In this extremely well-curated group, everyone has a worthy, justifiable reason to do well. Here’s how I classified the remaining 28, according how they might (or how I hope they will) fare in the finals:
THE DARK HORSES (Alphabetical): ANTIQUE, BUKIDNON, CAGAYAN DE ORO, DAVAO DEL SUR, DAVAO OCCIDENTAL, ISABELA, MAKATI CITY, NEGROS ORIENTAL. These ladies may be outside my shortlist for the time being, but they are just as capable to advance. First, there’s Makati girl Isabelle de los Santos, who may be new to pageants but was a catwalk dynamo in the preliminaries. Her quirkiness is also hard to resist. Also hard to miss is Jedidah Korinihona, the Moana of the group who brings exciting new flavor to the roster. Solomon Islands is in the Pacific, by the way. There’s also Noelyn Rose Campos, whose transformation from varsity girl to regal beauty was incredible and Megan Digal, another interview standout with a refreshing look. It’s funny how she’s more Surfer Girl than the one representing the Surfing Paradise. Jan Louise Abejero has strong presence, and so does Comeback Queen Vincy Vacalares, who overflows with exuberance and vibrant spirit. Rounding up this tier are Grace Vendiola and late arrival Krizzaleen Valencia. Both succumbed to nerves and fatigue, respectively, in Preliminary Interview, but their performances in Swimsuit and Evening Gown might have pulled up their scores. Who knows? A roster as competitive as this predisposes us to potential surprises.
THE ALTERNATES (Alphabetical): Marinduque, Pasig City, Romblon, Siargao Island. Just outside my Top 16, but by all means also welcome to advance, are the following. There’s Simone Nicole Bornilla, the sentimental favorite and the “bunso” of the group. She screams for more experience, but the potential and popularity are certainly there. Then, there’s Pia dead ringer Princess Kristha Singh, who may have underwhelmed in Preliminary Interview, but looked gorgeous in other categories. There’s also Jane Nicole Miñano, who may have been a Top 30, but performed at a placement-worthy level. She might just score a second placement for her province. And finally, we have Michele Angela Okol, who may not be as highly regarded in the swimsuit and evening gown segments, but she could have easily topped interview.
THE SHOO-INS/TOP SIXTEEN (Alphabetical): AKLAN, ALBAY, ILOILO CITY, MASBATE, PARAÑAQUE CITY, SAN JUAN CITY. Now, on to my Top 16 picks. First, we have the compatriots of last year’s Top Two. There’s Kheshapornam Ramachandran, who may not be in all lists, but that look is impossible to exclude. Then there’s Sam Santamaria, elegance and sophistication personified, and ethereal in her Rajo Laurel preliminary gown. The next two are no strangers to the public eye. Kisses Delavin’s fans will put her up there with ease. Who knows what other surprises the actress has up her sleeve? And then, we have TikTok sensation Ayn Bernos. She already made a statement by signing up, but why stop there? It’s likely that they’ll giver her a bigger platform. Rounding up this group are two esteemed veterans. There’s Janela Joy Cuaton, a former Mutya ng Pilipinas titleholder yearning for another crowning moment, and there’s Christelle Abello. With a new look and whole new game plan, the 2021 Ginebra Calendar Girl’s ready to score her second placement in a row, but the stratified level of competition leaves no guarantees for a higher ranking. Let’s see.
POTENTIAL USURPERS/TOP TEN (Alphabetical): ANGELES CITY, CAVITE, CEBU CITY, MANDALUYONG CITY, MISAMIS ORIENTAL. These ladies are just outside my Top Five, but they can just as easily grab a Runner-Up position, perhaps even a title. There’s Victoria Vincent, who won the Top 50 Interview Challenge and can very well also sweet-talk her way to the top and out-and-proud Navy girl Bea Gomez who can be another Cebuana in the winners’ circle. There’s also no discounting the Mayor’s Daughter, the eloquent, accomplished, and fierce Corrine Abalos and “Miss Stock Market”, Mirjan Hipolito, who channels Janine Tugonon in select angles and – dare I say it – she’s Pampanga’s Best. Finally in this tier, we have Chella Grace Falconer, who may have missed out on a Mutya ng Pilipinas title before, but is more than ready to conquer here. She was a revelation in preliminaries.
THE CROWN RESERVES/RUNNERS-UP: Pangasinan and Manila. Now, we enter my Top Five. There was no doubt Maureen Wroblewitz would ace the catwalk categories. She isn’t Top Model for nothing. The real treat, however, was the depth and eloquence she displayed in her Preliminary Interview. She’s the balance of style and substance personified and might just snag a title as well. Next is Jasmine Umali. Hers is the type of Pinay beauty that can be received well on any global stage, be it Universe, be it International, or even World. Much as there were other candidates who responded more compellingly in Preliminary Interview, her answers still had substance. Either way, she seems bound for the winners’ circle, and I have a feeling we’ll see more of her after this tilt.
MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES-CHARITY 2021: LAGUNA – Leren Mae Bautista. The thought of having to make a gamble on someone who’s worn three crowns and represented the country fruitfully twice before borders on absurd. But the fact that she’s not topping all lists is indeed a concern. Still, the addition of a new title sparks a new kind of hope that her achievements will be honored either way. Fans may be divided over her prospects of returning to the global stage, but she deserves to end her pageant career on a high note.
MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES-TOURISM 2021: TAGUIG – Katrina Jayne Dimaranan. It’s funny that the title I’m predicting her to win echoes the one she bore in Bb. Pilipinas nine years ago, but do hear me out. It’s impossible to turn a blind eye to her experience. Why else would she be the near-unanimous top choice of blogs everywhere? There’s also no doubt that she can deliver globally – she already did three years ago, albeit as an American. But much as I’d just be as assured that our Miss Universe streak can continue with her, my personal choice boils down to who’s the fresher pick. Which brings me to…
MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES 2021: CEBU PROVINCE – Steffi Rose Aberasturi. This may be her national stage debut, but she’s by no means a pageant neophyte. It’s hard to grasp how someone with a megawatt smile and bubbly persona could be the subject of minor controversies. She dealt with her share. First was the pageant vlog issue, where she was on the receiving end of critiques that bordered on harsh slights. And then, there were murmurs of her political inclinations. Look, I’m not one to automatically root against someone capable on the grounds of having an opposing stand. There are conditions, and besides, how long ago was that post, even? Knowing that prep time for the next Miss Universe will run for less than two months, it’s crucial to send someone ready. After seeing her in preliminaries, it was already like seeing her on the global stage. She may need more practice in concocting her responses, but the charisma is already there. That’s why, by a hair, I’m rooting for a sandwich victory for Cebu.