MANILA, Philippines -- Did you know that seven of the eight Philippine delegates to the annual Miss Universe pageant since 2005 had the same mentor?
|Ariella Arida is crowned by her predecessor, Janine Tugonon, as Miss Universe Philippines. Both are talents of Gaffud's Aces & Queens. Photo by Rem Zamora, ABS-CBNnews.com
Ariella Arida, this year's Miss Universe-Philippines winner, is also trained by Jonas Gaffud of the local modeling agency Mercator.
Spearheaded by Gaffud, Mercator has a division which serves a training camp for Pinay pageant hopefuls, dubbed Aces & Queens Studio.
In the last three years, Gaffud and his team at Aces & Queens have produced three Miss Universe runners-up, including last year's second-place winner, Janine Tugonon.
Before the Bataan beauty, Venus Raj and Shamcey Supsup placed fourth runner-up and third runner-up, respectively, in the 2010 and 2011 editions of the international pageant.
The runner-up finishes of the three Pinay beauties were preceded by several other Aces & Queens talents making it to Miss Universe.
Gaffud said in an interview on the morning talk show "Kris TV" early this week that his team is also behind five other Binibining Pilipinas candidates who made it to Miss Universe: Zorayda Andam (2001), Gionna Cabrera (2005), Lia Ramos (2006), Anna Licaros (2007) and Jennifer Barrientos (2008).
Including Arida, Aces & Queens has produced nine Miss Universe candidates since 2001.
Gaffud noted that his talent firm would have had a nine-year winning streak since 2005 had it not been for the strong showing of Bianca Manalo, the 2009 Miss Universe Philippines, during her time in the national pageant.
Asked if he prefers any specific "kind of beauty" to train, Gaffud said, "Mas gusto ko morena, pang-international. Kasi usually naman sa Binibini, maraming foreigners. 'Yung foreigners na 'yun, gusto nila 'yung exotic."
At this year's edition of Binibining Pilipinas, Aces & Queens had 12 candidates -- a mix of "morenas" and "mestizas."
Two other beauties trained by Gaffud -- Pia Wurtzbach and Cindy Miranda -- also placed in the top 5 along with Arida. Wurtzbach finished first runner-up, while Miranda won Binibining Pilipinas Tourism.
Gaffud said he had been rigorous in training his past talents, including Raj.
"First impression [ko kay Jonas], medyo nakakatakot siya," Raj said of her mentor. "Parang mataray na hindi mo makaka-close. Pero tinrust ko talaga siya lalo na sa physical appearance ko. Lalo na from the province ako, parang ang tingin niya sa akin, 'Masyado namang probinsyana ang hitsura nito.'"
Gaffud explained that his "probinsyana" impression of Raj was due to her fashion choices. "'Yung probinsyana, 'yung mali 'yung damit, 'yung mali 'yung damit at heels," he said.
The talent manager added that he also had to address Raj's "walk" as a pageant competitor, as among her areas for improvement before competing in Miss Universe.
"Marami akong tinuro, kasi si Venus akala niya magaling na siya maglakad, kasi lagi siyang sumasali ng contest 'yan dati," he said.
He noted that Raj's walk had to look "effortless" and "regal," as opposed to what the beauty queen demonstrated during their guesting on "Kris TV" (seen above).
According to Gaffud, no less than the owner of the Miss Universe Organization, Donald Trump, noticed Raj's regal bearing.
"Sabi niya (Trump) kay Venus, 'You come from very humble beginnings, [but] you walk like royalty on stage."