Bb. Pilipinas USA 2015’s Juanne Elisha Aquino: From church cantor to beauty queen

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Winner BPUSA2105

By Prosy Abarquez Delacruz, J.D.
Published: September 5, 2015

“What’s the point of being at the top if you would just be boasting?  You should just level down to people and bring them up with you. There’s no point since you are already up there, people are already looking up to you. That’s enough to be proud of, and you need to include other people in your successes.”  – Juanne Elisha Aquino, Bb.Pilipinas-USA, 2015.

“Being a woman is hard work. Not without joy and even ecstasy, but still relentless, unending work. Becoming an old female may require only being born with certain genitalia, inheriting long living genes and the fortune not to be run over by an out-of-control truck, but to become and remain a woman command the existence and employment of genius. The woman who survives intact and happy must be at once tender and tough. She must have convinced herself, or be in the unending process of convincing herself, that she, her values and her choices are important. She must resist considering herself a lesser version of her male counterpart. She will need to prize her tenderness and be able to display it at appropriate times in order to prevent toughness from gaining total authority and to avoid becoming a mirror image of those men who value power above life, and control over love.” —Maya Angelou, 1993.

A self-aware woman is beautiful, while someone who is at home with herself and others, is a joy to be with.  She is free to simply be, and to express the soulfulness of her being, grateful for what she has been blessed with, much like the woman Maya Angelou describes, when she wrote “Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now.”

Much like Maya Angelou, Juanne defined beauty, with ease: “Beauty is personality and values. If you value your mind, you would know what to think of yourself, which includes your body.”

Mostly, she embodied beauty, but it did not start out that way. She had her struggles, but she overcame them all, sharing them with family, with God, as first.

“I’m not surprised that she would come out as the winner of the beauty pageant. A beautiful young lady, intelligent and very talented, ‘napakabait na bata at masunuring anak.’ I’m very proud of her as she was finally crowned BB Pilpinas USA. I pray that she continues her mission as a follower of Jesus and now that she is in a better position, she should continue on being a bold Catholic sharing her faith. I know that this is just the beginning for her and a lot of doors will open out there for her, [to] continue on doing the right thing as how she was brought up by her parents, “ Pete Avendano, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and School’s Musical Director said.

Her identity forged in faith and her educational journey

Juanne was born to Dindin and Emer Aquino. When Pope John Paul visited the Philippines for World Youth Day on January 10, 1995, all the babies in the nursery were named after the Pope: Joan, John, Paul, Joanne, but mom Dindin spelled Joanne with a u, to give her, a unique name.

During gospel, Dindin’s water broke and as the gospel was about Elisha, the prophet, Juanne came to be. At an early age, she had traveled across the globe, to be in Africa, Philippines and then, Los Angeles. In Nigeria, Africa, where her parents run an export-import business, she was raised by her uncle, Rufino Gonzales. Then, the family moved back to the Philippines.

Juanne attended first grade in Southville International School, exposed to seven to nine subjects like English, Chinese, math and science. Her family then immigrated to Los Angeles to join Emer, her father, who was already working. She attended Alessandro Elementary School where her schooling consisted of two major subjects (English and math), which she found underwhelming and not challenging.

While attending mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, her mother, Dindin, decided to enroll her at Immaculate Heart of Mary School for middle school. Juanne got back to a more rigorous academic load, much like what she had in first grade in the Philippines, and she joined the choir.

After middle school, she went to St. Genevieve for high school and Juanne became part of their musicals and performing choir.

“I have performed for former President Jimmy Carter’s 85th birthday in Plains, Georgia. I was given another opportunity to perform as the leading lady in Former Pres. Carter’s favorite musical, Carousel. I also performed with a strong female figure, Helen Reddy,” she shared.

During her last year in high school, she performed with Grammy award-winning Shirley Jones.

“I had no pitfalls. Because of a one-week retreat, Kairos, I found myself again in the hands of Jesus. I was able to connect to God on another level, that I never thought was possible,” she said.

After high school, she went to Mount St. Mary’s University and enrolled in nursing, “I did not like science exclusively,” and found her interests more on the side of finance, marketing and business. Her university advisor pointed her to a double major in health policy and business, but needed 60 units to enter Cal State University, Northridge. She is now working on getting 60 units, towards an Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts and social behavior at LACC, and to ensure a spot at CSUN to major in business.

A nurturing self and a supportive family behind her

When she decided to join the pageant, her parents were all hands on deck and on board with her.

