A Tale of Two Queens


(Photo from:

So yesterday, Miss Philippines took home Miss Universe 2015.  After forty-two years.  It feels amazing to have been part of this, and also rather amazing (not in the positive sense; really just genuine amazement) to have seen it happen in such a dramatic, controversial fashion.

I’m also pretty darn amazed that the backlash post-Miss Universe has been so violent. First, the horrific video shown by Missology that features Pia being snubbed by a bulk of the Latin America contingent, even as she tries to comfort Miss Colombia and give back the crown  Second, the outright brutal statement by Miss Germany. And third, the vicious criticism Miss Colombia is receiving just because she looked so frozen the moment she lost the crown.

Real talk, guys. Miss Universe is 26.  She’s one of the oldest winners of the title and also a veteran pageant queen. And a veteran loser. She lost the nationals twice before making it this year, and that struggle has made her both determined and compassionate. When she appeared to have lost, she handled it with grace and a smile, because it was nothing she hadn’t seen before and anyway, hey! Podium finish! Still a great job!  When she won–but at the expense of someone else’s moment–she understood the devastation so as to not insist on her moment, her crowning. She’d been there, and the pain and angst had matured her into the modest, regal beauty we saw on that stage.

Miss Colombia is 21. We don’t know her story, but we know there was immense pressure on her to take home a back-to-back title, and she worked hard to get it.  And for three minutes, she thought she had.  She thought she’d done her country proud.

I’m 22. When I lost my second battle of the bands, just a few months ago, I broke down crying. I wasn’t onstage–thank God–but I did. I sobbed. And then I picked myself up and congratulated the winners and took selfies with the celebrity headline acts, because that’s what you do as a frontwoman…But I still cried. It’s not easy to lose when you’ve fought so hard for something, done your best, and, in my case, even conquered severe tech difficulties (our mic cut out during our set and we just kept going–I kept singing as loud as my theater-lungs could).

So Ms. Colombia didn’t have it easy. She had a three-minute moment, and then everything she’d worked for was gone. In many ways, it was harder than what my band and I experienced, because at least we never had a shining moment that was later taken away. Ms. Colombia handled it as best she could at the time, and I have so much respect for her because of that. She didn’t start a cat-fight, or hype her supporters to jeer the new Queen (though the other contestants made up for that with very bad behavior), or even cry (until the cameras turned off, anyway). I think she just felt very lost in that moment, visibly needing support then, but she stood as tall as she was able even as the crown was taken off her head.

Yes, as a political move, it would have been better if this trained pageant queen had marched to Miss Philippines, taken her by the hand, led her to the center of the stage, and crowned her herself. That would have won everyone’s hearts. That would have made her a Miss Universe in my eyes. But she’s 21, and she’s just lost something for her country that for three minutes she had. You can’t be political then, I don’t think. Instead you’re tired, your nerves are shaken, and you feel so lost.

And there’s a reason Pia is Miss Universe. Allegedly, she was willing to de-crown herself. Instead of taking her own walk, she marched to Miss Colombia first, and in shaky video appears to be trying to take the crown off of her own head to offer to this young, 21 year old woman who really just wanted to make her country proud. Colombia waited fifty-eight years for their second crown. #LaCoronaSeRespeta.

Pia is pushed away by angry fellow contestants, bashed by another candidate (Miss Germany, that was not a smart move.), has to take her walk without the cameras, being booed loudly by angered Colombia fans, and yet she keeps smiling. She keeps smiling and she waves and she stays as diplomatic as she’s able, recognising that Miss Universe has evolved from a mere beauty pageant to a sort of pseudo-consulate where beauty is used to maybe save the world.  She radiates the kindness of actual royalty, a Serene Highness (I’ve always loved the Monegasque term.) recognising her good fortune and the hard work those around her have put into this moment.  She is humble, and the humblest heads wear crowns well.


(Photo from:

But just because Ariadna Gutierrez’s behaviour puts her in stark contrast to Pia Wurtzbach, doesn’t mean she deserves this hate. Yes, it’s clear that Pia is the real Queen in this situation, but Ariadna was hardly the evil stepsister clutching at the crown. Instead, she was, well, us—young, dealing with expectations, deeply lost when we fail to fulfil what we feel is required of us.  She was us at every moment we lose, when we slap on a smile because we need to be “mature” but on the inside deeply need to hear the affirmation that we still made good, we still fought hard, we’re still someone’s Queen.

Miss Ariadna, I have no doubt that in the hearts of the Colombian people, you are Miss Universe. And you know what, you deserve that title. You still made good, and even if maybe that “good” wasn’t as perfectly polished as the interwebs might have expected it to be…the truth is, you were all of us up there, fighting and trying to gain something bigger than yourself.  And in that position, what you did–smile as wide as you could, stand as tall as you were able, and leave a polite public statement–was still a feat of grace.

