The Miss Universe Philippines 2021 will go down in local pageant history as the most protracted competition. It lasted a total of three months, from the first cut (the Top 100 applicants) in early July down to the announcement of the winner on Sept. 30.
Throughout the entire pageant, the candidates were given plenty of chances to speak, from the Video Introduction Challenge of the Top 100 to the Virtual Interview Challenge of the Top 50 to the Preliminary Interview of the Top 28 to the Self Introduction of the Top 28 at the start of the Coronation Night to the Me and My Gown speech of the Top 28 prior to the Semifinal Long Gown Competition of the Top 16 semifinalists to the Casual Interview of the Top 10. And, finally, to the Final Question & Answer of the Top 5.
The candidates largely delivered, showing off good communication and public speaking skills in every stage. There were standouts who consistently aced the interviews with a bit more substance in their answers, better control of their delivery, and a bit more personality.
In fact, seven candidates were declared winners of the Interview Challenge, namely, Misses Cavite, Parañaque, San Juan, Makati, Bukidnon, Cebu City, and Marinduque.
Of these, only Cavite, Parañaque, and Cebu City eventually made it to the overall Top 10 semifinal round after the Swimsuit and Evening Gown competitions during the finals. And among the three, only Cebu City and Cavite advanced to the Top 5 for the all-important Final Q&A.
With the interview growing in prominence and importance in international pageants in the last few years, especially in Miss Universe, it would be easy to assume that Cebu City and Cavite would have the edge and be the last two women standing under the spotlight on the finals stage.
But only one of them did, and it wasn’t the one who gave the better final answer, or even the more memorable casual interview. Neither did the other last woman standing, Miss Taguig (Katrina Dimaranan), deliver any of the best answers of the evening.
Kisses Delavin, Masbate, Casual Interview
The questions on this round were designed specifically for every candidate, highlighting a particular aspect of their lives. For actress Kisses Delavin, it was about calling herself a “miracle baby” and the question was how it has affected the way she approached a pageant such as Miss Universe Philippines.
Her answer was one of the very best of the entire night. “It has affected me in a way that I’m always true to my core. I remember that every moment I am a miracle. God did not let me die. He put me here and I have a mission to fulfill, so I’m gonna forget all my doubts and focus on His vision. I will cling into that.”
It was personal, heartfelt, smart, punchy, and presented with total clarity, confidence, and conviction. It’s the kind of perfectly delivered dramatic answer that would have elicited a rapturous reaction from the crowd had the event been held with a big audience. It was that good and her not advancing to the Top 5 was one of the night’s surprises.
Victoria Velasquez Vincent, Cavite, Casual Interview
This 26-year-old Architecture graduate who was born and raised in New Zealand was asked about how her Heritage Conservation advocacy fits in a country that can’t even provide the basics of food, water, and shelter to its citizens.
This was actually one of the more difficult questions of the night and it was worthier of the Final Q&A than the Casual Interview. And she handled it very well, delivering a thoughtful, insightful response with a queen’s elegance that proved she deserved her No. 1 finish in the Interview Challenge.
“Honestly, as Filipinos I think we need to take pride in our culture and it doesn’t need to even cost anything. It could be something as little as learning to speak Tagalog or another dialect. For example, I was raised in New Zealand, and I wasn’t raised to speak Tagalog but I’m now 26 years old and I’m trying my absolute best to keep our language alive. So most definitely it is a most powerful thing to keep our heritage alive and it’s so incredibly important.”
It would’ve been perfect and more powerful, though, if she sprinkled her answer with a few words in the native tongue the way she did her previous interviews.
Maureen Wroblewitz, Pangasinan, Casual Interview
The Filipino-German actress and model (she won the fifth season of Asia’s Next Top Model) was asked a two-tiered question: What’s more fulfilling for her, being a model or a beauty queen, and how different is she as a model from the beauty queen?
The answer to the first half would’ve been obvious to anyone, let alone a candidate in a beauty pageant. So it’s a testament to how smart she is that she delved straight to the other half of the question.
“The model is actually very insecure but the beauty queen is a spokeswoman, and as a spokeswoman I would really like to uplift the stories and experiences of those who don’t have the privilege to be on this stage, coz I would like to be the voice and make a difference in their lives. Being a beauty queen just means living my purpose.”
This probably reads pageant-y here, on paper, but, with the confident and totally personable way she delivered it, it sounded fresh, genuine, and winsome.
For the final Q&A, Cavite’s Victoria Velasquez Vincent entered the night with the title of Best in Interview Challenge and then moved into the Top 5 on the strength of one of the best casual interviews. And she secured that crown as Interview Queen even more firmly on her head with this last performance.
The question: In your journey to be Miss Universe Philippines, what has been the most inspiring part and why? Her answer: “The people that I’ve met and the stories that I’ve heard. Especially during the pandemic, people have risen to overcome everything that they’ve gone through. I’ve been incredibly privileged and I haven’t had to go through that many issues in my life, but meeting so many people who have had so many battles and hearing their stories and hearing how they overcame them, that’s what inspires me to continue to help the Filipinos in a way that I know how, which is through my advocacy, architecture and heritage conservation.”
What’s excellent about this response, aside from how current and relevant it is, was that it delivered exactly what the question sought: a tribute to her sources of inspiration. The opening line was short but sharp, putting the subject of her salute front and center. She kept herself in the background up until the very end when she tied the inspiration to her passion and work. A pageant class act.
How did Miss Cebu City Beatrice Gomez fare in her two Coronation Night interviews on her way to clinching the Miss Universe Philippines 2021 crown? Let’s just say she did better in all her pre-Finals Night speaking engagements.
Her final answer was well delivered, fluidly and with an engaging rhythm. The question was: If during your reign as Miss Universe Philippines things happen in your life that make you sad and uninspired, how would you be able to continue inspiring others?
She started very promising, premising her answer on a very specific but very common situation that everyone would be able to easily latch on to. “It is very evident that all of us went through difficulties during this pandemic,” she said.
Unfortunately, she quickly fell into the trap of motherhood statements and clichès about surmounting challenges and soldiering on without really answering the question of how. “But it is also proof that we are able to rise to the occasion, and if anything happened to me during my reign, I will not give up and inspire others by rising to the problems that I am encountering and by inspiring them that whatever you’re going through you will be able to overcome it.”
The new queen’s Casual Interview was even more disappointing. The question was tailor-fit to her singular narrative of being an out and proud lesbian beauty queen. She was asked if the Philippines was ready to send a member of the LGBTQIA+ community to the Miss Universe pageant. It was such a great opportunity to bare her heart, mind, and soul and give the world, the universe rather, a fittingly singular, deeply felt, movingly insightful speech.
But she totally squandered it by giving a rather generic answer that even non-members of the community could give without missing a heartbeat. “I honestly believe that our country has been in a long way in battling our fight for equality, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community. Our country have been (sic) very supportive and I definitely think that we are definitely ready to send someone, an LGBTQIA member, to the universe.”
That’s definitely a longish but not particularly substantial, nor colorful, nor interesting way of basically saying “Yes.”