When beauty queens become local celebrities

By Elvin Luciano/cnnphilippines.com – Filipinos, as several pageant commentators have declared, are among the best pageant fans in the world. But their love and adoration are not just reserved for the Filipina pambato. Each time international pageants are held in the Philippines, the ladies not only compete for the crown, but also for the cheers and admiration of the enthusiastic home crowd. And several times, select delegates emerge from the group of the world’s most beautiful women as crowd favorites and national sweethearts, winning not necessarily a crown, but the hearts of the fans from this side of the earth.

In 1994, Filipinos fell in love with a crowd favorite, Australia’s Michelle Van Eimeren, who also fell in love with a Filipino singer-actor, Ogie Alcasid. The two met at one of Miss Universe’s pre-pageant activities, where Alcasid was tapped to be a talent for the segment.

Van Eimeren’s unusual pairing with Alcasid (the beauty queen stands at 5’10” while the comedian is 5’4″) sparked a lot of interest from the public. While audiences were rooting for the country’s top matinee idols like Richard Gomez or Aga Muhlach to win the hearts of the Miss Universe ladies, it was Alcasid who pulled a surprise, while representing the regular Pinoy guy.

The team-up was unexpected but it had brilliant chemistry. The couple starred in comedy films like “Manolo en Michelle, Hapi Together” (1994); “Syempre Ikaw Lang… Ang Syota Kong Imported” (1996); and “Pwera Biro, Mahal Kita” (1996).

The Australian breakout star also became part of Filipino movie history when she and Alcasid appeared in and voiced the 1995 fantasy movie “Isko: Adventures in Animasia,” widely believed to be the first Filipino full-length animated with live-action film.

Van Eimeren got married to Alcasid in 1996 and for more than a decade, stayed in the country to work. She was quick to learn the Filipino language, which made it easier for her to do several TV appearances and projects, including a morning talk show, GMA 7’s “Brunch.”

Van Eimeren now lives in Australia with her new husband, after the annulment of her marriage with Alcasid in 2007.

Although not a contestant in 1994 — she was the reigning Miss Universe then — Puerto Rico’s Dayanara Torres also caught the eyes and the hearts of Filipino pageant watchers, with her Cinderella backstory and her charming personality. While leading the pre-pageant activities all over Manila, Dayanara Torres became a household name, growing her Filipino fan base even after passing on the crown to eventual 1994 winner, India’s Sushmita Sen.

Torres’ movie career in the Philippines started in 1995 with “Basta’t Kasama Kita,” a romantic drama opposite Aga Muhlach, with whom she had a real life relationship with. Like Van Eimeren, Torres also appeared in a landmark Filipino film, “Hataw Na” (1995), a dance musical movie where she starred with Gary Valenciano.

“Hataw Na” was just one of the avenues for people to notice Torres’ dancing abilities. Torres top billed a weekly dancing show in ABC-5 (now known as TV5) called “Eezy Dancing.”

During the ‘90s shakeup in local TV (long-time ABS-CBN top-rating blocktimer “Eat Bulaga” transferred to rival network GMA, ABS-CBN moved Sunday show “Sa Linggo nAPO Sila” to the vacated noontime slot, leaving ABS-CBN scrambling to set up a Sunday noontime show), Torres was tapped to be the one of the founding hosts of a new show called “ASAP.” Splitting hosting duties with music icons Martin Nievera, Pops Fernandez, and Ariel Rivera, Torres was assigned to lead the dance segment called “Sayawnara.” Today, “ASAP” is one of Philippine TV’s biggest programs.

In 1999, Torres also appeared in the action comedy “Type Kita, Walang Kokontra,” her reunion project with actor Cesar Montano, with whom she appeared in a “Maalaala Mo Kaya” episode in 1994.

Torres eventually left the Philippines to pursue projects in her native Puerto Rico then in Hollywood.

Recently, Torres announced that she’s coming back “home” to Manila, coming full circle as she participates in the activities of the 65th Miss Universe pageant.

Not all 1994 Miss Universe personalities who remained in the country made similar successful runs. Miss Mauritius Viveka Babajee got embroiled in controversy when she was involved in the 1994 Manila Film Festival scandal. She was part of the presenting panel that announced Ruffa Gutierrez as the Best Actress (the festival committee later announced Aiko Melendez as the true winner). In 2010, it was reported that Babajee committed suicide in India.

In the 1974 staging in Manila, several contestants also stayed behind to pursue film projects, most notable of them were Miss Aruba Maureen Ava Vieira and the 1974 winner Miss Spain Amparo Muñoz.

As the latest Miss Universe pageant crowns its new queen and wraps up after January 30, the Philippines will once again find out if it’s going to have adopted daughters from the new batch of delegates — new showbiz stars who’ll follow the footsteps of their Tagalog-speaking, Filipino-loving predecessors.

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