When the then 25-year-old Maxine Medina won the Miss Universe Philippines title at the Binibining Pilipinas in April last year, she had to endure the unforgiving comments of people who felt that she lacks something between her ears to be called a perfect candidate to represent the country on the international pageant stage.
Ten months later, after her rigorous training on catwalk, makeup, and on improving her communication skills, Medina still receives flak from people who don’t think she’d deliver the goods on pageant night.
A few weeks leading to the official start of the Miss Universe competition, Medina had appeared on several TV shows where she was asked about her preparations for the biggest beauty contest in the world. After every appearance, people had something nasty to say and most recent of which was during the send-off party organized by the Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc.. Netizens started criticizing the model and interior designer saying she lacks fluency in the English language. They praised Medina for her stunning and classy look but predicted that she would stumble in the Q&A portion due to her poor communication skills. Some even suggested that she badly needs an interpreter so she can express herself well.
During the send-off party Medina said, “My advocacy is about the youth who has HIV, specifically the youth. I would like to feel them the help, the hope to give them access to education, living the life they should, you know. There’s something in me that I really wanted to do also is to ensure that there’s out there a little child, a girl, who’s just like me — a simple girl who don’t know that she can be a beauty queen.”
It is a cryptic answer by all standards and definitely a downgrade if we are to compare her with Pia Wurtzbach’s eloquence. But Miss Universe is not all that, interview and Q&A are just two of the many aspects of this pageant that determine the winner. We’ve seen a lot of finalists at Miss Universe giving the best answer but ended up as runners up, much worse not placing in the semis. Let’s use something close to our home as an example. In 2012, in response to Nigel Barker’s question in the final Q&A portion at Miss Universe, Philippine representative Janine Tugonon articulated, “For me Miss Universe is not about being able to speak a particular language, it’s about being able to influence and inspire other people. No matter what language you have as long as you have the heart you can inspire other people, then you can be Miss Universe.”
That answer earned a rousing applause from the crowd but didn’t win Tugonon the title. The crown went to Miss USA Olivia Culpo whose answer was not impressive enough for someone who speaks English as her first language.
As far as beauty contest is concerned, the pageant community is not looking for a Miriam Defensor Santiago or a rocket scientist. It is, from its very definition, a beauty contest. The Miss Universe Organization has been choosing a winner who can represent the meaning of beauty ambassador – someone who is beautiful, confident, and charismatic. Looking at the list of winners in the past years, proficiency in the English language didn’t play a big part in winning the crown. And English proficiency does not determine someone’s capacity to perform her duties well once crowned.
In an interview with Manila Standard, Jonas Gaffud, one of Medina’s mentors, said that she has already improved. They know her waterloo and it’s one of the things his group worked on to make sure the country’s bet would be ready.
“We told her to just answer from her heart. She is already 100 percent ready. We cannot say she’s got the best chance but just like any other candidates, we can just hope to win. That’s what we are hoping for, for her to win,” Gaffud said.
Her language coach commented, on the other hand, that he is proud of Medina’s progress and defended the 5-foot-8 beauty from her bashers. “We are second language speakers of English. Errors are normal. At the end of the day, it’s just a beauty contest. Maxine will still be beautiful. She’ll still be designing interiors. She has a beautiful life ahead. I am very lucky to have trained one of the most beautiful persons that I’ve known in this lifetime. In this world full of critics, can we just be supporters instead?”
Meanwhile, Medina is determined to win the elusive back-to-back victory for the country in the 65th edition of Miss Universe. She’s dealing with a great amount of pressure. Whether or not she’d give a comprehensible answer during Q&A, people should already be proud on how she represents the country by being this year’s gracious host. That alone is already admirable, win or lose.