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Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, Miss Universe 2015 from the Philippines. (Photo: Getty Images)
Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, aka Miss Universe 2015 by way of the Philippines, is a professional onstage and offstage. When she visited the Yahoo Beauty office in early January, she remained reserved and discrete — in spite of the Miss Universe sash around her dress — until the camera started filming. Once we were broadcasting live to hundreds of fans on Periscope, 26-year-old Wurtzbach became the beloved Miss Universe, catwalking down the hallway blowing kisses, advising “being in love” as her best beauty tip, and singing a few verses of Aretha Franklin’s “I Will Survive.” She had just come from a radio interview with Sirius XM and would be interviewing with Filipino television stations in the afternoon, but even if she did appear tired at all, you wouldn’t notice on camera.
We witnessed her professionalism at the infamous televised Miss Universe pageant, when host Steve Harvey announced that he had misread the ballot card, declaring Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez, as Miss Universe instead of Wurtzbach. “I have to apologize — the first runner-up…is Colombia,” Harvey said. The camera panned to Wurtzbach, her eyes darting around the screaming theatre while Miss USA, Olivia Jordan, burst into tears on her behalf. “What?” Wurtzbach mouths. “What?” she asked again. “I think you just won,” Jordan whispered behind her ear. Harvey then announced the Miss Universe 2015 for the second time that night: “Miss Universe 2015 is…PHILIPPINES!” The 5’8” actress, model, and former beauty editor clasped her hand to her mouth in surprise, while walking down the stage for her crowning. She beamed gently for the cameras while the Gutiérrez was de-crowned by Miss Universe 2014, Paulina Vega. In late January, Wurtzbach would return to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, for her homecoming, where she would get a parade and the long awaited celebratory tribute walk she missed out on at the pageant.
Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach after winning Miss Universe 2015. (Photo: Instagram)
“Just making it into the top two was already such a big deal for me,” Wurtzbach told Yahoo Beauty. “I was thinking, during rehearsals, ‘I wonder what it’s like to be there, when you’re the last two standing, and it’s just between the two of you.’” When Wurtzbach walked backstage as the first runner-up, she actually felt relieved to see that her fellow countrymen were congratulating her and still proud of her. “That’s all I wanted anyway,” she said. “The actual result is out of my control.” After the unforgettable Miss Universe pageant in late December, Wurtzbach was flown immediately to New York City to move into her new apartment, while the drama played out in the media for days afterwards. Wurtzbach, whose father is German and whose immediate family currently lives in England, spent Christmas Day alone — in peace. “It was quiet,” she said, shrugging. It’s not a bad way to spend the holidays, especially considering the uproar about Steve Harvey’s misreading on both Colombian and Filipino social media. In both the Philippines and Colombia, the Miss Universe pageant is not just a one-night spectacle — it’s a matter of distinguishing themselves on a world stage. “Their soccer teams may often fail on the world stage, but with the pageants, they can show off,” Juan Forero wrote in The New York Times in November 2001. “Colombians need the hope of beauty, they need the presentation of beauty, to feel connected, to feel proud,” Michael Stanfield, PhD, a professor at the University of San Francisco added. “You occasionally have a Colombian win a stage of the Tour de France or someone winning a car race, but nothing rallies that sense of national identification like the beauty queen.”
Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach competing in the Miss Universe 2015 pageant. (Photo: Getty Images)
Wurtzbach wants to be in Hollywood after her reign is over, citing Meryl Streep as an acting idol, but the desire to become Miss Universe was a childhood dream. “I’ve always wanted this,” she said. Wurtzbach was born in Stuttgart, Germany and speaks rudimentary German (“Enough to get myself a bratwurst,” she noted), but moved to the Philippines at age five, just in time for kindergarten. At age 14, she began working in local television and film as Pia Romero, appearing in a variety of rom coms, dramas, teen shows, and sitcoms. She also did a stint as a beauty writer at national broadsheet newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer — and her interest in beauty products is still highly nuanced, even for a beauty queen. “I’ve been stocking up on dry shampoo,” she said. “We don’t have dry shampoo in the Philippines yet. I notice that here in the U.S, there are a lot of volumizing products, like salt spray. In the Philippines, the humidity can make your hair a bit flat, so I’m wondering, how come we don’t have this back home?” Wurtzbach admits to having naturally lily-white skin, a point of pride in a country where being as pale as possible is seen as the beauty ideal. But for Miss Universe, a pageant where over one-third of the winners come from Latin American countries, the sunkissed Brazilian bombshell tan is almost indispensable for winning. “I think the pageant is more diverse nowadays,” Wurtzbach said, taking note of Ariana Miyamoto, whose crowning as the first half-black Miss Japan launched debates about what makes oneself Japanese.
Miss Universe 2015, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, with her roommate at the pageant, Miss Myanmar 2015, May Barani Thaw. (Photo: Instagram)
After the pageant, many of the contestants still keep in contact in a massive group chat using WhatsApp. Wurtzbach herself became very close to Miss Malaysia, Miss Myanmar (her roommate at the pageant), and Miss China because they were supervised in the same cohort. “I wouldn’t say there are alliances at the pageant, but I understand if you can’t speak the language, you would want to hang out with someone who understands you,” she said. “I mean, sometimes there are language barriers, and that’s okay. We try to talk to each other in sign language.” These days, the WhatsApp conversations are the only occasions she gets to talk to friends. The Miss Universe pageant went viral after Harvey’s blunders — he even got asked back to be the host next year — and Wurtzbach has to use the momentum to get her platform about HIV awareness and position as a defacto diplomat across.
“I had a few days during the holidays to get settled in and take a break, but now we’ve started with the work, so I’m happy with that,” Wurtzbach said. “I finally feel like I’m Miss Universe, now that I’m actually at work.” On Periscope, when she said “being in love” was the best beauty tip, her fans panicked — “Is she in love with anyone?” many asked. Wurtzbach laughed when she found out this response off-camera. “You don’t have to be in love with someone!” she said. “You could be in love with the crown. You could be in love in New York City!” She admits that she won’t have time to entertain the notion of a romantic relationship — or even spend much time with friends and family — this year. “They know that they have to give me this time to really focus on my work and myself, and so far none of them are feeling bad,” she said. “That’s probably one of the hardest parts. There’s no time for that. Let alone a guy. Oh my god. There’s no time!”
Miss Universe 2015, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, visiting the Yahoo offices in January 2016. (Photo: Twitter)
She provided one last beauty tip for Yahoo Beauty readers before she rushed back to the Miss Universe office for a lunch meeting: “You have to take into account the arc of your foot when you’re buying heels,” she said. “You can have three-inch heels, very steep, and you’ll have difficult time in walking, but you can have six -inch heels, where the arc won’t feel so steep and then it’ll feel comfortable.” At 5’8”, Wurtzbach’s mother wouldn’t allow her to wear heels when she was younger — she was already very tall for the average woman in her country. But as soon as she decided to compete for Miss Universe, she started training with heels all day. “Because I knew we were going to wear five inches during the pageant, I would train with six inches,” she said. “So, when it was time to wear the five-inch heels, they felt like nothing to me. Onstage, everything becomes so easy when you prepare.”