Bold, talented and gorgeous, eight men and eight women from the Filipino community in Hsinchu showed last Sunday that they had the hearts of champions.
Like the true pros that they were, they danced, sang, modeled, and acted in a jampacked auditorium - drawing admiration, laughter, and cheers from an appreciative audience. They did not even buckle come crunch time, keeping their cool even as they stood under the glare of the kleig lights and were being watched, teased, and judged by their well-meaning peers.
In my book, those exceptional Filipinos were all winners.
The competition, the first Filipino talent search organized by the energetic Filipino Pastoral Council of the Hsinchu Cathedral, drew the participation of 16 extraordinary individuals.
Vying for the Ms. Hsinchu crown were Jackielou Ando, Jennelyn Andrin, Riclynn Gonzales Basuel, Roselyn Fanawag Calao-wa, Cecille dela Cruz Geron, Evamay Salonga Marasigan, Cheryl Nillas, and Remarie Robegoso Tinsay.
For the Mr. Hsinchu competition, the candidates were Aubrey Peterson Bermiso, Rinky Tuano, Angel Biunas Rivero Jr., Emir Casidsid Cunanan, Erwin David Sampang, Wendel Chicano, Almer Jason Mendoza, and Emerito Hernandez Guinto.
The three-member judging panel was comprised of Sister Leonie Ablanida, Indonesian social worker Melia of the Hsinchu labor bureau, and this writer.
Wendel Chicano and Jackielou Ando were declared the top winners last Sunday, clinching the much-coveted "Mr. and Ms. Hsinchu" crowns respectively.
Rinky Tuano, Emir Cunanan, and Almer Mendoza were named first, second, and third runners-up respectively in the Mr. Hsinchu contest. In the Ms. Hsinchu pageant, Jennelyn Andrin, Roselyn Calao-wa, and Cecille Geron were declared first, second, and third runners-up respectively.
Contestants in both pageants underwent a grueling four-hour match, and vied in five categories: Casual wear, formal wear, sports wear, talent, and on-stage Q&A.
Several other awards were handed out during the night: Rinky and Jackielou for "best in casual wear," Almer and Cecille for "best in sports wear," Rinky and Remarie for "best in gown and barong," and Emir and Jennelyn for "best in talent."
Erwin and Ricklynn were named "Mr. and Ms. Friendship," while Wendel and Roselyn were declared "Mr. and Ms. Photogenic." Emerito and Roselyn each received the "Parishioners' Choice Award."
"It was really a great day. I was so proud of everyone. It was so sad that some had to 'lose,'" said the Reverend Eamon Sheridan, migrant chaplain for the Diocese of Hsinchu and director of the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk.
"They all put so much effort into it. The Filipino Pastoral Council of the Hsinchu Cathedral had been simply fantastic, and it is such an honor for me to be working with them." The pastoral council is headed by Wendell Estimo.
Just like what the reigning Ms. Hsinchu - Jackielou Ando - said during the question-and-answer portion of the competition, the word "talented" fit Filipinos to a "T," Father Eamon said.
"(The 'Mr. and Ms. Hsinchu' search) certainly proved that," he continued. (The priest is a man of many talents himself. Last Sunday, Father Eamon gamely took off his coat to the crowd's delight, and sang "Pasko Na Sinta Ko.")
The "Mr. and Ms. Hsinchu" pageant raised approximately NT$400,000 for the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk. The desk, headed by Father Eamon, is comprised of Filipino social worker Paul Jarobilla; Taiwanese social worker Amy Wan; and Filipina sisters Maria Norma Mallorca C.M., and Cristeta Grana O.S.A.
"Every penny that has been raised will go back to you. Every penny will be spent on you to make your lives a little bit easier," Father Eamon told the Filipino audience.
"Wendell (Estimo) said life in Taiwan is not easy. It's not easy for any of you. Thank you for your support during the past year, and I hope and pray that next year will be one of joy and peace."
Nothing could be more worthwhile than raising funds for the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk, Wendell added.
"They are always there to provide aid to migrants in need. This year alone, the desk handled over a thousand cases," the president of the Filipino Pastoral Council of the Hsinchu Cathedral said.
Dream come true
Jackielou Ando, this year's Ms. Hsinchu, still could not believe that she had indeed won the pageant.
"I never expected to win," Jackielou said. "Even my parents couldn't believe it. I told them, 'Wait until you see my photos.' That should convince them that I have not been dreaming all this."
A native of Bogo, Cebu, the 22-year-old dusky beauty represented the Promos Community at the competition.
"When I learned that the pastoral council was staging this contest, I signed up for it. Win or lose, I felt this was an opportunity not to be missed. I saw it as a challenge," Jackielou said. "I lacked self-confidence and I had always been shy. This pageant helped me get rid of my insecurities."
She found the experience nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time.
"I found it liberating," the reigning Ms. Hsinchu said. It was the first beauty and talent search that she had participated in.
"After going through all that, I have realized that nothing really is impossible as long as you put your heart and mind into it. Believe in yourself, and you will accomplish great things."
Jackielou was also more than happy to support the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk.
