RN finds his passion in beauty pageants

By Cristina DC Pastor

The beauty pageant bug bit Felix Manuel at age 6. A registered nurse, he’s been photographed with international beauty queens around the world, and can actually predict the winner even before the swimsuit comes on.

TF: Isn’t 6 a bit too early to get hooked on beauty contests?
FM: It is a funny story actually. Growing up I was always fascinated every time I saw my mom and her sisters’ pictures when they were beauty queens in the old days in our province. I always wanted to see them in full regalia. The glitter of the crowns on their heads got me hooked.

TF: Something must have triggered it.
FM: When I was 6, my mom and I were watching the 1978 Miss Universe Pageant. A South African girl, Margaret Gardiner, was crowned that year, and the lady who crowned her was the first black Miss Universe, Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad & Tobago. My mom jokingly commented that Nora Aunor (a dark-skinned Filipino singer-actress) was crowning the winner. That fact stuck into my head. My mom was actually teasing my aunt who was an ardent fan of Nora Aunor. So from then on, I started following beauty pageants on television and collecting newspaper clippings on everything related to beauty pageants. I have a roomful of memorabilia from the different pageants in the world.

TF: Is it a guilty pleasure?
FM: It’s probably my form of art appreciation. I love anything that is pleasing to my eyes. But the overall impact of a pageant, from beginning to end, is something I can never explain. It’s probably my way of acting out a dream.

TF: Have you met people around the world who share the same fascination?
FM: It’s a worldwide phenomenon. We have been corresponding with one another even before the Internet. I met my best friends through my passion. When I was in high school, I met Gery Yumping, who shared the same interest. Together with our peer group, we would devote several hours before class looking for news articles, pictures and magazines at the vast periodical collection of the UST Central Library. We completed the list of winners and runners-up through the years. This is probably the main difference today, avid pageant fans are just a click away from everything they want to know.
After finishing my Nursing degree at UST, I worked for ABS-CBN as a researcher during the 1994 Miss Universe Pageant in Manila. It was a dream come true. I met all the lovely ladies who competed that year. After that, I worked at UST Hospital, then moved to England and settled here in New York as an RN. Despite the hectic workload, I am still able to pursue my love for the pageant scene.
Through the years, this passion led us to people who are directly involved in the pageant scene. Designers, talent scouts, aspiring queens, former queens and pageant bigwigs became a regular part of our social circle. We all have different professions, but we still manage to pursue our passion. In 1998, my core group in the pageant scene — Gery Yumping, Joey Cezeare and Francis Calubaquib — started contributing to Ricky Lo‘s Funfare column in Philippine Star. Lo was actually the one who dubbed us the “beauty pageant experts.”

Felix with (from left) Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart, Miss Universe 2008 of Venezuela Dayana Mendoza and Miss Teen USA 2008 Stevi Perry.

TF: You travel the world just so you can watch beauty pageants?
FM: I watched the Miss Universe Pageant in Thailand in 2005, the Bahamas in 2009, and Las Vegas last year was exhilarating. Seeing Venus Raj make it to the top five amidst the cheers of thousands of kababayan was surreal.

TF: What do you think of beauty pageants for the surgically enhanced?
FM: There are pageants for every season and every reason. There are even pageants for people behind bars. I am not all surprised. Beauty is basically everywhere, so spread the love for pageantry!

TF: Has the standard of beauty changed over the years?
FM: A lot. In the Philippines, for example, people have always associated beauty with social class, intelligence and wealth. During the pre-war pageant era in Manila, only illustrious women from rich families were crowned as Manila Carnival Queen winners. After the war, when representatives for the different international pageants were chosen, almost anyone could join, but during those times, the mestizas, or those with fair complexion, were heavily favored. Later on, the Filipinos have learned to love their own ‘kayumanggi’ (brown) beauties. It is interesting to note that in recent years, our brown beauties have performed way better than the fair- complexioned.

TF: You mentioned a possible connection between pageant winners and politics. Can you give an example?
FM: This has been discussed by almost every pageant aficionado and has been denied by the pageant organizers. The Miss World Pageant is UK-based, and just by looking at the roster of winners, it is obvious that nations affiliated with the UK, whether politically or territorially, have won a crown. People are also claiming that the Philippines’ victory at the Miss Universe Pageant, which happened during the politically turbulent period in Manila – 1960s to 1970s — had a political explanation. There really are many versions to a story. Sometimes, it’s a lot better to watch a pageant, have fun and leave it at that.

TF: Can you predict a winner?
FM: All of us can predict a winner! It’s just a matter of luck. Many times I have seen the favorite losing to an underdog. It is really a plus if you get to see these ladies and talk to them. Every year, our group has this Guess the Winners & Runners-up poll. I have done well, but not all the time.

TF: What do you think about countries that take beauty pageants seriously, Venezuela for example?
FM: I adore women from Venezuela. For a small country, they have produced the most number of international beauty queens, and I believe their devotion to the pageant is being rewarded. The organization spends a lot of money in training their ladies. By the time they reach the national level, they are internationally ready.

Felix Manuel has met pageant beauties in many parts of the U.S. and the world. He considers dethroned Miss Universe of 2002 Oxana Fedorova of Russia the most beautiful.

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