Though mom Dindin was unemployed, she used her creativity to design Juanne’s evening gown. She sourced the fabric and sewed the evening gown. Juanne walked on the ramp, taking time to be with the audience, to be mahinhin (poised, demure), and not masigasig, (determined as in drill team movements).

Her father, Emer works full-time. Still, he made time for her.  Not having a car of her own, father Emer took off work to take Juanne for her facials, makeup and hair workshops, all the way from Koreatown to West Covina, about 22 miles, 52 minutes each way, if no traffic, while mother Dindin worked on her evening gown.

Juanne had to be her best to match the support her parents were giving her. It was a challenge to be physically fit, she shared: “I love all desserts. I gave up sugar, limited rice (which is so difficult as we, Filipinos, eat rice mostly) and cut out fried foods (no crispy pata, no pancit, no pizza).”

On the week of the pageant, she ate mostly sinigang and on workout days, raw fruits and vegetables, tuna sandwich for lunch, muscle milk and scrambled eggs for dinner and after the night’s workout, a protein bar.

Overcoming 3 struggles of the Bb. Pilipinas-USA 2015 pageant

Entering the pageant was supposed to be a summer activity, or Juanne would have simply enrolled back at LACC.

“When I joined, I was intimidated by young women who have joined fashion shows, who were hapa (meaning half Filipino and half white), I was simply a dark skinned, brown Pinay. I have not joined pageants, like others did and I have not joined public events like some had, though I had been in school plays,” she said.

With that first struggle, “my mom, Dindin reminded me that God gives everyone beauty. You cannot compare their beauty with you as God gives you your own unique kind of beauty.”

For this writer, Dindin’s reminder was reminiscent of the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary who received individual flame over their heads on Pentecost Sunday, a metaphoric reminder that “each of us receives that gift which is most appropriate to us. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not generic. It is personal and intimate.”

Then, a second struggle came for Juanne, who at the time of the pageant process, had acne, and with the way she walked. “With a lifestyle change, working out twice a day and sleeping early, I saw changes. I was pigeon-toed and I had to be conscious onstage as to how I walk.”

Her dad Emer reminded her to slow down her walk, to allow herself time to shine and time for folks to appreciate her.

The result, Juanne bagged the title, “Best Evening Gown,” as well as “Bb. Philippine Airlines.”

Her third struggle came in preparing for Q & A, in formulating her thoughts, as she has a tendency to stutter and to stumble on her words. She overcame that by watching YouTube interviews of Miss America and Miss Universe.

She learned mostly from pageant coaches, “While you are answering the question, smile. While you are thinking of your answer, smile. Keep smiling at the judges, even if they do not smile back at you.”

And she remembered what Joey Galon coached them: “connect your answer to the pageant at hand.”

The rest is history, as her beauty came through, her poise, her humility, her talent, her sweetness, she became the top scorer to be the Bb. Pilipinas-USA 2015 titleholder with several more titles: Bb. Philippine Airlines, Best in Evening Gown and Best in Talent.

Her court consists of her ‘twin’ (her endearing reference) to Angelica Alberto, BP USA 2nd runner-up; Heather Casignia, BP USA 1st runner-up; Eriel Uy, BP USA 3rd runner-up and Megan Culp, BP USA Tourism 2015.

“God gives everyone a chance to shine and bestows blessings upon those whose time has come. Everything that happens, happens for a reason and for a cause. God won’t always say yes or grant you the things you want because it has to correspond to His time. The thing that matters most is that you continue to strive for the best despite the wrong timing. Don’t ever give up on anything you want and eventually, your time will come. But most importantly, don’t assume or question God’s timing, everything has been set in its time and place. You just have to keep doing the best of you until you reach the top, “ Juanne reflected on her title, as Bb-Pilipinas USA 2015.

Juanne defined dignity as “that would be my pride, what I take pride in, the integrity I hold for myself and other people.”

Do you now conclude, much like this year’s panel of judges (Fritz Friedman, Ariella Arida, Manny Ilagan, Marie Jemma Saranillo, Amadeo Leandro, Eliza Chung, Larry Potter, Jo Ann P. Kyle, Allen Hsiang and Fides Herrera-Lim), why Juanne Elisha Aquino was chosen as the Bb. Pilipinas-USA 2015?


Our thanks to Mildred Deang, pageant organizer, for making this interview possible.

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