SHE WAS a shy and timid girl walking the street of Escario in 2007 to fulfill household errands.
Ten years after, Apriel Smith took her inaugural walk as the first Binibining Cebu titleholder, a crown she earned after besting 53 ladies from all over Cebu province.
On pageant night last Saturday, Smith stood out in a sea of women who wore the same white figure-hugging long gown made of sequined fabric that was designed by master couturier Cary Santiago.
She was a vision of regal beauty: polished, composed and appeared sure of her victory. It was not evident that the 22-year-old model was once bullied and criticized for her dusky complexion and kinky hair.
Danny Booc, managing director of Ozar Model Philippines, was Smith’s fairy godmother who saw her potential in 2007 while she was buying barbecue from a sidewalk vendor. “My previous (dress) shop was located on Escario.
Her family lived on Escario, about one block away. We were practically neighbors,” recalled Booc, who has been in the business as a top model agent for 17 years although he has been in the fashion industry for three decades now.
Booc approached Smith and asked her if she wants to become a model. Smith, then 12 years old and already standing at 5 feet 7 inches, expressed interest in becoming one. “I saw that she was not confident and unsure of herself.
But I told her to come to the shop and bring a pair of heels,” he said. Smith brought with her a pair of worn-out high heels and Danny patiently nurtured the aspiring model and transformed her to the stunning beauty queen that she is now.
ACES & QUEENS
In the next 10 years, the BS Tourism undergraduate won a couple of beauty pageants namely Miss Dumanjug 2011, Miss Cebu City Olympics 2012, Sinulog Festival Queen 2012 and Miss Badian 2015.
But she was also a runner up in several other pageants which was dominated by mestizas, according to Booc.
Smith finished as a third runner-up in Miss Mandaue 2013 and first runner-up in Reyna ng Aliwan 2017.
In 2016, she braved the national pageant waters through Binibining Pilipinas and landed in the Top 15. She was in the same batch as Maria Gigante, who failed to secure a spot in the Top 15.
The two beauty queens “met again” in the first staging of Binibining Cebu representing Badian and Bantayan, respectively. While Smith won the top crown, Gigante finished in third place and went home with the Binibining Cebu Charity crown.
Though she did not advance to the final round for Binibining Pilipinas, Smith caught the picky attention of the Aces and Queens beauty camp topbilled by Jonas Gaffud. Aces and Queens is the same beauty camp which trained Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and former Miss Universe pageant runners-up Janine Tugonon, Shamcey Supsup and Venus Raj.
Two days before the coronation night, Booc said Smith was unusually quiet. He attributed it to the mounting pressure that was piling up on her. Booc visited churches and mobilized prayer warriors to intercede for Smith’s successful performance.
On coronation night, he approached Smith and told her that “Jesus has an extra special gift for you on your birthday.”
As it turned out, the gift was the Binibining Cebu 2017 crown, which was placed on her head a few minutes after midnight when she was announced as the winner. It also happened to be her 22nd birthday.
“This is a big win for us because we worked hard for this. Apriel went on a diet, prepared and trained herself to be in her best form. We went through several brainstorming sessions with the help of the team from Manila. We discussed styling, make-up, image,” explained Booc. Booc admires Smith for her humility and loyalty.
“Cary Santiago told me about how grounded and down-to-earth Apriel is. There were so many camps who wanted to take her away from me but she remained loyal. She has been with me for 10 years and in those 10 years, I have seen her grow and transform,” Booc expressed.
Consulting with the Aces and Queens team, Booc said Smith will complete her reign as Binibining Cebu until a new queen is crowned in 2018. She is expected to make a Binibining Pilipinas comeback in 2019 or 2020.
“We are looking at the trends and the caliber of the candidates. Apriel herself said that she needs to grow more to compete for Binibining Pilipinas,” said Booc.
For now, Booc is a proud mentor to the once-insecure 12-year-old girl who opened the doors of his shop with her head bowed down.
Today, that girl proudly raises her head up, confident to face the world armed with the courage and enthusiasm of a woman who emerged triumphant from a long battle against bullying and self-doubt.