A truly historic edition of the Miss World Philippines pageant was held on September 3, 2017 at the Mall of Asia Arena. Arnold Vegafria, National Director of the Miss World Philippines Organization, promised a bigger and better pageant and they delivered.
Unlike other major international pageants, Miss World is steeped in tradition and differentiates itself by focusing on its Beauty with a Purpose advocacy. This is something that the new MWP Organization has taken to heart and was evident in the production.
At the end of the day, a beauty pageant’s success lies in the beautiful young women who challenge themselves, go out of their comfort zones, brave the volatile nature of social media, and represent the best in a Filipina.
There were 35 beautiful candidates who competed for a chance to win Miss World Philippines, Reina Hispanoamericana Filipinas, Miss Eco Philippines and Miss Multinational Philippines. After a month of pre-pageant activities and fast track events, they were narrowed down to 15 semifinalists.
As we found out on coronation night, a candidate can win multiple fast track events, as in the case of #9 Winwyn Marquez (Beach Beauty and Talent Winner). The 4 fast track winners automatically advanced to the semifinals. That meant the 11 top scorers in the swimsuit and evening gown competitions progressed to the semifinals.
As each of the 15 semifinalists were called, each one went through a casual interview with host, KC Montero. Then, these semifinalists were narrowed down to 10 finalists from which the winners were chosen.
This year’s competition was very tight among the handful of frontrunners. As early as the awarding of the special awards, it became clear who were coming in very strong.
- #32 Cynthia Laura Thomalla – 3 special awards and the Top Model Fast Track
- #15 Laura Lehmann – 2 special awards and the Multimedia Fast Track
- #9 Winwyn Marquez – 1 special award, Talent Fast Track and Beach Beauty Fast Track
I always felt that it would come down to these 3 ladies and their performance would be the determining factor in their placements. It was only if one of them messed up the question and answer so badly would there be an opening for a title.
As is tradition in Miss World, I shall now review the winners in reverse order.
Miss World Philippines 2017 – Laura Lehmann
Facts: 24 years old, TV host from Makati City
Advocacy: PREP (Promoting Rural Education in the Philippines), wherein she spends a day with elementary kids in different parts of the country to prepare lessons and build libraries for them
Special Awards: Multimedia Winner, Miss Cosmo Skin, Miss BYS Philippines
Since 2014, pageant fans have awaited Laura’s comeback. What they didn’t know was that it would be in Miss World Philippines. And that proved to be very wise choice. Among the frontrunners, Laura had the height and proportions typical of a beauty queen. She looked like Malibu Barbie as she stepped onto the stage in her Bench Body swimsuit with her long legs, perfectly even fair complexion and volumized hair. She may have been slightly safe during the other activities but came out in full vavavoom supermodel mode during the finals. Laura’s red evening gown by Mark Bumgarner had dramatic draping and a train that billowed out beautifully, showing off her long legs and giving her a larger than life persona. It was an updated look reminiscent of the Miss Venezuelas of the 1990s. It was a bold choice that made her stand out from the nude illusion, sequined, sparkly gowns that have been pageant favorites lately. Laura wore Mark Bumgarner for most of her important events. The fashion designer/beauty queen muse relationship has truly made a comeback in a most beautiful way.
Laura is undoubtedly the best talker of the group. She is elocution perfection. She demonstrated how to convincingly and powerfully answer in the all important question and answer round. She was calm and full of confidence. Her delivery was perfectly phrased, with proper emphasis on important points, and maintained good eye contact with the host and the audience. There was no doubt she cemented her win during this segment.
As the first winner from this new organization, Laura has set the bar very high for the young women who will follow her footsteps.
Question: There are people who believe pageants don’t provide the opportunity to empower women. What would you say to them?
Answer: “To anyone who doesn’t believe in pageants, I would ask them to take a look at the girls that we had onstage tonight. Because we have lawyers, we have architects, we have women of substance who are here today, not only because of what they look like, but because of what’s in their heart, what’s in their mind, and because of what they’ve brought forth, beauty with a purpose. They’re here fighting to represent the Philippines and become the best versions of the Filipina, and to me that’s something only to celebrate, not protest.”
Reina Hispanoamericana Filipinas 2017 – Teresita “Winwyn” Marquez #9
Facts: 25 years old, actress from Paranaque City
Advocacy: “Save a PoUCh” (Poor Urban Child) aims to give underprivileged children necessary school supplies, snacks, and medical/dental attention.