"At least, I was able to give something back to this organization which has been doing so much for the Filipinos in Hsinchu," she continued. "I am encouraging all our fellow Filipinos to always support the pastoral council and the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk."
Wendel Chicano, a native of Taft, Eastern Samar, said winning the Mr. Hsinchu title had changed his life. Armed with an engineering degree, the Tatung Chinaware employee joined the competition to give his self-confidence a boost, and support the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk.
"I was actually the last candidate who signed up for the contest," Wendel said. "Initially, I really did not want to join but my friends said I should give it a try. They also promised that they would be supporting me. When I heard them say that, I thought, 'Yeah, why not?'"
His friends fulfilled their pledge, he said.
"They were my critics and my audience," Wendel laughed. "They helped me pick the clothes that I wore at the contest, and they taught me how to do the 'model's walk' at a park. On the day of the competition itself, they were all there, rooting for me."
The newly crowned Mr. Hsinchu admitted that he nearly lost his nerve when he dropped the microphone during the talent competition.
"But when the audience started to sing along with me, I regained my composure and confidence," Wendel said. "I also tried to stay focused during the Q&A portion. I felt I had a fighting chance."
His newly found confidence however melted away when he failed to get one minor award.
"When I got into the finals, I heaved a sigh of relief," Wendel said. "When I was the only one left standing there, that's when I realized that I had actually won! It was unbelievable."
His co-workers, friends, and even his Tatung Chinaware bosses are extremely proud of him, he said.
"Even our Taiwanese bosses call me 'Mr. Hsinchu.' I have also been inundated with invitations to parties and community events this Christmas. Naku, celebrity na ako! (Oh, I'm a celebrity now!)," he joked.
"One group even specifically asked me to prepare a song number. I said, 'I can't sing.' The host replied, 'Yes, you can. I saw you perform.'"
The other candidates said the talent-and-beauty search had taught them valuable lessons.
"I did my best, and I felt I was able to hold my own during the contest. That's gratifying enough for me," said Cavite native Erwin David Sampang. He went home with the "Mr. Friendship" award.
"I was able to do it. I'm prepared for just about anything now," he continued.
The crooner, who sang Ogie Alcasid's "Ikaw Sana," had a huge following at the competition. His nearly flawless performance drew cheers and screams from the crowd, especially from the swooning women in the audience.
"I did not expect my song number to be that good," said Erwin, an employee of Far Eastern Textile. "We recorded the music that same day, and the sound guys warned me that it might come out murky. They also encountered some technical problems when my number came up. I thought, 'This is it. I won't be able to compete in the talent portion.'"
Fortunately, the technical glitch had been solved, and Erwin got to do his number.
Second runner-up Emir Casidsid Cunanan of Boracay, Aklan also won the audience over with his terrific acting ability. Named "best in talent," this promising thespian represented the Champion Dormitory in Chupei.
"I really love to act," he said. "If there's one thing that I am naturally good at, it's theater."
The Mr. Hsinchu competition was the first talent search that he had ever participated in, said Emir.
"The contest opened a lot of doors for me, and gave me the chance to give something back to the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk and the Filipino community," he continued. "It made me more self-confident and it gave me the opportunity to make new friends. Following the contest, I received several text messages from people I barely knew. They were all congratulating me."
Riclynn Gonzales Basuel, who bagged the "Ms. Friendship" award, said the competition changed her life.
"Before the pageant, I was just an ordinary individual, but during and after the (contest), I gained a lot of friends. (I also) became known and more noticeable. I became more confident about myself," Riclynn said.
"Although I wasn't crowned 'Ms. Hsinchu,' I feel that I have become an instant role model. (I know that) all my actions are being watched, and I have to do my best to act according to what is good and moral. This is one experience that I will cherish, and that's the reason why I have no plans of joining next year's pageant."
Emerito Hernandez Guinto of Balagtas, Bulacan said he was glad he signed up for the Mr. Hsinchu competition.
"It's an experience that I will treasure for a long, long time," said Emerito, who bagged the "Parishioners' Choice Award." His fantastic acting ability also impressed the crowd last Sunday.
"I have always been a keen supporter of the community, and participating in the contest was my way of saying 'thank you' to the Hsinchu Migrant Concern Desk and the Filipino Pastoral Council," he said.
The experience gave him the chance to bond with his friends, and make new ones, Emerito added.
"The contest had really been challenging, and I feel that I have come out of it stronger and more confident," he said. "We are all winners."
First runner-up Jennelyn Andrin agreed.
"We all did our best, and by doing so, we were able to make our kababayans happy for a few hours at least," said Jennelyn, a native of Iloilo province.
"God has been very kind to me. Throughout the competition, I knew that He was there guiding me."
The beauty-and-talent search was supported by Philippine Airlines, Anthony Bignoli, Linda's Store, My Friend, Pugad Pinoy, Forex Cargo, Bicol Express, Bing Go, EEC, Cosmos, Aries, E.J. Store, Rose Flores, American Boulevard, Chen Lien Jarobilla, Bahay Kubo, Cordillera Community, Leni Torrobias, and Mr. and Mrs. William Lee.