This morning, I watched the 2010 Miss Universe pageant on the telly. I was happy to see that the Philippines' Venus Raj made it as far as fourth runner-up. Congratulations pa rin! Venus looked really gorgeous; she could have done better in the Q&A, but she still did pretty well.
Is it just my imagination, or are these beauty pageants a bit faster-paced now? Ah, well.
After watching, my memory rolled back to the time that Miss Universe was held right here in the Philippines back in 1994. It was a big thing, and I kept hoping we pinoys wouldn't do anything embarrassing during that whole period. It was all good.
For the opening production in which the candidates paraded one by one, the beauty queens sang and danced to a techno number with samples of Gary V's Hataw Na. I'm not so sure that was a good idea, but it kept viewers entertained at least. But even more cringe-worthy was a duet between Peabo Bryson and then-reigning queen, Puerto Rico's Dayanara Torres - they did a sucky rendition of A Whole New World , pinoy variety-show style, which was pretty much unnecessary to the program.
Miss Philippines 1994 Charlene Gonzales was a real charmer. Even the spokesmodels at the side count her as one of their favorites.
Big hair and immaculately-lined lips were glamorous then, and it wasn't so bad not to be a skinny waif. She was pleasantly witty too:
Host: ... You guys have a bunch of islands here. How many islands are in the Philippines?
Charlene: High tide or low tide?
That answer of hers became a catchphrase and a punchline for several months.
In those years, it was an annual Miss Universe tradition to have little girls (dressed up as little Miss U candidates) sing that You Are My Star / When You wish Upon a Star medley in the final evening gown competition. Charlene wore a strapless yellow-and-gold number, and to this day that's the mental image I have of her.
Charlene only made it to the top six though. She didn't get to answer the final question that made Sushmita Sen India's first Miss Universe: What is the essence of being a woman?
Even beyond the pageant, after most of the candidates and organizers left, there were still bits of Miss U aftershocks in the country in the following few years. For one, Charlene succeeded in penetrating showbiz promptly after, so we saw a lot more of her. She confessed this to be one of her goals for joining Binibining Pilipinas / Miss Universe.
Her career is still successful to this day. And I think she looks a lot prettier now that she's older:
Miss Australia 1994 Michelle Van Eimeren gained fame as an actress here as well, but she is mostly remembered as actor Ogie Alcasid's ex-wife. In the touring period before the pageant itself, Ogie acted as the jeepney-driving tour guide to the candidates, and I'm guessing that's when they fell in love (I remember watching a talks show [cheap of me, I know] guesting Ogie and the favorite candidates, including Michelle; Ogie was asked about a rumored blossoming romance with Miss Australia and he gave a generic we're just friends answer. Michelle's reaction was captured on camera - she didn't say a word but she was looked pretty much betrayed). Lately Michelle Van Eimeren is back in local showbiz news due to Ogie's engagement to songbird Regine. Since Michelle was a celebrity here for a while, gossipmongers thought of thickening the plot by phone-patching Ogie's ex-wife all the way from Australia.
Who could forget Miss Mauritius Viveka Babajee? She remained in the Philippines for some reason - maybe she hoped to be lucky here - but that proved to be a mistake. She was villainized as a pawn of Lolit Solis in the infamous Metro Manila Film Fest scam, for which she is remembered for the words, "Take it! Take it!". Solis went to jail and I think Babajee was shamefully deported after that.
We also saw a lot more of Miss Universe '93, Dayanara Torres, since she chose to remain here after the 1994 pageant. She too had a career of hosting, singing, dancing and (bad) acting. She had a thing with actor Aga Muhlach for a while - whether it was a real off-screen romance or just a love team to sell their crap movies, I don't know.
Aga is now happily married to Charlene by the way. See photo above.
This reminds me - Dayanara Torres was our neighbor for a short time. She wasn't the friendly neighborly type, and neither were we, so there isn't much to reminisce about that. Still i think that'll be the topic of my next entry. :) Cheers!