ABS-CBN International, the world’s largest Filipino entertainment company, will launch “The People’s Queen” on October 24. Executive produced by Olivia De Jesus, Jun Del Rosario, John Lazatin and Glenn Meehan, “The People’s Queen” is ABS-CBN International’s first English-speaking reality program. It chronicles Cecilio Asuncion and his assistant Voltaire Tayag, two pageant experts tasked with coaching five Filipino hopefuls in their quests for international crowns.

On Oct. 3, 2018, Cecilio Asuncion granted an exclusive interview where he discussed the show, the current state of the pageant world, and what it takes to be a beauty queen today.

Pageants, heritage, and opportunity

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into the pageant industry?

Cecilio Asuncion (CA): It started when I was asked to judge the most prestigious pageant in the world, Miss Universe. After that, I hosted the Miss Teen USA pageant. I really look up to what Paula (Shugart) has done with Miss Universe and how it has organically changed with the times.

MM: How has the pageant industry changed in the last few years? What are judges looking for from pageant queens today?

CA: Pageantry has changed in the sense that it underlines the beauty of diversity and not one cookie cutter version of beauty is appreciated and celebrated. Judges are now looking for someone real. Someone who is in touch with their own version of femininity and loves what she does and knows that her identity is not simply dictated by one facet of her life.

MM: How does your Filipino heritage influence your sense of self, style, and personality?

CA: My Filipino heritage is something I am very proud of, especially since my grandmother was a former Miss Manila. I come from a line of strong-willed, independent women. I have always been forthright and opinionated, and that carries through with my day-to-day style choices.

MM: How did you land “The People’s Queen” opportunity?

CA: I’ve always wanted to work with ABS-CBN. After I completed “Strut,” my show with Oxygen that chronicled my modeling agency, Slay Model Management, I was asked to judge Miss Universe. From there, I began training women for pageants, and when ABS-CBN approached me about doing another show, I thought why not focus this one on my work training pageant queen for international titles?

They loved the idea.

MM: What do you hope viewers enjoy most about the show?

CA: I hope people and pageant fans enjoy the process of getting to know these dynamic women who are not simply just beauty queens. These are strong women who are proud of their culture. I also hope people enjoy seeing Voltaire in the twerking class!

MM: What’s it like working with Voltaire?

CA: Working with Voltaire is a blast! We even each other out. While I’m in-your-face, Voltaire is more subtle. Think of it this way, if we were Michelle Williams, I would be Heath Ledger’s widow, and Voltaire would be the one from Destiny’s Child.

MM: How do you think this show will popularize Asian—especially Filipino—stars and entertainment for American audiences?

CA: I think it will show that we are fully actualized, people. We cry, we have our moments, we drink, we don’t all love karaoke, we are not just doctors or nurses. Although, we all do love the fast food restaurant, Jollibee. That’s one stereotype I’m happy to embrace!

Social media, fans, and careers

MM: How much of an impact does social media have on your career, especially when it comes to connecting with fans?

CA: Social media is important to a certain degree. It gives you the general temperature of what’s happening out there, and it gives you the opportunity to see an opposing side which you may not have considered. I do, however, remind the ladies at Slay and on “The People’s Queen” to not be so obsessed with their phones that they completely forget the person sitting next to them at dinner.

MM: Which of the girls on the show do you feel has the greatest ‘it’ factor?

CA: All of the women in the show are amazing. I have no doubt all of them will have amazing careers.

MM: What do you hope fans take away from “The People’s Queen?”

CA: That beauty queens are human beings. Underneath the lashes and the make-up is a person trying to be their best possible version! I hope fans learn to be kinder to pageant hopefuls after they see all the hard work these women go through to compete for their crowns.