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When the crown fits

Miss Universe Philippines Michelle Dee is following in her mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps

MISS Universe Philippines for 2023 Michelle Dee with her mother Miss International 1979 Melanie Marquez. — GMANETWORK INTAGRAM POST SCREENGRAB

HOW far does the apple fall from the tree? Not much, in the case of Michelle Dee. Ms. Dee was crowned as Miss Universe Philippines for 2023, to represent the country at the Miss Universe pageant to be held at El Salvador later this year. Ms. Dee also happens to be the daughter of Miss International 1979 Melanie Marquez, and now, she’s on the path herself to try winning an international pageant.

Not even a full day after her coronation as Miss Universe Philippines for 2023 on May 13, Ms. Dee toured the factories of Smilee, the clothing manufacturing outfit owned by the family of former Miss Universe Runner-up and current Miss Universe Philippines National Director Shamcey Supsup-Lee. Current Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel was also present during the tour (but left earlier), and during a press conference there, Ms. Dee was accompanied by Pauline Amelinckx and Krishnah Gravidez — Miss Supranational Philippines and Miss Charm Philippines, respectively; crowned in a separate ceremony last week.

Speaking with the press, Ms. Dee described the feeling of winning the pageant the night before: “It feels amazing, honestly. It still feels so surreal. It hasn’t fully sunken in yet, but I’m just full of gratitude. It’s a product of months, if not years, of hard work and dedication. I’m just glad that that was acknowledged, and I finally got to win Miss Universe Philippines.” she said.

“I am excited for what’s ahead. Pageantry is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. After Coronation Night, it feels like a dream — a dream that you want to just keep going on and on and on. Ultimately, it was a really happy memory for me.”

Behind great women are other great women. As we’ve mentioned, Ms. Dee is the daughter of a beauty queen, but she’s also the granddaughter of the late society beauty Regina Dee, of the Dee banking family. (Michelle Dee’s father is businessman, film producer, and actor Frederik “Derek” Dee.)

Speaking about the influences of the women in her family tree, she said, “My mom and my grandmother, they really taught me how to be compassionate and empathetic. My grandmother, she actually dedicated her whole life to helping other people. She founded Inner Peace Foundation, of which I am currently the president, because my father got into an accident last year.

“My mother, she was my prime example of how to really put charities first,” she said, noting how her mother had exposed her to charity work at an early age. “They lived through example,” she said of her family. “That’s the kind of person that I also want to be remembered (as). That’s the mark that I want to leave in this universe.”

Miss Dee has long been an advocate for autism awareness and mental health education, inspired by the fact that two of her six siblings were diagnosed with autism. She works with the Center for Possibilities, Inc., a foundation that helps children with special needs, among other organizations with similar focuses. She works with the Autism Society Philippines and was its goodwill ambassador in 2020.

She also works with her father in the family’s HepCured initiative which works for hepatitis awareness.

Described on Wikipedia as being an actress, model, TV presented, and talk show host, aside from being a beauty pageant titleholder, Ms. Dee does have a life outside of the pageant stage — though it has always been in the limelight.

The 28-year-old grew up splitting time between Utah in the USA and Mabalacat, Pampanga where her family had a hacienda. A psychology graduate from De La Salle University, she went on to take a short course on entrepreneurship at the Harvard Business School.

There has been a lot of talk lately about “nepo-babies” — how the children of celebrities are following in the footsteps of their parents, thanks to the ease of opportunity provided for by their birth. Ms. Dee answered if being the daughter of Ms. Marquez makes life, especially in the same chosen path, easier.

“I think it makes it harder,” she said, laughing.

“Growing up with such an iconic figure, it’s hard to fill in those shoes. I’m grateful because I do have the kind of guidance that she gives me. She really puts me in the right headspace entering pageants. She told me for my first pageant: ‘just be yourself.”

Bb. Pilipinas, it turns out, was not Ms. Dee’s first walk down a pageant runway. She won Miss World Philippines in 2019, and went on to represent the country in that year’s Miss World pageant, but only got up to the Top 12. That did not stop her. Last year, Ms. Dee tried for the Miss Universe Philippines crown for the first time, and was awarded the title of Miss Universe Philippines Tourism, finishing behind Celeste Cortesi, who represented the country at last year’s Miss Universe pageant.

“I’m not sure if all of you know, but she wasn’t present last year,” Miss Dee said about her mother. “She was present at my first pageant. She’s always been my lucky charm. I do this for her. She’s always been my biggest inspiration.

This time around, just after she received her crown, her proud mother joined her on the pageant stage. “When she went up on stage, I was just so happy that she made it,” she said, noting that her mother had been in an accident last year. “For her to be able to witness it, to see me win Miss Universe Philippines in the flesh, and not through a screen, that was an amazing feeling all together,” she said. “It gave me a strong sense of confidence and reassurance in myself. She would nod and give me validation — ‘You’re doing well’,” she said of the sight of her mother offstage.

“Yes Mom, I’m doing it!”

Repeating her mother’s advice to her — paraphrasing her answer to what was the question asked of her in the Miss World Philippines pageant’s semifinal question and answer round – Miss Dee said, “Don’t try to become anyone else other than yourself, because you are the one who people would look up to.”

Being her mother’s daughter might be hard, she admitted, “because there is that comparison.” Still, “I believe that throughout my pageant journey, I’ve been able to shine in my own light.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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