As expected, Pia Wurtzbach’s Grand Homecoming Special was a thinly disguised Kapamilya affair. Xian Lim took on hosting duties and Dyan Castillejo was the de facto co-host. There was a Boy Abunda segment halfway through and shoehorned video shout-outs by LizQuen and KathNiel. The musical intermissions were serviceable, though Jed Madela‘s bit could have been interspersed with more Pia snippets. The show’s about her, after all.
Erik Santos and Yeng Constantino opened the show with You Are the Universe. And, just when it started to feel like Star in a Million VS. Pinoy Dream Academy, out came Asia’s Got Talent’s Gerphil Flores belting the chorus in spot-on soprano.
The opening was punctuated by a parade of former Bb. Pilipinas-Universe beauties. It was indeed a nostalgic roll call, albeit with some noticeable no-shows. In attendance were Simonette de los Reyes (1970), Vida Doria (1971), Chiqui Brosas (1975), Criselda “Dang” Cecilio (1979), Maricar Mendoza (1981), Desiree Verdadero (1984), Joyce Ann Burton (1985), Germelina Leah Padilla (1990), Abbygale Arenas (1997), Nina Ricci Alagao (2000), Karen Agustin (2002), Gionna Cabrera (2005), Lia Andrea Ramos (2006), and Bianca Manalo (2009). Miriam Quiambao (1999), Venus Raj (2010), and Ariella Arida (2013) served as additional correspondents later in the program.
As for the no-shows, it’s easy to explain the absence of Shamcey Supsup (2011), who had just given birth, and Janine Tugonon (2012), who relocated to L.A. not long after her stint. But then, what about the likes of Pilar Pilapil (1967) and Charlene Gonzalez (1994)? Also missing was Pia’s immediate predecessor, MJ Lastimosa (2014). One would expect her to have a pivotal role in the program, given that her showbiz career is gaining momentum. Then again, she wasn’t the most glaring absentee that evening. More on that later.
Due to “technical difficulties”, the live audience didn’t get to see the AVP chronicling Pia’s journey. Fortunately, TV viewers did. Turns out, the AVP actually constituted a huge chunk of the telecast, with the taped Araneta portions serving more as inserts.
The first half of the AVP highlighted Pia’s early years and brief showbiz career, while the second half recounted her three-year Bb. Pilipinas journey. Clips from her early TV appearances provided an eerie foreshadowing: One episode from the youth-oriented drama K2BU showed Pia’s character joining a beauty contest.
After a lengthy bit by Dyan Castillejo, it was time for Pia’s grand entrance. The Queen was serenaded by Sam Milby and Piolo Pascual to the tune of Rico Blanco‘s Your Universe. She channeled a brunette Veronica Lake as she glided across the stage in her long-sleeved velvety green gown. The reception was, of course, overwhelming.
Banter and inside jokes ensued after the song. In case you’re intrigued by the familiarity among them: Pia was Piolo’s Bora co-star, while Sam is connected to her through common friends.
The Boy Abunda interview then followed suit. While it almost played like an episode of his weeknight talk show, it showcased a side of Pia that was unrehearsed, natural, and endearing. It was a welcome breather from the pageant veneer she had to put on during the past couple of months. Here were some of the highlights:
On why local interviews rattle her more than ever, now that she has a title to uphold:
“Kinakabahan pa rin ako pag dito sa Pilipinas. Siguro gusto ko kasing pagbutihin talaga kasi alam ko nang kababayan ko iyong nanonood” [I still get nervous when it’s here in the Philippines. Maybe it’s because I really want to do well knowing that my countrymen are watching.]
