In this MEGA exclusive, we catch up with Catriona Gray and Nicole Cordoves and talk about all things pageant, passion, and promise as forever binibinis.
“Once a binibini, always a binibini,” and so goes the enduring mantra of every woman who has come and gone through the rigors and sisterhood of Binibining Pilipinas. As comforting as it sounds, it is more than just a friendly assurance, but a promise that goes beyond the sash, the intimidating walls of the Araneta Coliseum where the pageant is traditionally held every year, and hopefully, a crown glinting on its perch atop one’s coiffed ‘do. Much like a blood compact, this declaration welcomes once-upon-a-time hopefuls to a fold that is more family than anything else, bound not only by a common experience, but of a singular dream that compels these ladies to push and persist for more even well after their tenure has run its course.
For forever binibinis, Catriona Gray and Nicole Cordoves, this is so much true and more, especially this year, as they are set to take this phrase and redefine local pageantry as we have become to be so immersed and invested in it for so, so long. “Cat and I share the same passion—talking. We’ve hosted together before and we can’t resist to pull girls aside to give them advice. Even when I host Binibining Pilipinas, I take every opportunity backstage to tell girls good things they need to hear that night, especially when they seem nervous,” begins Nicole Cordoves, Miss Grand International 2016 1st Runner Up, walking us through how the idea of them filling in as mentors for this year’s edition of the competition. “Wanting to do more and give more, we offered Binibining Pilipinas if we can provide workshops for the girls and they said, yes.”
After teasing about the possibility of taking some sort of reins in a formative function with the country’s most prestigious pageant system, it was finally confirmed that the two standout queens were to provide online training and pageant classes to help the current batch of 40 candidates and give them that winning chance in their undertaking for one of six crowns up for grabs this year. “I’ve become very passionate about mentorship. It’s because of good mentorship and support system that I believe I was able to be successful in my pursuit towards the Miss Universe crown. And that’s why I had already put it into my mind, that if the opportunity ever were to arise that I could be a mentor to the next generation of binibinis, I would jump at the chance,” echoes Catriona Gray, who at this point needs no introduction, but in case you’ve tuned out for a good year or so, she happens to be Miss Universe 2018—no biggie. “Nicole (who was a big part of my journey and was a mentor to me) and I were talking about the possibility of being mentors together. I believe we both represent binibinis who have gone on to become spokespeople, and that’s how the idea grew to become mentors to help aspirants redefine pageantry.” She is not only of course talking about their covetable placements in their respective pageants, but also of how they were able to take the opportunities from it to do much more than just be pretty—whether it be sitting, standing, and sashaying. More than just a beauty that is riveting and radiant, Nicole Cordoves and Catriona Gray are eloquent and articulate speakers that can command everything from an audience on social media, a room of workshop attendees, or a stadium packed to the brim where the attention clings on their every move they make and every word they say.
At this point, as devoted and dedicated fans of the glitter and glamour of the dazzling spectacle, we very well know that beauty pageants are way more than the vision of perfection we see onstage. Requiring years of preparation and hard work, it takes confidence in poise and personality to truly hit a stride that is self-assured regardless of what or how others perceive you to be, which is a greater feat of the pop culture zeitgeist having reclaimed the perspective from the male gaze and shifting it to the more necessary female empowerment. “Today, the role of beauty queens has evolved, especially with the rise of social media where you could actually translate your influence numerically. So, now more than ever, the influence of a beauty queen is tangible. Add to that the fact that we’re asked very political questions onstage, as opposed to previous eras in pageantry where questions revolve around those that bring out your personality. From this, you’ll see that these pageants don’t just look for a beautiful girl, they’re looking for a spokesperson. If you’re not able to answer these politically polarizing questions, it will be taken as a sign that you didn’t care enough to find out what’s affecting your countrymen,” reveals Nicole Cordoves. “This time is actually critical to really define what women empowerment is, and the social media storms we’ve been experiencing just goes to show how fragile our freedom is, as well as the privileges we currently enjoy. We need to keep female leadership strong and that’s the goal for our girls. We may not bring home the crown every time, but we need to send out representatives that we would be proud of who break the ceiling and set a higher standard every year,”
It isn’t just a winning chance that Catriona Gray and Nicole Cordoves are assuring for the Binibining Pilipinas candidates this year with their work-from-home setup of personal mentoring sessions, but rather setting them for their even bigger and monumental victories in their lives way after they relinquish their time with the pageant. “We’re preparing material that is applicable to their pageant journey, but also to general self-confidence, public speaking, and excelling in communication. So, no matter what path they find themselves pursuing, Nicole and I are confident that the skills they learn under our mentorship will be applicable,” affirms Catriona Gray. Nicole echoes this train of thought, adding that “The lessons won’t be technical and stiff, that’s for sure,” she says. “Conducting workshops in the last two years, I’ve come to learn that the best way to teach communication is to help your students realize their style. This means it need to bring out their personality more, not hide it and make them sound methodical in order to sound right or perfect.”
Not taking their new roles in the venerated institution that is Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. lightly, Catriona Gray and Nicole Cordoves are fully committed, making sure that they not only give the best to the girls, but also open up themselves to learning, something Catriona is looking most forward to with Nicole. “It’s what I believe the sisterhood stands for, helping lift each other up,” she gushes. “I look up to Nicole so much and am constantly inspired by her intellect and her intelligence. She’s like a sister to me, and we’re giving a space for the contestants to grow and improve, but in the process, I’m learning also from Nicole.”
“What makes this opportunity extra special is how I officially feel like we’re part of Binibini herstory. I’m just so happy to be given a chance to keep working with Binibining Pilipinas even if my reign ended four years ago,” relates Nicole. “I can’t explain the fulfillment I feel to simply contribute to the next batch of women who will bring pride to our country, the same way I can’t believe the girls call me Ate Nicole now.” For Catriona Gray on the other hand, rising to the occasion of this amazing and affirming opportunity is a strengthening of her resolve to broaden the scope of pageantry from just being beautiful. “Everything that I’ve learned, observed, and experienced I feel gives me a unique voice to contribute to the girls. I hope to impart my belief that being a Miss Universe or successful in pageantry is not limited to walking well and being ‘beautiful,’ but rather being anchored to a cause and being a voice,” she says. “I envision a generation of Filipinas who are prepared, value-driven, and confident enough to take a seat at the table. To be a vessel of good works, and also amplifier of the communities whose voices need to be heard,” punctuates Catriona Gray.
As surreal as it is for them to be sitting on the other side of the table, humbled and honored to be trusted by Mrs. Stella Araneta, Nicole Cordoves and Catriona Gray are not only ushering in a new age in the fiercely safeguarded realm of Philippine pageantry, but they are building up these girls to be the best they can be, so that when they walk out into the world with their figurative crowns safe and secure on their heads, you best believe that they will finally stand, sashay, and speak for the woman—just as the two queens have done before them.
Once a binibini, always a binibini, indeed.