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Freeman Cebu Entertainment

First time's the charm for Queen Universe 2011 winner

- Vanessa Balbuena -

CEBU, Philippines - “I come from the land of the conquistadores, the country that conquered the Philippines for 300 years. Tonight, I’m going to conquer your hearts with my charm and captivating beauty,” proclaimed the Miss Spain finalist before hollering “Viva España!” in her self-introduction during Queen 2011’s National Royal Costume opening salvo.

And conquer the night she did, as pageant first-timer Bee Urgello representing the kingdom of Spain was declared Queen Universe 2011 in a spectacle of a coronation night held last Saturday, November 5.

The 25-year-old registered nurse outshone 19 other candidates in what has been dubbed the most prestigious “pageant for alternatives” this side of the globe. Like its first two years, Queen’s third outing was held at the Pacific Grand Ballroom of Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.

Wearing an off-shoulder powder-pink creation by Cebuano designer Edwin Alba, Urgello was a stand-out with her ultra-feminine features, elegant stance and her calm yet witty retorts during the casual Q&A segment.

Asked by TV host Boy Abunda in an anything-goes interview if she thought the Philippines is ready for a gay president, Urgello was quick to respond: “Although I agree that our country is ready, I don’t think sexual orientation should be a qualification. As long as one has the skills and the heart to lead a nation, then he or she can be the next president of this country.”

She credited her smooth Q&A performance to pretending “that I was just talking to a friend.”

“I was really nervous backstage before the interview with Tito Boy. When I saw him, even if I don’t know him personally, years of watching him on television, he felt familiar. So I was relaxed while we were being interviewed,” Urgello told The FREEMAN.

Urgello comes from a highly affluent family in Cebu. Despite her status, quite a number of people close to her have attested to the newly-crowned Queen’s down-to-earth and no-airs characteristic. A resident of Maria Luisa and a graduate of the University of Cebu in Banilad, she described her win as “a dream come true.”

She related that not bagging any major special award (she received a sponsor citation as Miss Olive-C Skin) lessened her hopes of winning one of the titles at stake. “I was just really hoping to be part of the top ten. So winning was really a surprise! I’m so happy that I made everyone proud, especially my friends and family.”

Urgello was trained by her beauty titlist friends Anna Maris Igpit and Karla Henry. This is her first beauty contest, even when several pageant scouts have been prodding her to join for the longest time. Last year, she sat as audience of Queen, only to be awarded as “Best Dressed” of the evening.

For her personal advocacy, Urgello is a proud member of COLORS (Coalition for the Liberation of the Reassigned Sex), an organization which “envisions a strong, united and empowered transgender community that nurtures our welfare, and rebuild a discrimination-free as well as equal society."

Meanwhile, Miss Greece Earla dela Veyga was crowned Queen International. She was also chosen Miss Ladlad-Partylist and Face of New Placenta.

Another major winner was Miss Russia Stacy Kurnikova McBright who ended up Queen World, but not without earlier collecting the Best in Swimsuit and Best in Evening Gown awards.

Miss Thailand Honey Lee and Miss Japan Megan Young finished 1st runner-up and 2nd runner-up, respectively.

Other special awardees were: Miss Congeniality - Miss Ethiopia RC Velasquez; Miss Photogenic - Miss Indonesia Trish Gonzales; Best in National Royal Costume - Miss Mexico Maria Paula Vega; Best Costume - Miss Egypt Meg Mascardo; Best in Fun Wear - Miss Madagascar Maria Esmeralda; Miss Scent-J Perfume - Miss Peru Erika Fox; Best Designer in Fun Wear - Peewee Senining worn by Miss Madagascar; and Best Designer in Evening Gown -Jun Escario worn by Miss Italy.

Of the 98 who auditioned this year, 20 candidates were chosen to represent various countries in this pageant spearheaded by designers Cary Santiago and Wendell Quisido of the Clothes for Life Foundation.

With this year’s theme being “Imperial Princesses of the World,” the Queen 2011 production brought spectators on a royal travelogue. The program began with a journey to Imperial Japan for the national royal costume segment, to the Kingdom of Spain for the swimwear competition and Scintillating China for the fun wear.

It ended with the Opulence of Old World Russia for the evening gown competition, where all 20 ladies came across as princesses straight out of a snowy fairytale in their pink gowns designed by Cebu’s best couturiers. Show violinist Julius, a Pilipinas Got Talent finalist provided just the perfect background music with his Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and other pop hits renditions.

This year’s panel of judges were royalties in their own ways: Miss Universe 1999 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao, model-blogger Divine Lee of Global Asiatique, actor-model Victor Basa, actress Angel Aquino, Dedon Furniture’s Herve Lampert, Waterfront General Manager Alfred Porten Schlager, hairstylist Moussa Abdayem, bachelor Eduardo Ngo II and Cebu coordinator of the ICanServe Foundation Mary Ann Alcordo-Solomon.

The tilt isn’t purely glamour-centered, as it also encourages the candidates to take up philanthropy and support chosen charities. Proceeds of the event will be donated to Clothes for Life Foundation's beneficiaries: Our Lady of Divine Grace, the center for abused in Sibonga, Cebu; The Seven Sisters House of Mercy Home for the Elderly in Mojon, Talisay; Sto. Nino Childrens' Center in Liloan; and Operation Smile, a children's charity treating facial deformities.

Philanthropist and interior designer Tessa Prieto-Valdes, who graced the event, was so impressed by the whole production that she pledged her support towards Queen’s beneficiaries for 2012.

The evening also turned briefly emotional when a video tribute for former Clothes for Life President Salvador Malto was presented. This is the first Queen without Malto (known for his customized swimwear line named The Company We Keep), who passed away early this year of an aortic aneurysm.

Queen 2011 was hosted by Jude Bacalso, together with model-host Bianca Valerio and local host Vince Escario.

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