MANILA -- Before becoming one of the most sought-after runway coaches in the country and abroad, Ian Mendajar started out as a huge pageant fan.
In an interview with beauty doctor to the stars Vicki Belo, Mendajar said he never planned to become a pasarela mentor to several beauty queens.
Back then, all he wanted was to be able to support Pia Wurtzbach, who went on to become the country's third Miss Universe titleholder.
"I actually started sa pageant world as a pageant fan, and 'yung first beauty queen na talagang nag-fangirl ako is Pia Wurtzbach," he admitted in Belo's latest vlog. "Sobrang gusto kong manood ng Binibining Pilipinas, and I really wanted to support her... so I messaged her fan page, hoping that Pia would reply. Pero 'yung nag-reply is 'yung admin and they gave me free tickets to Bb. Pilipinas. So it's like a dream come true."
"And na-meet ko si Pia in person. Sobrang saya because she's a really sweet girl," he added.
Mendajar was such a big fan of Wurtzbach that he trended online for creating dolls inspired by her Bb. Pilipinas and Miss Universe looks.
This later on paved the way for his career as a runway coach, with Wurtzbach herself telling the Miss Universe Organization that he is "really good" with his pasarela skills.
"I always copy the walks of many beauty queens... Tapos sabi niya (Pia) sa Miss Universe Org, 'this person is really good,'" he said.
"[She said] 'Show them,' so I showed them. Nag-one-man show ako sa birthday ni Pia," he added, saying he did all of Wurtzbach's pageant walks from 2013 to 2015.
"I'm really grateful na na-meet ko si Pia and her pageant admin and fans."
Blessings kept pouring in for Mendajar soon after. At one birthday party that doubled as a beauty pageant for attendees, he finally decided to take the leap.
"After noong party, someone approached me and said, 'you may want to join another beauty pageant.' And I said, 'actually po, it's not in my plans to join.' And then one of the makeup artists said, 'if you don't want to join, magturo ka because you're really good.' And tumatak 'yon sa akin," he said.
"Then one of my friends, meron silang sinu-support na girl. They told me, 'you way want to help a beauty queen with her walk.' And I was doing it secretly. That's where it really started," he explained.
Fast forward to 2022, Mendajar said he trains around 20 beauty queen hopefuls every year. Currently, he is also mentoring a team of Japanese candidates online.
Some of his previous students include Miss Universe Philippines winners Beatrice Gomez and Rabiya Mateo, Bb. Pilipinas International 2021 Hannah Arnold, and Miss Intercontinental 2021 Cindy Obeñita.
When asked by Belo how his sessions are usually like, he said: "In my classes, hindi lang puro walking. We also have motivation training -- how to get your real smile, how to show your fierceness."
"One best way to become a beauty queen is to be honest to yourself," he stressed. "Kasi if you will be fake, everything else will be fake eh. And then when you're on stage, when you're walking, and 'yung training mo is a bit fake, makikita kasi 'yun."
Aside from being passionate about beauty pageants, Mendajar also credited his ballet background for his skills as a runway coach.
Believing that ballet is "the foundation of all dances," he said it helped him balance in high heels, and better project on stage and in front of the camera.
"When I was young, when I found out about ballet sa province, nag-enroll ako and I got a scholarship... Siya talaga 'yung nakatulong sa akin with what I'm doing right now," he said, saying he only stopped taking up ballet when he went to college.
As to the advice he can give to aspiring beauty queens, Mendajar mentioned the importance of careful planning, saying one does not have to drop everything for pageantry.
"Whatever you're doing right now, focus on it... Even if your goal is to be a beauty queen, if you're studying right now, focus on your studies. if you're a model, focus on it," he said.
"'Pag nag-start ka na talaga -- when you say, 'I want to be a beauty queen next year' -- mag-start ka na now and then train," he added, saying that those who want to win should start preparing at least a year before the competition.