10 March 2009

The beauty pageant business is back

Another set of national beauties was crowned during the 2009 Binibining Pilipinas pageant at the Araneta Coliseum last Saturday night (telecast was on GMA 7). It turned out that it was the beauty contest’s 45th anniversary, but I only found out about that when host Iza Calzado said so toward the end of the three-hour show.

No, there was no grandness to the production, but director Al Quinn still put together a very cohesive show.

The opening number, however, was overextended — with the contestants dancing in what looked like light, but colorful overcoats that they eventually peeled off to reveal casual clothes that they wore while introducing themselves to the Araneta crowd and to the viewers at home.

I don’t know if it was my TV set or the lighting in the coliseum, but no one looked impressive in that part of the show, except maybe for Rich Asuncion, who I thought that time was a cross between Pilar Pilapil and a now very pretty Imee Marcos. And it was only then that I found out her real name was Richelle Angalot. To think I’ve known her this long — she being part of our group that graces openings of Flawless branches all over the country.

When the show got into the swimsuit competition — with the contestants doing the mandatory poses in a resort in Batangas — I thought most of the shots were unflattering. Was it the camera angles that showed most of the contestants with bulging midsections? It was either that or the contestants had too much Pizza Hut.

Then I saw the tale of the tape flashed on one side of the screen: Some of the girls had waistlines as wide as 26”. You could actually mount a flat screen on each of them. To the pageant organizers, send the winners to Gold’s Gym — pronto.

The program, of course, had other features aside from the contestants parading around the stage. This being the pageant’s 45th year, they gathered as many former Binibining Pilipinas winners as possible. Great idea, but messy and tedious in execution.

The cameras could not locate the former titlists. They were either on the wings of the stage waiting for their duties as presenters or scattered all over the coliseum. Some of the names called by host Paolo Bediones probably weren’t even in the venue — like Pilar Pilapil, for example.

In one segment of the pageant — still in line with the organization’s 45th year — handsome glass trophies were presented to the Pinay beauty queens who brought home major international beauty titles. Only three were honored in that portion of the show: Gloria Diaz, Margie Moran and Aurora Pijuan.

Of course, Gemma Cruz wasn’t there because when she won Miss International, Binibining Pilipinas was not yet the local franchise holder of the then Long Beach-based international beauty pageant (besides, didn’t she picket outside the Araneta Coliseum during an edition of the Binibining Pilipinas in the ‘70s and denounced beauty contests as a mere exploitation of women?). But baffling was the non-appearance of Melanie Marquez, while the absence of Precious Lara Quigaman only confirmed rumors that she is at odds with the Binibini organization after she and other beauty queens put up their own pageant last year.

But back to the real stars of the program: The contestants vying for the three major titles at stake. After the presentation of special awards, they were made to parade in evening gowns to the tune of a jazzed-up Hindi Kita Malimot, the arrangement of which worked well for the segment.

Then it was time to reveal the 10 semi-finalists and 2007 second runner-up Abby Cruz, who joined a second time hoping to finally bag one of the crowns, wasn’t in the list. Abby is actually even prettier now, but at 5’5” she was easily dwarfed by the taller candidates. But I have to give it to Paolo for not letting the unfortunate turn of events for his girlfriend Abby affect his job as pageant host. He went on with the show like a pro — like he didn’t have to do a lot of comforting later that night. His female co-hosts Iza and Carlene Aguilar also carried on with their duties like veteran special events emcees.

After the announcement of the 10 semi-finalists came the much-awaited question and answer portion. To the disappointment of the Araneta Coliseum hecklers (and even those at home), there was no Janina San Miguel. Playing it safe, none of the girls winged on and on and most of them kept their answers short and rushed to end their statements with their that’s-all-thank you safety net.

But while grammars were correct and their sentences were well put together and made for pleasant listening, most of the answers were lacking in substance. Very Chiz Escudero — you know, nice to listen to, but is there actually anything there?

But I did admire the contestants even more by the time they got to this round because — for all that pressure (what with the crowd waiting to boo and jeer them with one single slip of the tongue) — they got out of that alive and in one piece. And quite frankly, some of the questions that came from the judges were crappy and didn’t deserve decent answers.

As the pageant got deeper into the night, I noticed that the girls were finally getting prettier. Not just pretty, but lovely. Maybe because there were just 10 of them and that made it easier to dissect every face and figure.

Right before the names of the winners were announced, I had finally placed my bets (I was slow that night). Second runner-up was Regina Hahn, daughter of one-time TV personality Chiqui Brosas, who earlier was 1975 Binibining Pilipinas and fourth runner-up in that year’s Miss Universe pageant. Regina has great personality and maybe should have joined the contest earlier. This close to getting a title was first runner-up Richelle Angalot, who probably should join again another time (or wait for one of the winners to get into trouble and assume the crown).

The Binibining Pilipinas-International title was given to Melody Gershback, who, with her very mestiza features, is so doll-like — very much the kind of look they favor in Miss International. For Miss Universe, they are sending Pamela Bianca Manalo, sister of Binibining Pilipinas-World 2002 Kate Manalo and niece of former Binibining Pilipinas-International Nini Ramos Licaros, who was the producer of Eh, Kasi Babae in the ‘80s.

Chosen to represent the country in the Miss World contest is Marie Ann Umali, another pageant repeater, but is now a big winner — thanks to the unmatched regal bearing she displayed that night of the contest.

Also a big winner was the pageant show itself. In spite of those little rough edges along the way, it was basically smooth and entertaining. The telecast of the coronation night also scored 18.7 percent, which was high enough considering the fact that it started airing at almost 11 p.m. (Eat, Bulaga! and Startalk both went overtime because of the tribute to Francis Magalona and pushed the primetime schedule back.)

Apparently, the interest in beauty pageants is back and the Binibining Pilipinas organizers have Janina San Miguel from last year to thank for that. (Butch Francisco of philstar.com)