BORACAY, Philippines, May 14 ------ Filipino-Italian model Celeste Cortesi won the hearts of some of the pickiest pageant fans during the Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH) 2022 coronation night on April 30. But is she ready to take things to the next level and win the Miss Universe crown?
“You can send her tomorrow and she’s prepared,” MUPH Communications Director Voltaire Tayag said wholeheartedly. “I’ve always seen myself as living in Italy with Italian values, Italian culture,” the 24-year-old Cortesi said as she sat down with journalists in Boracay the week after the MUPH pageant. “It’s only when I became 18 years old that I got very interested in exploring my Filipina side, and I asked my mom, can I go to the Philippines?”
Cortesi added that it was that very trip to the Philippines that helped her come out of her comfort zone. “When I was living in Italy, everyday I was doing the same thing. I had a job, my family was there, I had the same friends, same kind of mindset. But when I came to the Philippines, I explored so many things that were new to me. That kind of gave me the excitement to learn more and explore more,” she said. “The people that you that you meet here are so beautiful inside and so kind that you really don’t want to leave – not just because the Philippines is a beautiful place but because of the people.”
Tayag is confident that Cortesi – who first competed in the Ms. Earth pageant back in 2018, finishing in the top 8 – can continue the country’s winning streak. “She’s amazing the way she is and we always make sure that she knows that. At this point in time, you are good enough,” Tayag said. “I think her biggest strength right now is that she’s able to become this really authentic, relatable personality,” he said. “There’s no doubt about her beauty, of course, but what people have been responding to is her authenticity – and that’s so refreshing, really beautiful.”
Tayag added that three months of intensive training await Cortesi. Their trainings will be tailor-fit to her and to the country where the pageant will be held, a huge chunk of which will be devoted to making sure she’s ready for the the pageant’s Q&A. “Even Celeste says she gets nervous – especially in the Q&A,” he said. “But in her performance, she was amazing. If there’s anything that can be improved, it would be possibly being a bit more impactful in the way she delivers. Just make the delivery a bit more dramatic.” But for now, he says, they’re focusing on keeping her mental health in check. “We believe that her overall well-being should also be managed and taken care of,” Tayag said. “So initially, we want her to enjoy.”
Thus, Cortesi and her court – Michelle Dee (Miss Universe Philippines Tourism), Pauline Amelinckx (Miss Universe Philippines Charity), Annabelle McDonnell (1st runner-up), and Ma. Katrina Llegado (2nd runner-up) – headed back to Aqua Boracay after the pageant for some fun and relaxation. The resort was where the swimsuit competition was held; Cortesi had bagged the Ms. Aqua award from that particular tilt. “I love this place and even though we stayed here for only one day, I have such good memories,” Cortesi said. “We want – first of all – aside from the media interviews, the guestings, we want her to just be able to enjoy being Ms. Universe Philippines first,” Tayag said. “No pressure, no stress.”
During their post-pageant getaway, the girls enjoyed the opening of the resort’s new day club and got to preview couturier Francis Libiran’s new collection – his first foray into resort wear, which will be sold exclusively in his upcoming store at the resort. Tayag admitted that it can be quite difficult for candidates to sustain their mental well-being from the beginning of their pageant journey all the way to the end. “We always take that into consideration, even to the dismay sometimes of some fans that may want pasabog every week,” he said. “Right now, we’re waiting for the announcement when and where the Miss Universe pageant is going to be. From there, we’ll be able to set a timeframe from where we will start with her training and all the other preparations.” This, he said will include choosing her national costume, preparing for the evening gowns, and at the same time working on her fitness and other skills. “There’s always a right time for everything.”
One of the most glaring criticisms thrown at Filipino beauty queens is that most of the ones sent to compete abroad are of mixed race, Cortesi among them. The current Miss Universe PH title holder speaks Italian and English while carrying an Italian last name. For Tayag, however, Cortesi is Filipino enough, and questioning her identity – and that of the previous queens and delegates – would be unfair to mixed-race Filipinos all over the world.
“Her heart is the one that tells her she’s Filipino,” he said. “With a lot of the mixed heritage delegates or queens that we’ve had, I always remind people, you’re never asked whether you love your mom or your dad more…. They are, who they are. Their heritage is both the foreign blood and the Filipino blood. So that’s something that should be celebrated instead of being looked down upon, or instead of being criticized for. “At the end of the day, that’s their identity and that should be loved and respected,” he went on. “You don’t need to ever choose between two things, you can be both.” Tayag is firm that Cortesi should never compromise who she is just to please people. “You just have to represent who you are, and intrinsically, you are Filipino. So, there shouldn’t be a struggle.”