Photo from Missosology

Beauty pageant Q&As: From complex to simple, always thought-provoking

Questions from pageants around the world have ranged from mandatory HIV testing (2009) to the economic crisis (2008), pregnancy during reign (1999) and the essence of a woman (1994).

A new queen has been chosen. Bulakeña Chelsea Manalo was crowned Miss Universe Philippines 2024 last night. The 25-year-old won over the judges by proving that her stunning looks were matched with intellect, grace, and charm. Elegant in her white beaded gown and feathered cape by Manny Halasan, she is ready for her reign as queen.

Beauty pageants have become a subject of debate over the last few years, with some questioning their relevance and value in today’s society. On the other, there is no denying their popularity, bringing people together in support of their country’s beauty queens. In the Philippines, gathering together to watch Miss Universe Philippines (or Bb. Pilipinas as it used to be called) and then Miss Universe is a national pastime.  

This year, the questions took a 180-degree turn, with the candidates having to take an introspective look into their achievements, a woman’s role in society, and empowerment.

These debates gave rise to ongoing conversations on what it is that beauty pageants really stand for. And do we still need them in this day and age? In a 2021 Business Insider article, reigning Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu stated that critics  “need to understand that beauty pageants are not about beauty….It’s about having courage to bring differences in society, and the courage to…know you’re strong enough to go with your opinions in front of the whole universe.”

Miss Universe Philippines 2024 Chelsea Manalo. Photo from Missosology

Her statement reframes the relevance of beauty pageants to society at large—as a platform to deliver a greater, more personal, message and advocacy into mainstream consciousness. Beyond just beauty, these ladies have to deliver on intellect, heart, compassion, and the capacity to do the work.

Q&A portion as barometer

The Question and Answer portion has become the expected barometer by which  these ladies are measured on coronation night. There have been some hits, with possibly more misses. It is difficult to fault the candidates for a less than flawless answer, with just seconds to think of a response in front of millions of viewers.

Miss Universe Philippines 2023 Michelle Dee. Photo from Dee’s Instagram account

These questions run the gamut of “What is your breakthrough or big achievement? How did it improve you as a person?”  asked of Miss Baguio at MUPH 2024 to “What is the solution to world hunger?” asked in a past Miss Universe. Fingers-crossed, they get the easier ones.

The amount of intense training the candidates go through leading up to coronation night is no big secret. Beyond the physicality, the ladies are put through mental calisthenics to get them used to thinking fast on their feet for the dreaded Q&A. After all, how their world could change in those 30 seconds! The pressure!

Beyond just beauty, these ladies have to deliver on intellect, heart, compassion, and the capacity to do the work.

Some contestants have turned to AI and ChatGPT to help them craft the perfect response, while others have stuck to reading and research to sharpen their critical thinking skills.

That said, there is a marked difference between the Miss Universe Philippines Q & A segment between this year and last. In 2023, the questions were focused on key national issues affecting society, women, and politics – requiring, at the very least, general knowledge of what was going on in the world.

Miss Universe Philippines 2023 Michelle Dee hit the mark when she was asked by judge Sam Versoza about closing the gap between the rich and poor. Michelle zeroed in on the importance of a quality education to elevate lives and empower the youth, in the hopes of shrinking income inequality in the country. “If the government can provide this to every Filipino child, then we can not only elevate their quality of life, but we can empower them as well.”

Miss Taguig 2024 Christie McGarry. Photo from Missosology

This year, the questions took a 180-degree turn, with the candidates having to take an introspective look into their achievements, a woman’s role in society, and empowerment.

It’s difficult to say whether one category of questions is easier over the other, as both require careful thought and greater understanding of the issues. The intention may be to give beauty pageant supporters and critics the space to see the competition’s continued role and relevance as a balanced platform for women to have a voice?

There was some room for wit on the Miss Universe Philippines 2024 stage. In the Top 10 Q&A segment, host Jeannie Mai asked Miss Cainta Stacey Daniella Gabriel about a juicy secret she had never told anybody before. She candidly replied, “Are you kidding me? In front of the whole universe? Okay. I guess a secret would be that I have so much hairspray on and I’m extremely flammable. So don’t come near me, anybody with a lighter!” 

History has shown that there is no clear formula on which answer can win the crown. Case in point, Miss Universe 1997 Brook Mahealani Lee kept it real by saying, “I would eat everything in the world. You do not understand. I will eat everything twice.” in response to “If there were no rules in your life for one day and you could be outrageous, what would you do?”

Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

On the other hand, our very own Pia Wurtzbach won the title in 2015 on the back of an honest eloquent answer on why she should be the next Miss Universe: “To be Miss Universe is both an honor and a responsibility…I would use my voice to influence the youth, and raise awareness for causes like HIV…that is timely and relevant to my country. I want to show the world, the universe rather that I am confidently beautiful with a heart.”

Two very different responses, same result. The common denominator? Authenticity. Maybe that is all it takes. For newly minted queen Chelsea Manalo, this same earnestness tipped the scales in her favor. She veered away from prescribed beauty standards on how she can use her beauty and confidence to empower others:  “To always believe in yourself. Uphold the vows you have in yourself. Because of this, I am already influencing a lot of women facing me right now.”  

What line of questioning can the ladies who make the Miss Universe Philippines’ next top five expect in 2025? However it turns out, they should take to heart Miss Taguig Christi McGarry’s thoughts on the hardest challenges faced by Filipina women: “You can be strong. You can be powerful. You can own your own destiny.”

The new lifestyle.