On whom she would have chosen as Miss Universe:
“Unbiased [Omitted line]. I really like Miss USA. Because, when I got the chance to speak to her while we were still candidates, basically, we hit it off right away. She was very genuine, very warm, and we also have a lot of things in common, because, like me, she also joined [local pageants] a few times. So, she knows what it’s like to join pageants. It was a long journey for her getting there as well.“
On being called “stuck-up”, “distant”, and “guarded” by other MU2015 contestants:
“With Miss Paraguay, for example, I wasn’t able to really talk to her because she can’t speak English. Ang hirap kasing pilitin mo iyong sarili mo kung mayroon kayong language barrier. [It’s hard to force yourself when you know you have a language barrier] So, I think it’s only natural that you would communicate with candidates you’re more comfortable with. So, that’s understandable. But for the others…Activities are happening simultaneously, so you don’t get to see the same girl every day. I might not see Miss Australia for 3 days, ganyan, because she’s doing something else and I’m doing something else. So it’s really difficult to be best friends with everybody.“
On who her closest friends were during the pageant [Omitted from the telecast]:
“I had a very solid group of friends in Miss Universe. I was very close with Miss Malaysia, Miss China, and Miss Myanmar, because we’re all under one supervisor. I was very close with Asian candidates. Miss Dominican Republic was very nice. Miss Mexico was very nice to me. South Africa also, and Bahamas, I really liked her as well. And Bolivia.” [CURIOSITIES: 1) While we were swayed to peg the Latinas as “Anti-Pia” after the mis-crowning scandal, it’s a relief hearing Pia mention the likes of Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Bolivia. Then again, two of them were more American in upbringing. 2) There was no mention of Miss Bulgaria, who became viral after wildly cheering for Pia in the background. Perhaps, we were simply reading too much into her reaction, in hindsight. (Rest assured, Radost, you still earned hordes of fans here)]
On Perez Hilton’s support:
“I never got the chance to see him again after the pageant night…Siguro, the way I was able to thank him was during The Steve Harvey Show, where I said, I really appreciate Perez Hilton for being so vocal and defending me, really, in the public. I appreciate that very much, and I hope he got my thank you.”
On being the shortest among the Top 3 finalists [Omitted from telecast]:
“I never thought that my height was a problem during the pageant.”
On her “reunion” with PNoy, and whether or not the conversation became personal: “No, because my Mom was sitting beside me [Laughter from audience]. Kidding aside, I’m very natural with him. I just asked him what his plans were, with 50 plus days remaining before he finishes his term, and what he plans to do after.”
Other highlights omitted from the telecast:
Pia thanking her supporters in English, Tagalog, Bisaya, and German; Pia professing her appreciation for the LGBT community
Of course, the victory party warranted a little history lesson. After a video tribute to our first two Miss Universe titleholders, Miss Universe 1973 Margie Moran-Floirendo took the stage for a brief chatter.
Onstage, Margie recounted her experiences competing in Athens, Greece: “…Unlike today, there were only three Filipinos in the audience. Wala pang OFWs at that time, in 1973! [There weren’t OFWs yet in 1973] Pero, I was still the favorite of the crowd. I was Miss Photogenic as well. I was the favorite of the press. Iyong mga tatlong Filipinos doon ay mga taga-Embassy pa!” [The only three Filipinos in attendance were even from the Embassy!] Indeed, it’s a far cry from how Filipino supporters dominated live pageant audiences in years of late – a testament to how pageant fandom has evolved decades later. Regarding her victory, Margie had this to say: “I felt like a Greek goddess, a Hellenic goddess…When I won, I felt I was the most important person at that moment. And I was so proud to wear the sash Philippines.”
An unsettling sense of incompleteness permeated when Xian summoned Pia back to the stage. Pageant fans noticed the conspicuous absence of Gloria Diaz, our country’s first Miss Universe from 1969. It was later on revealed that she was in Japan for a previously-set engagement. While there’s nobody to blame but unfortunate timing, the void was just too glaring to ignore. To many, it was a missed milestone. How momentous it could have been to see all three Filipina Miss Universes parading hand in hand!
Nonetheless, Pia looked immaculate as she once again took the stage, now with her official diamond tiara in tow. Sporting her now-iconic blue Albert Andrada gown this time, Pia replicated her victorious snap turns to a string rendition of Taylor Swift‘s Love Story. As silver confetti engulfed the stage towards the end, Pia was joined onstage by the Bb. Pilipinas sisterhood – a sisterly huddle immortalized by a sea of smart phone cameras.
Indeed, it was the conclusion to the Miss Universe 2015 pageant that we wanted to see – free of controversy and uproar; cheers without contrasting jeers; just a Queen grinning from ear to ear and stadium filled with extremely happy countrymen. And it all happened where Pia’s pageant journey began – at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.