In Pia’s words, this was a “very 2015” Miss Universe. Our pageant queens are no longer glossy Barbie dolls with perfect smiles and cliché “world peace” answers. Instead, they are very real women, women who openly want things and fight for them, who stand as living testaments to the millennial war-cry that is grit.  And when things don’t go their way, these women are no longer the plastic automatons of yesteryear–they cry, they openly show they need support, and by doing so give us some sort of permission to stop holding ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection, refinement, and placidity.

After all, if beauty pageants can make mistakes, and beauty queens cry ugly tears, then so can we.




Photo from Yahoo News.

Please take a moment to memorize these faces.

 1. Sr. Insp. Ryan Ballesteros Pabalinas
2. Sr. Insp. John Garry Alcantara Erana
3. Sr. Insp. Max Jim Ramirez Tria
4. Sr. Insp. Cyrus Paleyan Anniban
5. Sr. Insp. Gednat G. Tabdi
6. Insp. Joey Sacristan Gamutan
7. Insp. Rennie Tayrus
8. SPO1 Lover L. Inocencio
9. PO3 Rodrigo F. Acob Jr.
10. PO3 Virgel S. Villanueva
11. PO3 Andres Viernes Duque Jr.
12. PO3 Vitoriano Nacion Acain
13. PO3 Noel Onangey Golocan
14. PO3 Junrel Narvas Kibete
15. PO3 Jed-In Abubakar Asjali
16. PO3 Robert Dommolog Aliaga
17. PO3 John Lloyd Rebammonte Sumbilla
18. PO2 Amman Misuari Esmulla
19. PO2 Peterson I. Carap
20. PO2 Roger C. Cordero
21. PO2 Nicky DC Nacino Jr.
22. PO2 Glenn Berecio Badua
23. PO2 Chum Goc-Ong Agabon
24. PO2 Richelle Salangan Baluga
25. PO2 Noel Nebrida Balaca
26. PO2 Joel Bimidang Dulnuan
27. PO2 Godofredo Basak Cabanlet
28. PO2 Franklin Cadap Danao
29. PO2 Walner Faustino Danao
30. PO2 Jerry Dailay Kayob
31. PO2 Noble Sungay Kiangan
32. PO2 Ephraim G. Mejia
33. PO2 Omar Agacer Nacionales
34. PO2 Rodel Eva Ramacula
35. PO2 Romeo Valles Senin II
36. PO1 Russel Bawaan Bilog
37. PO1 Angel C. Kodiamat
38. PO1 Windell Llano Candano
39. PO1 Loreto Guyab Capinding
40. PO1 Gringo Charag Cayang-o
41. PO1 Romeo Cumanoy Cempron
42. PO1 Mark Lory Orloque Clemencio
43. PO1 Joseph Gumatay Sagonoy
44. PO1 Oliebeth Ligutan Vierneso


To the men who did not ask to be heroes.

To husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, lovers, friends.

To the forty-four members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) who were mercilessly massacred in the line of duty:

Photo on 1-30-15 at 1.14 PM

We will remember.

January 29, 2015

Introducing…Stories Told.

As far as I know, I have three more Virus, Inc. intern blogs overdue, plus the next installment of the “Me and My Lists,” but to be honest, this post has been the longest overdue.

1625561_240385549474937_1493524526_n Ladies and gents, presenting Stories Told.

Before I get into the details of who we are and what we do, a bit of backstory is in order.  If this motley crew looks familiar to you, it’s for a very good reason–they were the band I sang for with in the post Eyes Turned Skywardwhen we worked on REVERB Music Productions‘ charity album Christmas Is.  I was recruited by Jian Manjares (the guy on my left, if you can’t read the text in my photo) along with Dan Buenafe (the guy on my immediate right, again if you can’t read the text in my photo), to help with a pop-rock rendition of the hymn Joyful Joyful which you can check out here.

Full disclosure here: I’m no rock-and-roll singer.  If you look at all my posts on music, they’re mostly me talking about (or singing) acoustic-based pop, or else musical theater songs.  So after we finished our recording session for Christmas Is, I wrote “Eyes Turned Skyward,” contenting myself with having achieved one more thing on my long-cherished bucket list–a thirteen-year-old’s dream of singing with a rock band and recording a song for an album.  Little did I expect to be contacted by Jian in early December with a startling proposition: “How would you like to be in a band?”

Let me reiterate this: I am (well, was) not a rock singer.  For my Reverb audition, at which Jian was present, I sang an acoustic version of an RnB song.  I cover Ed Sheeran, Sara Bareilles, Maroon 5–all chart or alternative pop and acoustic.  The last time I wanted to be in a rock band I was thirteen and stalking Kitchie Nadal.

…but Jian asked if I wanted to be in a band, not if I think I actually could, so I said yes, and a few weeks later the “Joyful Joyful” crew (at this point still nameless) was cooped up in Jian’s home studio listening to (and learning) the eclectic mix of rock and indie that the Manjares brothers had amassed over the years, working out our sound.

