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From the world to the universe: Miss Universe PH Chelsea Manalo’s journey to the crown

By Aubrey Shane Lim Published May 23, 2024 10:24 pm Updated May 24, 2024 10:54 am

Bulacan’s Chelsea Manalo is the newly crowned Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH) 2024— but her journey to the crown wasn’t easy. 

Chelsea, who grew up in the city of Meycauayan, Bulacan, was born to a Black American father and a Filipina mother. After her parents' divorce in 2000, her mother remarried to a Filipino man. 

In her “HER STORY” video, the 24-year-old model recalled being bullied for her skin color and hair type. 

“My self-confidence became poor and I started to become indifferent,” she said. 

Chelsea’s friends and family served as her support system, helping her “understand and accept her own individuality.”

“They made me realize that I am beautiful in my own extraordinary way,” she said. 

Strutting into the spotlight

Empowered by her newfound self-confidence, Chelsea began her modeling career at 14 while attending high school.

She began joining beauty pageants and modeling for print magazines such as Metro Magazine and Mega

During her preliminary interview, she shared that her modeling journey made her “grow as a woman.” Her modeling career funded her way through college, where she chose to study tourism. She added that modeling has impacted her independence, confidence, and social life. 

“[Modeling] is what I used as an income to provide for myself in college. I gained relationships with my friends and the people around me, and here I am, faced with all of these leaders in front of me,” she said. 

Miss World Philippines 2017 marked her initial step into the world of national pageantry. The Bulacan Barbie finished in the Top 15.

Her strongest support system

During her preliminary interview, Chelsea mentioned that her mother was the driving force behind her self-confidence.

“My mother, actually, was [the one] who inspired me to be myself. She told me to always believe in myself,” she said. 

Chelsea’s parents, she noted, were the “most supportive” throughout her journey– serving as her personal assistants, stylists, and hair and makeup artists.

“Despite everything, the challenges that will come my way, I know that they’ll be there,” she said. 

Chelsea’s mother, Contessa, revealed to GMA’s Unang Balita that her daughter was bullied in the past. But looking at Chelsea now, she expressed her pride and support towards her daughter’s victory.

“Noong bata po siya, nabu-bully siya and ako ‘yung nage-encourage sa kanya na, ‘anak, maganda ka.’ [Kaya] anak, deserve mo [ang pagkapanalo mo]. Ito na ang pangarap mo,” she said.

In another interview with ABS-CBN News, Contessa said that it was she and her husband who stood by her throughout her journey.

“The whole time po, kami lang po yung kasama niya, ako at ang asawa ko… Kami lang po yung umaalalay sa anak ko. 'Yun yung gusto niya, 'yun yung pangarap niya, susuportahan po namin siya,” she said.

Contessa said that it had always been her daughter’s dream to win the Miss Universe pageant. She recalled that despite undergoing multiple hardships, Chelsea remained steadfast in fighting for the crown. 

“Alam niya sa sarili niya na lalaban siya at mananalo raw siya,” she said, beaming through tears of joy.

The ‘dark horse’ of the competition

Chelsea entered the MUPH race in February 2024. She quickly gained recognition as a serious contender following her performance in the Miss World Philippines 2017 pageant. 

She advocated for indigenous young people’s education and body positivity throughout the competition. This was especially seen through her collaborative work with Kids for Kids, a youth-led organization that advocates for the creation of safe spaces for children, as well as social and environmental justice. 

Generating buzz, she was featured as one of Mega Magazine's "10 Candidates to Look Out For" and included in Missosology's top 20 "First Hot Picks." However, her performance during the preliminary swimsuit and national costume competition didn't secure her a spot in the pageant site's 3rd Hot Picks, ultimately placing 18th in Missosology’s Final Hot Picks

Chelsea did not win any of the online challenges. She did, however, win the sponsor award called “Miss Jojo Bragais.” 

Still, she managed to power her way through the Top 20, Top 10, and, eventually, the Top 5. 

In the question and answer portion of the pageant, she was asked how she could empower others. 

“As a woman of color, I have always faced challenges in my life. I was told that beauty is... has standards, actually. But for me, I have listened to always believe in my mother, to always believe in yourself, uphold the vows that you have,” she answered. 

“Because of these, I am already influencing a lot of women who are facing me right now. As a transformational woman, I have here 52 other delegates with me who have helped me to become the woman I am. Thank you,” she said. 

Chelsea ended up winning the crown against runner-up Stacey Daniella Gabriel from Cainta, besting 52 other contestants for the crown. 

She also made history as the first Black Filipino to represent the country in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant to be held in Mexico.