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Brace for Impact: Celeste Cortesi Is Set to Conquer the Universe

by Em Enriquez | Oct 14, 2022

“Honestly, I don’t feel the pressure to be more Filipino because I know I am... I am a Filipina and nobody can ever take that away from me.”

Che-les-te Cor-tey-zi. After greeting the camera with “Hey guys!” (an introduction line battered by vloggers since the dawn of YouTube), the Filipino-Italian wanted to finally let everyone know the proper pronunciation of her name in a “Get To Know Me… More!!!” video.

It was only about five months ago when she exclaimed her name at the MOA Arena, right after sashaying down the catwalk in a sequined mini-dress and butterfly-like wings fashioned out of tulle. A little later into the evening, Pia Wurtzbach called out her name, albeit not with the proper oral posture. She couldn’t possibly be bothered to correct her, though. After all, it was at that moment when Celeste Cortesi won the coveted title of Miss Universe Philippines.


Celeste Cortesi for October 2022

And so, the months of preparation for the biggest bout of her life ensued. “Honestly, I’ve been training since I won. There are so many aspects that you have to be prepared for. To be physically ready is the least of my problems. It’s really [about being] mentally [ready] because you go through a lot of stress during the pageant. I’m doing many things and hopefully, all the work will pay off,” she tells me on the phone. It was 6 p.m. on a Tuesday when we did her interview for this cover story. She was already at home, lounging with her pets—I could hear her cat Chanel purring for attention as she spoke—after a full schedule of photoshoots and fittings. Such a whirlwind lifestyle is not new to Celeste, who’s been on the scene since she moved here to the Philippines back in 2018.

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Hardcore pageantologists and average viewers alike would know that this is not her maiden voyage into the global stage. At just 20 years old, she packed her bags and traveled to her mom’s home country with the sole intent of competing in Miss Earth Philippines. She brought home the top crown among the contenders and found herself as a Top 8 finalist in Miss Earth in the same year. Four years later, a much wiser Celeste made her second orbit in the realm of local pageantry and once again emerged victorious. Now, she’s en route to New Orleans, with her phasers set to become the fifth Filipina Miss Universe.

Once in a Blue Moon

Year in and year out, numerous beauty queens put on their heels, roll back their shoulders, and step towards the mic to unabashedly cry out the name of the place they call home. This is something Celeste’s done thrice by now, and it all started with a little nudge from mother dearest. “My mom has always been very supportive of me joining beauty pageants. Of course, a Filipino mom’s dream is to see their daughter representing the country on the Miss Universe stage, so my mom is very excited,” she says. Even if making mama’s wishes come to life was one of her driving forces, Celeste didn’t initially see herself as the “beauty queen type.”


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“I would have never thought to become a beauty queen because I felt like there was a stereotype that she always looks perfect. She's expected to dress and talk in a certain way. Those are expectations that we have from the fans.” At face value, Celeste undoubtedly fits the bill. The 24-year-old stands five feet and eight inches tall, has a svelte figure that Aphrodite herself would envy, and emanates a certain grace even when she’s just in a pair of sweatpants and Nikes.


Though, being a beauty queen, one that deserves a crown at least, roots from something more profound than looks. Celeste says it best, stating, “I’ve discovered that being a beauty queen is more about being authentic, [and having the] ability to inspire others because of your authenticity. Not all beauty queens are the same. I am who I am and I hope people will like me for me.”


Upon making her debut in the Philippine pageant circuit, Celeste had only been breathing the air in Manila for a few months. The Celeste that stepped on the Miss Earth Philippines stage was wearing cherry red lipstick, had her locks tousled to the side, and was donning a shimmering silver gown—the image of a textbook beauty queen, one can say. Call it a stroke of luck or the stars lining up in her favor, because she successfully managed to have the crown on her head despite her rookie status.

So what does a titleholder like her have to gain from vying for another crown, potentially putting at risk her winning streak? For Celeste, who’s never been the type to settle, it was an opportunity to put her best foot forward. “I was not very happy with my performance back in 2018 because I was just new to the Philippines. It was hard to adapt to a different culture and language, and at the same time, join a pageant. It was a lot going on in just a span of two or three months.”


She goes on, sharing, “I really had to take a break for a few years [in order] to really be able to discover myself, [and] to adapt to everything. I really waited many years and I felt like this year I was ready. I was able to experience many things about the Philippines already.”


More than just knowing the local tongue, the beauty queen had a firmer grasp on who she really was, which she bared for onlookers to witness last April 30. Her glam was on the gentler side, and her tresses were restrained in a bun, which allowed her light blue Val Taguba gown—a tribute to her late father—to soak up all the spotlight.


A wave of fulfillment consumed her as she took her first walk as Miss Universe Philippines. She recalls the exact moment, narrating: “When Pia [Wurtzbach] announced that I was the winner, I told myself that all the work I’ve been doing has been worth it. When you’re committed to something, when you really work hard, it shows in your results. I was very, very happy to have the chance to represent the Philippines again. It was very beautiful.”

North Stars

As we all know by now, pageantry is basically the equivalent of Spartan games here in the Philippines. The second Bea Gomez perched the Le Mer en Majeste crown onto Celeste’s head, all eyes were immediately pinned on the repeat winner, with dozens of enthusiasts already calculating her chances of becoming the next Miss Universe.

