Ace of queens
POGI FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSE - RJ Ledesma (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2016 - 9:00am

Behind the Miss Universe scenes with Pia Wurtzbach’s queenmaker.

After a gap of 42 years —and a major, major Steve Harvey on-air faux pas — the Philippines again has bragging rights to Miss Universe 2015. (Take that Mars, Krypton and Jakku!)

And part of the credit for that win we owe to the efforts of one Jonas Gaffud.

Jonas is like the Professor X of local beauty pageants: aside from being president and manager of Mercator Artist and Model Management, he also heads Aces and Queens — an informal group of professionals who scout and train girls for beauty contests (particularly the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants).

For the non-beauty pageant geeks among us, Aces and Queens scouted and trained Venus Raj (fourth runner-up, Miss Universe 2010), Shamcey Supsup (third runner-up, Miss Universe 2011), Gwen Ruais (first runner-up, Miss World), Janine Tugonon (first runner-up, Miss Universe 2012), Ariella Arida (third runner-up, Miss Universe 2014), Megan Young (Miss World 2013) and, of course, Pia Wurtzbach (Miss Universe 2015).

I interviewed Jonas after he returned from New York (where he joined Pia as she dropped by the Miss Universe office and also visited her swanky Miss Universe apartment) and found out how his lack of a Barbie collection as a child made him the beauty queen maker he is today, his “secret” formula to scouting beauty queens and finally, what he thinks of Mr. Steve Harvey.

 RJ LEDESMA: There are many discreet paths towards world domination: through technological breakthroughs, through addictive social media applications and through noontime variety show love teams. In your case, you have chosen the beauty pageant route. How did you get drawn into beauty pageants in the first place?

JONAS GAFFUD: I really don’t know. When I was a still a kid, I would read my mom’s magazines, especially if they were about beauty pageants. When I watched TV, beauty contests would attract me. Many years later, right before I graduated from UP, my adviser asked me what I planned to do after graduation. I didn’t know what kind of work I would get as a geography major, so I jokingly told him that I would join Binibining Pilipinas.    

Well, at least there’s a tangential connection to geography.

But I was really obsessed with Miriam Quiambao (Bb. Pilipinas-Universe 1999) and Nina Ricci Alagao (Bb. Pilipinas-Universe 2000). When Nina didn’t make it, I was so devastated that I couldn’t even eat for a day! The following year, I discovered and mentored Zorayda Andam, the successor of Nina, who eventually became Bb. Pilipinas-Universe 2001. That was my initiation and I won!

That’s your geography lesson right there! Jonas, I’m curious. I don’t think we’re wired the same way when it comes to appreciating the female form during beauty pageants. How exactly do you appreciate beauty pageant contests?

I see (beauty queens) like living Barbie dolls. (Laughs) I wasn’t allowed to play with Barbie dolls when I was a kid, so maybe this made me more enthusiastic about (being a “beauty queen maker”). 

Wow. You’re living the Cinderella dream of a beauty queen fan who became the beauty queen maker.

(Laughs) It’s very easy for beauty pageant fans to be very passionate about (contests), but the question is, can you transcend it? Can you teach it to someone? Can you strategize (how to win)?

Having said that, you’re sort a rocket scientist now when it comes to building beauty queens. Do you have a formula when it comes to finding a potential beauty queen?

I don’t even know. (Laughs) Well, number one is the physical attributes of the girl. She has to be beautiful, tall, long-legged and her body structure must be proportional. Then another part is “instinct.” I can’t really describe it, but when we “discover” girls, I just know that certain girls have (beauty queen potential). But you still need to train them on how to “act” like a beauty queen which includes walking, posture and how to answer questions.

If only we could turn your instinct into an app. Is there any “objective” type of beauty that you are on the lookout for? For example, do you follow the Golden Ratio when it comes to facial features? 

For the longest time, we were looking for that dusky morena who could represent us in Miss World and Miss Universe because we believed that that (type of beauty) was what the foreign judges were looking for. But Megan and Pia proved that that was not the case. (Having said that), they aren’t the type of “tisays” who don’t have a trace of “Pinay” in their faces.

Physical beauty is a major consideration in pageants, but what are the other X-factors that the judges are looking for? How about their talents? Of if they’ve done some charity work? Or negotiated world peace?