Special Awards: Beach Beauty Winner, Talent Winner, Miss Savoy Hotel Boracay
Another pageant veteran with a huge fan base is Winwyn Marquez. Although she did not need a fast track event to advance into the semis, she won two. Her naturally playful, flirty, and sexy attitude edged out other equally fit and healthy candidates to win the Beach Body event. During the Charity Gala, she showcased her phenomenal dancing and acrobatic skills to win the talent fast track as well. Winwyn is a born performer and it was not a surprise that she tore up the stage in the swimsuit and evening gown competition. She wore a beautiful deep emerald Francis Libiran gown that was very Studio 54/’70s vibe. However, I felt that gown made her look short and did not have the pageant wow factor such as Laura’s and Cynthia’s gowns.
I can only imagine the pressure that Winwyn was feeling during the Q&A segment. Although she answered well, I felt her nerves and she was a bit flowery with her answers. There is nothing wrong with what she said, but it can come off as rehearsed and not from the heart. I know that Winwyn can easily improve this for her international competition. She faces a very tough challenge of being the first Filipina to compete in a purely Latina dominated Reina Hispanoamericana. If there is anyone who has tenacity and fierceness to rise above this, that’s Winwyn.
Question: How can you convince the judges that you are worthy of becoming Miss World Philippines 2017?
Answer: “I live a life of substance and meaning and that is through service. I uphold social awareness and I treasure empathy. I am here ready to give my whole self and to give a win-win situation to the organization, to the advocacy that I believe in. I continue to live a beautiful life with determination and passion for my advocacy as well.”
Miss Eco Philippines 2017 – Cynthia Thomalla #32
Facts: 22 years old, from Cebu City
Advocacy: Awareness for the prevention of suicide
Special Awards: Top Model Winner, Best in Long Gown, Miss Blue Water Day Spa, Miss Photogenic
Cynthia is a very memorable beauty with a charming and endearing personality. It was no surprise that she won the Miss Photogenic award as she has been consistently compared to Anne Hathaway. Throughout the competition, Cynthia sported a couple of favorite hairstyles of previous Miss World winners. High pony tail extensions for the swimsuit competition and a top bun for the evening gown competition. I kept thinking about Miss World 1994, Aishwarya Rai, when she came out in her white, mermaid gown designed by Marichu Tan. Cynthia won the Best in Long Gown competition with her elegance and sophistication.
Cynthia is short by pageant standards. Luckily, her proportions make her look taller than she actually is and her stunning beauty more than compensates for that. She also lights up the stage with her enchanting smile.
My worry for Cynthia has always been the Q&A. It is not that she cannot answer or that she says the wrong things. She’s a very smart girl but she lacks the conviction in her delivery. If she just believes in herself more and be confident in what she says, she would be a much stronger candidate. To many pageant fans, she committed a Q&A faux pas by ending her answer with “Think before you click,” which was Pia Wurtzbach’s winning answer in Bb. Pilipinas 2015.
I am very confident that she will rock Alexandra, Egypt in Miss Eco International 2017. Her beauty will certainly appeal to that part of the world. A good style strategy for her would be a modern take on the Cleopatra/Egyptian goddess look.
Question: What do you think is the most important social issue facing our generation?
Answer: “The one social issue that our generation is facing today is the use of social media. A lot of people have been using social media irresponsibly that is causing a lot of conflicts and misunderstandings. So I encourage everyone to use social media responsibly and to show the world to spread love, and understanding, and respect, not just posing just for fun. Be mindful of what you post and think before you click.”
Miss Multinational Philippines 2017 – Sophia Senoron #35
Facts: 17 years old, from Manila.
Advocacy: raining student leaders, along with the group she helped form, Ang Pagbabagong Mithi (A New Aspiration), to spread awareness on different issues of the nation.
Special Awards: Multimedia Finalist
Possibly the biggest surprise of the night came in a small package. There was never any doubt on Sophia’s ability to speak with substance and maturity beyond her age. But she is only 5’4”, which is very short by pageant standards. In fact, her height won’t even qualify her to apply in other national pageants.
Sophia has an amazing story of perseverance and determination. She was the very definition of the underdog who overcame the odds to win. In my previous interview with Sophia, she said that she became an independent candidate because she wanted to prove that women do not need to be “trained” or “made to become a beauty queen.” In fact, she was very candid in saying that she cut ties with her former handler because he did not believe she could win a crown.
Sophia’s overall styling was clean and fresh which suited her best. The scarlet bustier gown by Jonti Martinez was the perfect choice. It made her look tall and slim and had just the right amount of sparkle to make it come alive onstage. She was genuinely surprised and filled with joy to advance at every stage of the competition. She was very teary eyed when she made it to the top 10. She lost it when she was announced as Miss Multinational. She beat out a couple of pageant veterans who were shoo-ins for the title. In fact, her crown was really too big for her, as it was made for women who have bigger heads (only literally and not figuratively).
In the Q&A, it was serendipitous for her to receive the question about a young girl.
Question: What would you advise a 7-year old girl who dreams of becoming a beauty queen?
