'The People's Queen': Cecilio Asuncion talks Trans pageant representation and why 'beauty is about being perfectly imperfect'

The upcoming all-Asian cast show 'The People’s Queen' follows five beauty pageant hopefuls in their journey to bag international titles, coach Cecilio Asuncion tells us more.


                            'The People's Queen': Cecilio Asuncion talks Trans pageant representation and why 'beauty is about being perfectly imperfect'

Last weekend Katarina Rodriguez was crowned Miss World Philippines 2018, just days after we received the news that ABS-CBN International is introducing its first English-speaking reality show with an all-Asian American cast 'The People’s Queen.' The series premiering on October 24 follows five beauty pageant hopefuls as they live in a mansion for six weeks with two over-the-top coaches, namely Cecilio Asuncion and Voltaire Tayag. One of the contestants we see is Katarina Rodriguez and we will get to see her journey from the mansion to the crown. We will also follow the incredible journey of four other Filipina beauty queens namely- Michelle Thorlund, Nikita McElroy, Jennifer Levy and Katrina Jayne Dimaranan.

The People’s Queen follows Cecilio Asuncion (from Strut, Oxygen TV’s reality show about transgender fashion models) and Voltaire Tayag as they coach five of the top Filipino pageant hopefuls in their quests for international titles
The People’s Queen follows Cecilio Asuncion (from Strut, Oxygen TV’s reality show about transgender fashion models) and Voltaire Tayag as they coach five of the top Filipino pageant hopefuls in their quests for international titles

Meaww caught up Cecilio Asuncion for an exclusive interview. Cecilio is a Filipino-American director, producer, filmmaker, and executive, who has been active in the world of pageantry for decades including the fact that Asuncion's grandmother was 'Miss Manila.' He is also the founder and director of Slay Model Management, the world’s first all-Transgender model agency. A couple of his models are on the much-hailed Ryan Murphy's 2018 show 'Pose' as well. 

Cece, as he is lovingly addressed, believes that the world of beauty pageants have drastically changed over time and now beauty is about being perfectly imperfect. "Beauty is beauty, no matter what a person's assigned gender is at birth," says the Asuncion, who is also the national director of Miss Supranational USA. A former judge of the Miss Universe 2017 pageant in Las Vegas, Asuncion affirms that beauty is skin-deep and people should not just look at them, but learn about who they are and what they stand for.

Cecilio Asuncion image: photo credit - Irvin Rivera
Cecilio Asuncion image: photo credit - Irvin Rivera

 

We are looking forward to your upcoming reality show 'The People’s Queen,' tell us a bit about the show and why is it important for you?

The People's Queen is very important to me as I started Slay Model Management, the world's first all-Trans model agency, and after that, I was invited to judge the Miss Universe pageant, it validates to me that beauty is beauty, no matter what a person's assigned gender is at birth. It's also important because of my approach to training women comes in a very holistic way which means it's not just about the external improvements but all the other things that need to be addressed.

Your grandmother was Miss Manila, so we are curious about the role she played in your life and career as you stepped into the world of pageantry. Please tell us how you ventured into the industry and your family's role in it.

I was raised by very strong women in my family, my mom singlehandedly raised my siblings and this carries on with my day to day decisions.  

 

As you said, pageants today are about unfiltered beauty beneath gowns and lashes, hence the title of 'The People's Queen.' Tell us how pageantry has changed overtime ever since you were introduced to it and now. 

It's very different now, in the sense that winners are often the women who are unapologetic about who they are. As opposed to the pageant patty's from before who often have to be perceived as perfect. Now, I really do believe that being perfectly imperfect is the key. 

What do you think about the future of beauty pageants and how do you think your show 'The People's Queen,' will play a role in redefining pageantry?

The role I hope for people to see for 'The People's Queen' is that one does not need to be a female to be a feminist. My role in helping the women who join us on this journey is that we are here to help them with their individual goals. We are not here to tell them what to do, or what to say, it is our job to develop their voice and guide.

What do you have to say to those who believe beauty pageants are only about external beauty, when in fact, pageantries such as Miss Universe, tackle real-world issues and do pose serious questions to the contestants?

When I judged the Miss Universe pageant, I met all these talented and intelligent women who are leaders in male-dominated fields. So to these naysayers, the only thing I have to say is, learn about these women, not just look at them, learn about who they are and what they stand for.  

 


 
 
 
 
 
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Two days ago, Katrina Rodriguez won the title of Miss Philippines and much credit goes to you, Voltaire and the show. How do you feel about that and what do you have to say about her transformation, starting from the walk and always landing as the runners-up in previous pageants? Also, congratulations!

Katarina's recent win at Miss World Philippines is her win. We are just thrilled to have been part of her journey. The moment I saw Katarina, I knew we had a winner in her and I am excited to see what she does in the future. She has a very bright one!  

You and Voltaire Tayag have known each other since the '90s. Tell us about your friendship and work dynamics.

Yes! I had hair and Voltaire had a waistline back then! We are very Yin and Yang, good cop and bad cop. I appreciate my friendship and have respect for Voltaire as it's a lot to work with me. What I do admire the most with Voltaire is his patience. Luckily, his patience not only applies to the women we teach, but to myself as well!

Nominees Isis King, Dominque Jackson, Laith De La Cruz, Ren Spriggs, Cecilio 'CeCe' Asuncion and Arisce Wanzer attends 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Hilton Midtown on May 6, 2017 in New York City.
Nominees Isis King, Dominque Jackson, Laith De La Cruz, Ren Spriggs, Cecilio 'CeCe' Asuncion and Arisce Wanzer attends 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Hilton Midtown on May 6, 2017 in New York City.

You are the director of Slay Model Management, the world’s first all-Transgender model agency. Please tell us more about the management and how it came to be. Also, tell us about the need to have more transgenders in the pageantry world.

I founded Slay Model Management years ago and have found success with the models I represent. Arisce Wanzer is the current face of Truvada in their national campaign, Ren Spriggs is the face of INDI, Katy Perry's fragrance, and a few of my models are in Ryan Murphy's show, 'Pose'. I am happy with the inclusion of Miss Spain and Miss Mongolia who identify as Trans in the year's Miss Universe pageant. There has to be more acceptance in the world of pageantry with Trans individuals as we cannot dent, the beauty they have. Seeing them as just body parts is the biggest injustice we can do as they are humans like the rest of us and have the same aspirations in life.  

You have judged Miss Universe 2017 pageant and also hosted this year’s Miss Teen USA pageant. What do you personally look for in a contestant to be crowned the winner?

I look for women who are unapologetic about their quest for success, within their own definition and those who are perfectly imperfect. 

We hope we will also have Season 2 of 'The People's Queen.' What can we expect then?
Expect more lessons, expect more laughter and expect more surprises!  

 

 

As we near the air date, how do you feel? What response are you hoping to get from the viewers?

I'm very excited not only for the show to start but also for everyone to watch all the ladies individual pageant journeys! 

Following the immense success of 'Crazy Rich Asians,' do you think that it's been established that the American audience wants to know more about Asia and its culture?

I believe so, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to visibility and representation of Asians in the media industry. Knowing about culture and Asia as a whole is still a separate topic when it comes to knowing the talents that are needed in Hollywood. There needs to be more. Following the success of Crazy Rich Asians, now we need consistency.