A little before midnight on December 31, 2013, we had a name, Stories Told, whose provenance I still insist was derived affectionately from a quote by the Eleventh Doctor–“We are all stories in the end.”  (Jian and I are both Whovians.)  If this is the “official” band explanation though is still up for debate.  At any rate, we had a name, and soon after that, a genre: “fusion,” which is a nice way of saying that we are a mix of everything–as Jian put it on our band’s official Facebook page, we are “…what you get when a hard rock turned wannabe jazz-rock fusion guitarist, a musical theatre actress, a do-it-all drummer, and a grunge bassist come together to make some really cool stories.”

So you’ve heard of our backstory, now it’s high time to introduce the touring band.


Stories Told (touring band), from left to right: Jian Manjares (lead guitar); Dan Buenafe (bass); Jedd Manjares (drums); Frankie Torres (lead vocals/occasional rhythm guitar – acoustic)


Jian Manjares is our band’s undisputed leader, having reluctantly accepted the nickname of “Boss.”  A lover of hard jazz fusion and progressive rock, he’s literally the sickest guitarist I have ever seen, capable of making notes ring out with piano-like precision (which he did with the “Ode To Joy” riff in Joyful Joyful–a gorgeously modern homage to Beethoven) or else hiss and scream in the dramatic, Golden Age arena-rock solos he cooks up before or after band rehearsal (and usually after banging his head against the studio wall a couple of times).  Jian is what happens when you combine geek with rockstar: a lethal combination of old-school attitude and the technical precision of a senior music theory student (which he sort of is, I guess).


But while Jian is the band leader, the undisputed genius of the group is Jedd Manjares.  At seventeen, this do-anything drummer has listening lists broader and deeper than many twenty- and thirty-something music enthusiasts I know.  Responsible for many of the arrangements of our covers, he ensures that Stories Told is not just a “copycat” band.  His ability to appreciate and integrate the patterns of various genres has formed the base for many of our original compositions, while his music director ear for timing ensures that we rarely (if ever) get lost or out of sync during performances.  And while other musical geniuses are guilty of “baking” (in the “herbal” sense), Jedd literally bakes–pies, cakes, and awesome desserts, all in between epic drum solos.  I predict he’ll be the reason we get fangirls in the future.


Dan Buenafe rarely pops up in photos, probably due to his being a vampire and all (kidding!).  This Marshall Lee-lookalike (YES, I WENT THERE DAN.) is, quite appropriately, our (left-handed!) bassist.  Coming from a combination funk and grunge background, “Marshall Dan” (as I call him) is an extremely flexible performer, going back and forth from our more hard-rock pieces to pop-y ground with ease.  He and Jedd often conspire to introduce more offbeat classics and currents to our playlist, with hilarious degrees of success (such as discovering that I fail at singing Bruno Mars).   Where bassists are usually “unsung heroes,” our band (or, well, Jedd) has a motto that we all like to stick to–“Let the Dan shine.”–because when it all comes down to it, Dan’s wicked skills are what bring the groove that makes Stories Told what it is.

(…Abangan ang pangkaraniwang rhythm solo.)


 Marceline and Marshall Lee: The Vampire Twins of Stories Told at Handlebar for Play4Life.

And then there’s me, Frankie Torres, lead vocalist and occasional (emphasis on occasional) rhythm guitarist.  I’m in no position to comment on my performance, so I’ll stick to sentiment.  Truth be told, I’m the odd one out here: while Jian and Jedd and Dan all have rock-based backgrounds (or something like it), I come from chorale singing and musical theater, meaning I’m less likely to growl and more likely to trill.  Complete with spirit fingers.

But that’s what makes Stories Told so fun: by being fusion (thanks to Jedd, we’re really fond of switching genres within a set), we’re allowed a lot of freedom in style and interpretation, and this makes the challenge of going from wannabe-Rachel Berry to rock singer a little less daunting.  As a frequently typecast character actress, this band has been the role farthest from type, and I relish that.  I’ll admit I’m still playing catch-up, but the journey’s been absolutely worth it so far, and I’m really grateful to be on it.


 Stories Told at Play4Life!  Many thanks to Dean Carayag of the Big Beer Dippers for the photo.

So that’s us–Stories Told!  Admittedly at this point everything’s talk.  But if you’re interested in seeing if we can put our money where our mouths are, catch us at 19 East on May 11, 2014as we perform back-to-back with some of Southern rock-and-roll’s finest: Attic Wench, Consolidar, The Big Beer Dippers, and Eddie Shawarma!


Tickets are pre-selling at Php. 350 each up on the event page, and you can catch a quick written preview of all the other bands here.  As for us (Stories Told), we’ll be having a pre-gig sometime next week, so do check out the Stories Told Facebook Page for updates. 🙂

There you have it!  Hope to see you guys at a gig soon! 😀