Answer: I think at a young age, we start our aspirations of what we want to be in life. That’s something I’ve experienced being 17 years old and making it this far. I would tell the 7-year old [girl] not to make the pageant her goal but to make what she wants to do with the pageant her destination. I’m talking about wanting to be able to help the world and show the world – [what] our country can and should be or what our country can do for other people and for our future as well. And I think that’s a goal that all beauty queens should have.”
1st Princess – Glyssa Leian Perez #3
Facts: 22 years old from Bohol
Advocacy: To serve the community in her hometown and to inspire others to use their flaws as their badge of honor.
Special Awards: Sports Challenge Winner
Another beauty who came in a small package is Glyssa Perez who was born in Sydney, Australia and is a finance graduate. She beat out all the other candidates in the Sports Challenge and she literally worked hard to get that semifinal spot. Undoutedly, she would have advanced to the semis even without a fast track win.
Glyssa showed off her strong winning form in the swimsuit competition. During the evening gown competition, she glided onstage in a beautiful, intricately embroidered, blush evening gown with a dramatic train by Mikee Andrei. It was a classic choice for a Miss World Philippines competition that highlighted Glyssa’s beauty.
Her answers in the Q&A was all about family and it was wonderful to see her entire family in the audience supporting her. Her delivery was demure and reserved. What made it impactful was it felt very genuine, sincere, and authentic. This probably made her more eandearing to the judges than the usual pageant answers.
Question: All your life your parents have taught you from school work to lessons in life. But what have you taught your parents?
Answer: Living from a different country from the Philippines, one thing I’ve taught my parents is trust. Because being the only girl in the family with 3 brothers, you can imagine how protective they are. But as I said earlier, trust is what I’ve taught them because they allowed me to move to [another] country because I’m so passionate about serving the community, that I’m here in front of you all to do what I’m passionate about.
2nd Princess – Zara Carbonell #24
Facts: 23 years old from Batangas
Advocacy: Wants to open up a mentoring school – focusing on personality development – for young Filipinas
Zara’s family and supporters came in full force. It’s no wonder that she has this very self-assured, confident ,and happy personality because she has a strong support system. Zara has a very perky and fun runway walk that evokes joy and this was best shown in the swimsuit competition. Then, she switched it up by adding more simple sophistication, with swept back hair and an understated, elegant, white, beaded gown by Albert Andrada.
Normally, most contestants look tense moments before the Q&A. But not Zara. She was standing in front of Megan Young beaming with happiness and smiling. She gave a very strong answer and delivered it in a very confident manner. At this point, it was hard for the judges to ignore Zara during the final deliberations.
Question: How does Miss World Philippines and other beauty pageants contribute to humanity?
Answer: Beauty pageants go far beyond crown and title. In fact, it’s the process of being in the pageant that transforms all these young women. And it’s empowering to know that as you transform yourself, you are able to transform the world around as you know it, because you choose to be the best version of yourself.
There are a few candidates who’s performance just fell a bit short to secure them a placement or a title.
#6 Jona Sweett must have missed the cut by a hair. She looked stunning in her Adriano Samar peach, sparkly gown with that dramatic side ruffle drape and train. Her styling looked expensive and luxurious. Unfortunately, she gave a run-of-the-mill pageant answer.
#26 Janela Cuaton was a fan favorite and many expected her to place very high. I felt that her styling wasn’t on point that night. The evening gown by Rian Fernandez was beautiful but did not thing to accentuate her Janela’s beauty. Janela could have benefitted more with a sexier gown and fiercer look like the one she sported in her official photo where she was wearing a black gown with a deep V-neckline.
The new MWP Organization under National Director Arnold Vergafria and General Manager Bessie Bessana, was an overwhelming success because it produced 4 beautiful, talented, and intellegent Filipinas who will be representing our country in the upcoming international competitions.
This historic evening is was made more memorable with the presence of Julia Morley, Miss World Chairperson, Chief Mandela of South Africa, Stephanie del Valle, Miss World 2013 and the 5 Continental Queens of Beauty.
In a somewhat symbolic transition, MWP stepped it up a notch by featuring the Miss World Philippines’ winners from 2011 to 2016, Gwen Ruais, Queenierich Rehman, Megan Young (Miss World 2013), Valerie Weigmann, Hillarie Parungao, and Catriona Gray, and proved why our country has placed consistently in Miss World. The presence of Ruffa Guttierez, Miss World 1993 2nd Princess, who was from the period when the Miss World franchise was with the Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. was a touching gesture. Regardless of franchise holder, the sisterhood of all Miss World Philippines winner will always consider each other as family and their legacy will continue to give life to Beauty with a Purpose.
This article originally appeared in Rappler.
All photos courtesy of Rappler unless otherwise indicated.