MANILA – Hungry for Indonesia's first major pageant crown, Kevin Lilliana chased Filipino beauty queen-maker Rodgil Flores on Facebook for a chance to hone her “duck walk” in his makeshift studio.
Lilliana was crowned Miss International in Tokyo in November, and the 50-year-old Flores would end the year as the world's most successful pageant trainer, having also won the Miss Earth contest for her Filipina protégé, Karen Ibasco
Sought by aspiring queens here and abroad, Flores refuses to run his Kagandahang Flores (KF) camp like a business. While donations are welcome, he says students are chosen based on potential.
"I can say this is one of our most successful years since we started doing our passion which is training girls or ladies into becoming international or national beauty queens," Flores, an events organizer who is a chemical engineer by profession, told ABS-CBN News.
The dark, covered basketball court with giant mirrors is the main training ground of the KF Camp, whose alumnae this year include Filipina beauty queens Rachel Peters, who finished top 10 in Miss Universe, Miss Grand International second runner-up Elizabeth Clenci, and Miss Globe first runner-up Nelda Ibe.
Another foreign student this year is Miss International host delegate Japan's Natsuki Tsutsui, who placed fourth runner-up.
Flores said it took several exchanges on Facebook Messenger for him to agree to take Lilliana under his wing.
"Hindi ako amenable eh not for anything else ha, syempre I would like to visit [other countries] pero kasi pag andito ako [sa Pilipinas], mas madami akong magagawa, masasabay ko pa yung ibang nangangailangan ng training," he said.
(I was not initially amenable, not for anything else. Of course, I would like to visit other countries, but if it's done in the Philippines, I can do other things, I can train other girls.)
PASSION OVER MONEY
Flores said his main source of income is his events business and other KF trainers keep day jobs as well. Training has been done for years in the compound that was lent to him by a businessman friend.
"KF is not a business. I don't know with other camps how they do it, but we're not conducting this as a business."
Since they work during office hours, Flores said training is usually done at night, until the wee hours.
Asked whether he had considered charging fees, Flores said: "Yun kasi ang gray area diyan. Yung iba, mag-eenroll tapos yung iba free so ibig kong sabihin, mahirap ireconcile.”
(That's a gray area. Some would enroll, some train for free. It's hard to reconcile.)
"Medyo taxing nga sa akin eh kasi aside from the nitty-gritty of the training, I still manage the camp. Akala nila madali (they think it's easy) but it's very difficult to make a camp last this long."
FAN TURNED MENTOR
While he was a pageant fan at an early age, Flores said he was a “late bloomer” as a mentor.
He worked as a chemical engineer until the Philippines' hosting of Miss Universe in 1994 inspired him to set up the KF bootcamp with the battle cry “For crown. For country.”
Flores said a workmate prodded him to train a girl, who eventually won a pageant hosted by a noontime show.
“I'm self-taught. When it comes to planning and everything, hands-on ako. As much as possible, I want to maximize everything,” he said.
One of his most memorable wins is Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman, who broke the country's 26-year-long drought in the pageant. He scored another Miss International crown in 2013 with Bea Rose Santiago.
OPEN FOR ALL
Flores said his camp fields the most number of girls each year. He personally designs training programs for each student.
Even candidates who seem winnable are not spared from Flores' “holistic” approach, which includes fitness, posture, make-up and hair, and the crucial interview.
"Nagbibigay lang akong special consideration sa mga slow learners dun sa mga hindi makuha-kuha. I figure out bakit di makuha-kuha. Hindi yan dahil sa winnable ka eh tututukan ka na," he said.
(I only give special consideration to slow learners who can't get the lesson... It's not because you're winnable, we'll focus on you.)
But once the girls compete, Flores said he could only do so much as mentor.
"It's still up to you. When you're there on stage, it's up to you to process what you learned," he said.
"I personally believe everything happens for a purpose. There's a divine plan."