I’m very happy that Miss Universe (looks for) someone who is intelligent and articulate. On top of that, we also need girls who can walk well — which is my specialty. Walking in heels is not just about emoting; it’s about posture and how you project. Your aura must radiate. 

I’ll try to radiate the next time I wear my stilettos. What has changed in the selection and training process that has turned the Philippines into a beauty queen powerhouse over the past few years?

Nothing has really changed, but what’s (probably different) is that we have two “camps” of discoverers and trainers who equip the contestants with proper techniques for the pageants. One camp is Aces and Queens and the other camp is Kagandahang Flores — and, in fairness to them, they have it for Miss International and Miss Earth. Because of the silent competition between our camps, the girls are already competitive before they even join the pageants. 

So Aces and Queens is like the “marines” for future beauty queens? What are your training camps like? Are they trained to weaponize their high heels?

We scout the girls six months ahead of time so that we can prepare them well for the pageant. Our contestants go to the gym three times a week, we train for the Q&A every week, and I train them to walk twice a week.

How do you train them for the Q&A? Do you send them to image consultants? Toastmasters? Law school?

Actually, our trainer for the Q&A is a lawyer who teaches in UP and FEU law. He has been with me (at Aces and Queens) from the start and we scouted for contestants together. 

So how do you prepare them to answer all the possible questions in a pageant aside from world peace?

We study the questions from all the beauty pageants from the past. Part of our training is to answer the question without negating the Q&A or else your answer will become longer and you won’t have time to finish answering the question in 30 seconds. But admittedly, we were surprised with the “US bases” question as that never came up in our Q&A training.

You were rather persistent with Pia, weren’t you? What made you think that she had a shot at Miss Universe despite the fact that she didn’t win Bb. Pilipinas-Universe in her first two attempts?

I was the one who scouted Pia to join pageants and I found her really beautiful. I think she really needed those three years to bloom (into the beauty queen she is today).

What a confidently beautiful answer. How did it feel when Steve Harvey made the initial announcement of the winner of Miss Universe?

I usually run outside and smoke whenever an announcement is being made. (When Steve was about to make his announcement), I was about to run outside for the third time. But when I went to the usher, she told me that my ticket was so worn out that if I tried to reenter the venue, the ticket would no longer be scannable. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran towards the entrance and found a restroom where I could hide in (so that I wouldn’t hear the announcement). But when I was inside, I realized I could still hear Steve announce the second runner-up! 

I’m sure you would have dunked your head in the toilet bowl if you could have stopped yourself from hearing that announcement!

When they were about to announce the winner, I was praying really hard and repeating to myself, “Philippines, Philippines.” But when they announced Colombia, I just stared out (into space). Then I looked at my cellphone and (saw on my social media feed) that so many Pinoys were angry with the announcement. After (I composed myself), I reentered the venue and saw that the Pinoy pageant fans along with pageant fans from Venezuela, Mexico and Africa (with the exception of Colombia) weren’t happy with the decision. It was like they didn’t know what was happening.  But we noticed that when Steve came down from the stage after announcing Miss Colombia as the winner, a lot of Miss Universe staff came up to him, and we saw him shaking his head. So when he came back onstage and announced, “I apologize,” we all started screaming because we knew that something was wrong.

And what do you think of Steve Harvey now? 

I love him! Come on, let’s give him a break. Maybe he wasn’t used to (hosting) pageants where you announce the first runner-up first. Baka naguluhan lang siya. It was a mistake, and a lot of people make mistakes.  It was just a bad mistake. Kawawa lang si Miss Colombia, but he had to own up to that mistake and give Pia the crown. Unlike what Donald Trump suggested, you can’t really have them share the crown because they didn’t tie in the scores. Pia was the unanimous decision for Miss Universe. However, that moment made her the most famous Miss Universe! I mean in this day and age, who really notices the winner of Miss Universe? But when we went walking around Times Square (in New York), people were all buzzing about her! And everybody was telling her that she deserved to win!

It seems Steve Harvey’s gaffe turned out to be in Pia’s favor after all. I think Steve will have a promising career in the Philippines as a presidential spokesperson.

* * *

For comments or suggestions or the answer to world peace, visit or email  Follow @rjled on Twitter and @rjled610 on Instagram.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with