While there are those fan accounts that firmly place Celeste in the top 5 or 10 of the current roster of candidates, there are still those that question her capability to represent the country on her sash. Many netizens wax poetic over how Celeste is just another mixed-Filipina, one more half-blood princess following the path of recent titleholders Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray. Some brazenly point out the fact that the 24-year-old isn’t fluent in Filipino at all, and how this, somehow, makes her ineligible to be Ms. Philippines.


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Celeste is in no bubble and is well aware of these criticisms. But more importantly, she also knows not to let these get to her. “Honestly, I don’t feel the pressure to be more Filipino because I know I am. I get so many comments—people telling me that I am not Filipino enough and, [because] I don’t speak Tagalog, I don’t deserve to represent the Philippines. I honestly find it very offensive but I know myself. I am a Filipina and nobody can ever take that away from me,” she firmly states.


She reiterates that being a true Filipina isn’t just about the nationality on her birth certificate, or even the genes running through her DNA: “I always tell people that what really makes me a Filipina are all the values and principles my mom taught me. I’m always open to learning new things so it really is a process. What I’m doing right now is [getting] into the culture and [learning] new things every day. I did not grow up in the Philippines but I’m doing my best to make up [for it].”


When it comes to these unruly comments, the beauty queen has mastered the art of blocking. “I don't like engaging with mean comments and people who are just mean because they want to be. Whenever I see something offensive, I just block the user because it really is a way for me to stay away from the negativity,” she puts it. Case in point: Just last August, Celeste fell victim to a series of malicious posts spreading false rumors about her. Instead of biting back, she went down the high road and implored her fans not to engage.


This course of action is something she attributes to her strong personality, though she also acknowledges that not everyone is as thick-skinned as she is. The truth of the matter is, not everyone on the internet can withstand the barrage of bashing public figures like her are unfairly subjected to. She says that she’s “strong enough to handle it” but it's not always the case for everyone else. She adds, "What about the people who are not that strong [that] get mean comments for nothing? I can’t even imagine the way they feel. That is the society we’re living in right now, that’s social media right now.”

Thankfully, Celeste finds herself in the right company with the Miss Universe organization, which recently launched the #KindnessCampaign, an online effort that seeks to abolish any form of bullying. With queens like Celeste leading the pact, no form of hate will be tolerated. “That’s what we really need—to be more kind to others because the hate is so unnecessary,” she adds.


Standing on the Sun

The 24-year-old is about three months away from exclaiming “Philippines!” on the biggest pageant stage in the world (or the universe, rather). Amidst endless days of pasarela training, Q&A coaching, fittings, and photoshoots, she remains as excited as ever to finally represent the Pearl of the Orient.

I’m a bit dumbfounded when I realize that, technically, she’s part of Gen Z. The generation of TikTok dances, iced caramel macchiatos, and freedom of self-expression. Celeste ticks off those boxes, except she prefers her coffee to be served hot. A norm she’s also liberally breaking down is the notion that beauty queens having tattoos are unacceptable. Her predecessor, Bea, already debunked this school of thought during her run, and Celeste is determined to finally dismantle it once and for all.


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“I don’t really see any problem with a beauty queen [having] tattoos. Each and every tattoo that I have really has a meaning, [whether it’s about] something that happened in my life [or] a person [that’s] dear to my heart. I find them very beautiful and fascinating,” she says.


Like constellations sprawled around a galaxy, not everyone will comprehend these designs on her body, but that shouldn’t hinder her from reaching her stars. She goes on, stating, “I think that a beauty queen that can have tattoos is a beauty queen that can also inspire. Tattoos do not stop you from inspiring people or doing your job or representing your country.” So, to anyone still wondering, yes, she will proudly be flaunting all of her ink during the swimsuit round in New Orleans.


As young as she may be, the raven-haired lass is already at the top of her game, and one can only look forward to a more fine-tuned version of her come January 14th. This is Celeste 2.0. The ingenue that introduced herself as the candidate of the Filipino community in Rome has since evolved and is more than eager to show everyone what she’s got.

“What I really want to show is that whatever dream you have, whatever goal you have, or whatever skill you want to learn, you can [achieve] it as long as you’re committed. I want people to see that I can represent the Philippines. It’s been four years and I [have learned] so many things. This is another Celeste,” declares the candidate.


With her beguiling gaze, killer runway strut, and goddess-like aura, we won't be surprised if we would be welcoming home a new Miss Universe come early 2023. With legions of pageant fanatics ready to rally behind her, Celeste is prepared for take-off, bringing with her the distinct Filipino qualities she aims to champion. These, for her, are the true markers of being a Filipina beauty.

“A Filipino woman is very strong. A woman that, no matter what challenges she comes [by], will always be able to overcome them and [will always be able to] reach her goals. She’s also a woman that is not afraid to show her vulnerability and [to] embrace her flaws and weaknesses. She’s confident, and because of that, she’s beautiful.”

Produced by Em Enriquez

Co-Produced by Katrina Maisie Cabral and Reg Rodriguez

Photographed by Alan Segui

Photographer's Assistant: Jeo Jingco

Art Direction by Bacs Arcebal


Fashion Direction and Styling by Steph Sison and Jeymi Reyes

Makeup by Mickey See

Hair by Renz Pangilinan

Nails by The Secret Lounge

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