live by pop/R&B-oriented male singers Jay-R (who covered Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong”) and The Voice of the Philippines Season 2 winner Jason Dy (who covered Pharrell Williams’ “Come Get It Bae”).

Jay-R with the first half of candidates in evening gown
Jason Dy singing Pharrell’s “Come Get It Bae”

The main hosts were actor/model Xian Lim and actress/comedienne/presenter Toni Gonzaga.  Xian was his usual unobtrusive self–no major flubs on his end, but his presence isn’t really memorable.  Toni Gonzaga, on the other hand, was her usual fun and irreverent self–which generated a polarizing reaction among viewers.  I personally thought she was just being playful and amusing when she uttered her asides, like singing Sia’s “Chandelier” when talking to a semifinalist about her earrings, or making a pun on the name of one of the judges, Frederick Go.  It was similar to how Jerry Springer hosted the Miss World pageant back in 2000 and 2001, especially when he interviewed the Top 10 semifinalists.  But there were several who took serious offense and found her hosting style “disrespectful”, especially Bb. Pilipinas Universe 2000 Nina Ricci Alagao who ranted about Toni’s hosting in a now-famous Facebook post.  True, some people might have a point when they compare her hosting style to being in a local comedy bar, but we do need energy and levity to liven things up, just like during the interminable wait before the results were announced (of course TV winners wouldn’t experience this, because the pageant is telecast on a delayed basis, and the wait is edited out).

Hosts Xian Lim and Toni Gonzaga

Providing co-hosting duties and color commentary were three of our recent Miss Universe runners-up, Miss Universe 2010 4th runner-up Venus Raj, Miss Universe 2011 3rd runner-up Shamcey Supsup-Lee, and Miss Universe 2013 3rd runner-up Ara Arida (where is Miss Universe 2012 1st runner-up Janine Tugonon, you might ask?  Well, she emigrated to the US and is pursuing a thus-far productive modeling career).  Venus and Shamcey were generally strong in their spiels, with Venus showcasing her vibrant charm and Shamcey being her cool, intelligent, competent self.  Many Filipino pageant netizens would criticize Ara’s diction, as her accent is very native like a huge majority of Filipinos trying to speak English–think the way YouTube vlogger (and Canadian Idol Season 1 finalist) Mikey Bustos speaks in his “Pinoy Tutorial” videos.  For many Filipino netizens, Ara’s accent sounded unsophisticated and less refined, but I think non-Filipino ears (including Fil-Canadian Mikey Bustos) will have a more tolerant opinion.

Color commentators/co-hosts Ara Arida, Venus Raj, and Shamcey Supsup-Lee

Before I review the Top 15 semifinalists and this year’s royal court, there are two candidates who garnered the consolation of winning special awards, namely:

MISS CONGENIALITY: BINIBINING 5 – Toni Alyessa Hipolito.  Her prettiness should have garnered her a ticket to the Top 15, but she fell short in the judges’ reckoning, and so she has to console herself with this special award.  THough she has competed in this pageant three times, she conceivably can still go for a fourth go-round as a final hurrah (though I don’t necessarily recommend it unless between now and next year she started to exude extra fiery drive and winning spark).

MISS PHOTOGENIC and MANILA BULLETIN’S READER’S CHOICE: BINIBINING 5 – Caneille Faith Santos.  It’s actually a great consolation for this lady as she was not one of the original candidates selected from the screening–she only came in after hearing-impaired candidate Christine Balaguer was forced to drop out for contractual conflicts.  I don’t quite agree with these wins for her as I find other girls more photogenic, and I presume she probably has a certain group of dedicated supporters who generated the votes for her win the text vote award.