For over a decade now, the quest for one of the crowns in Binibining Pilipinas became a story of rivalry among beauty camps, with two groups emerging as prominent players.  In one corner is Kagandahang Flores (KF), led by events manager Rodgil Flores.  On the other corner is Aces & Queens, led by Mercator Models head Jonas Gaffud.  Aces & Queens has a history of queen-making going all the way back to the year 2000 with Nina Ricci Alagao becoming our representative to Miss Universe, to its ties with the Mabuhay Beauties website in the early 2000s, to becoming the entity it is today–for a complete history I recommend reading Jonas Gaffud’s own blog account of the group’s inception and evolution.*

* I felt mildly slighted that I was not included in Jonas’s namecheck as I was an integral part of Mabuhay Beauties during that time.  But then again, I was not actively involved in the training and grooming of the beauty queens–my role in the website was more contributing writer and critic, and I always made an effort to be impartial when I review the candidates and minimize my favoritism towards this camp.  So this is forgivable.

During the 2000s Jonas’ group had its share of international successes with Mafae Yunon’s Miss World 2003 Top Five finalist finish, and the semifinal finish of the late Melody Gersbach at Miss International in 2009.  But during this era it seemed KF had the upper hand especially in 2005 with Precious Lara Quigaman’s Miss International win (plus the hype of Carlene Aguilar at Miss World, who at least made the semifinals).  But as 2010 rolled in, the tides tilted towards Aces & Queens’ favor, especially with Venus Raj breaking the decade-long Miss Universe drought and initiating a four-year Top Five streak for our country in that pageant.    The year 2015 proved to be particularly fortuitous, as within that series of successful finishes in the international pageant arena, the results of the Aces & Queens titleholders were particularly outstanding:  our first Miss Globe win with Ann Lorraine Colis, our best-ever finish at Miss Intercontinental with a first-runner-up showing by Christi Lynn McGarry, and finally, the highly coveted third Miss Universe crown delivered by Pia Wurtzbach.

2015 stars
A dazzling 2015: Miss Globe Ann Lorraine Colis, Miss Intercontinental 1st runner-up Christi Lynn McGarry, and Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach

That heady success seemed to spill over when the 40 candidates were selected as almost half (18) came from Aces & Queens.  It is expected that many of the semifinalists and titleholders will be coming from this camp, but little did we know how dominant this camp would become this year–more on that in the second part of my review.

I didn’t attend the pageant live this year and watched the proceedings on TV instead.  But I know based on Facebook postings of my colleagues and friends at the venue that the pageant began an hour later than usual at 9 PM (while on TV, it started at around 10:15 PM).  For most people, the delay was worth the wait when the opening number came in.  With a modern urban video backdrop, the opening number was an upbeat production set to a remix of “Beautiful Now” by Zedd featuring Jon Bellion.  The 40 candidates were dressed in midriff-baring tops and thigh-high lamé miniskirts (grouped into four different colors), and needless to say the energy at the Coliseum was electric as the candidates introduced themselves.  After the hosts were introduced and made their opening spiels, the pageant then comfortably proceeded with the format most fans are familiar with–an initial announcement of special awards, then the 40 candidates parading in swimsuits and evening gowns, the awarding of sponsors’ prizes and the Best in Swimsuit and Evening Gown awards, then the announcement of the Top 15 and the Top 15 question-and-answer portion by the judges.

There were a couple of twists with the evening gown competition and the Top 15 question-and-answer portion.  With the evening gown competition, after clamor from the fans the candidates this year were clad in Filipino designer evening gowns instead of relying from the Cumbia collection.  The quality of this round leveled up significantly (even if Nick Verreos still felt it was a collection from an upscale “pageant-and-prom” store) and in my opinion made for a more exciting competition.  For the question-and-answer round, instead of the Top 15 semifinalists selecting the judges from a bowl (or “randomly generated” by a computer), it’s the judges who would select the candidate they would ask and this means the sequence in which the candidates were interviewed was not the same as the way they were called out in the announcement of semifinalists.  I suppose the added nerves because of the change in sequence may have contributed to a general dip in the quality of the answers given this year.

The hosting was generally competent, clean, and devoid of controversy.  ABS-CBN mainstays Xian Lim and KC Concepcion were the main presenters of the evening.  Providing color commentary were the members of the 2014 royal court:  Bb. Pilipinas – International 2014 Bianca Guidotti, Miss Intercontinental 2nd runner-up Kris Tiffany Janson, and Bb. Pilipinas 2014 1st runner-up Laura Lehmann.  Though I have to note that I commend the color commentators for their energy, the thing about a too-clean-and-controversy-free hosting is that it registers as bland and unremarkable.  The only thing spicing up the proceedings was the differing ways the two main hosts pronounced the surname of the eventual 2nd runner-up (Xian Americanized the surname as “hue-ler” (the first syllable as in the word depicting color), while KC pronounced it the Spanish way, “weh-lar”.

Hosts Xian Lim and KC Concepcion (image courtesy of Rappler)

In almost every recent edition of this pageant, the proceedings were pre-taped, and it was true for most part in this case.  But the twist this year was that the farewell walk of the reigning queens and the announcement of winners were broadcast live.  Besides keeping the audiences tuned in as most would have the tendency to skip the end of the final segment since they have access to social media and would’ve known the results if it was handed out earlier, this year was particularly special because of the achievements of the batch of 2015.  In general, the farewell walk of the reigning queens was handled with dignity, though I have major issues with the way three of them were styled–Miss Globe 2015 winner Ann Colis looked a little less queenly with her hair down and the lacy long-sleeved gown looked matronly; Miss Supranational 2015 Top 20 semifinalist Rogelie Catacutan‘s gown didn’t flatter her well; and I would fire the stylist who gave Miss International 2015 Top Ten semifinalist Janicel Lubina that puffy hairdo–and was she wearing the same gown design that Rogelie was wearing?  Only Miss Intercontinental 2015 1st runner-up Christi Lynn McGarry was styled properly, and she also gave the best, most eloquent pre-taped farewell speech.

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the farewell walk by Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach.  Though I quibble that the use of festive tribal music seemed to detract the dignity of the moment, I suppose I can accept it because it was supposed to convey a big celebration.  And unlike the other four reigning queens, Pia delivered her speech live, and it delivered on heart, eloquence, dignity, and dashes of humor (with her self-aware aside that it feels like she’s delivering a graduation speech).  It’s arguably the best farewell speech ever delivered in any pageant.  Enhancing the moment was the way Pia was styled–a transfiguration seemed to have occurred as Pia looked like a goddess with her tresses set to beautiful waves and her white flowy evening gown was a dreamy confection.



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