The 24-year old Manuela Bruntraeger overwhelmingly narrates her journey from an art graduate to becoming Miss Universe Singapore 2017, says the entire exercise was a dream come true. The event was jointly organised by Miss Universe Singapore organisation and The New Paper.
She told IBTimes Singapore, in an exclusive interview, how she is taking her own sweet time to get used to the fame and the responsibility that comes with it.
From an art graduate to Miss Singapore - how has the journey been so far?
It still feels like a dream. Ever since I was a young girl, Miss Universe was something I always dreamed about, but I never thought would become a reality until this year. Having graduated just one month ago (in September), I was able to dedicate and commit 100 percent of my time to Miss Universe. It has been an incredible journey and I have learned so much along the way. Running alongside the other 19 contestants was an honour and I have made friendships that will last a lifetime.
How do you think your academic background helped you fetch the title of Miss Singapore?
My education in creative arts has given me a strong foundation in artistry. I have a heightened sensitivity to the smallest details and take enormous amounts of care when doing anything. I believe that creativity is the most important attribute in life and I apply that to all aspects of my life. Being an artist encourages you to dream and believing in a dream is the first step to accomplishing anything.
What are your feelings after having won the contest?
In a moment, it definitely felt like all my dreams had come true. It was surreal, exciting and all in overwhelming to be crowned Miss Universe Singapore 2017. I carry the crown with great pride, but I am conscious of not only the physical weight of the crown but the weight of its responsibility too. I am incredibly proud of myself and all the other girls for having come so far and accomplished so much. I am also grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to show the world that by being true to yourself and remaining authentic and genuine, your inner beauty can transcend all boundaries.
What drove you to join this pageant?
I got involved in pageantry because I believe it is a celebration of womanhood and it is a powerful platform for women to present the very best versions of themselves. I really wanted to challenge myself and put myself through the process so I could gain the training and the necessary qualities to achieve anything I put my mind to.
What are your thoughts on this year's theme - "Vie for a Beautiful Cause"?
We should all have a cause or a purpose in life – striving to ensure that it is a positive one that encourages growth, promotes love, and touches the hearts and minds of as many people as possible is a beautiful thing. I have several causes; I believe in sustainable living and educating the youth for a brighter future, as well as supporting several organisations championing women's rights.
How do you see yourself 15 years from now?
National Director of Miss Universe Singapore, Nuraliza Osman is a huge inspiration to me, and I am amazed that I get to work with her on a daily basis. I believe so much in pageantry because it instills the qualities to become a strong, powerful and independent woman. This comes with the understanding that beauty is not about an aesthetic surface, but from a confidence and light that radiates from within. I want to inspire and empower women with the confidence to dream and strive to achieve their goals.
What has been the most challenging phase for you in this competition?
With everything positive that comes your way, it can sometimes be overwhelming to have so much of the attention be on you. This industry forces you to talk about yourself constantly and focus your attention inward. I am lucky to have a very strong support system, by means of my family. I come from a big family, but mainly my father, mother, sister, grandmother (90 years old) and boyfriend keep me humble and grounded in my beliefs and values. They never let me lose sight of who I am and what I am striving towards. They keep me motivated, focused and on track. I am incredibly grateful to have the winning support system that I do.
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My grandmother. She's 90 years old. She experienced so much hardship growing up in a time of conflict and poverty but maintains such a positive outlook on life and has so much love to give. She is responsible for bringing up and raising my mother (alongside 9 other children), who is another pillar of strength and a great influence in my life. Together with my father, they have taught us (my sister and me ) values of respect, humility and compassion, kindness towards others and nurtured unapologetic ambition and the belief that we can do and achieve anything we set our minds to. My parents really are the greatest influence in my life. My mother, for being the woman that she is, and my father, for encouraging and empowering a family made up of three girls, to be strong, independent, gracious and kind human beings.
Is there anything from the past you would like to change?
Absolutely not. Everything has happened for a reason, and the culmination of that has been my crowning as Miss Universe Singapore 2017. No life is absolutely perfect or without difficulties; these make us stronger, more resilient and forge the people we are. There is a lesson in everything good or bad.
Suppose you have a magic wand, what is the one thing you would ask for and why?
For violence to be eradicated. Humans have been fighting for as long as we could pick up sticks and stones. Our redemption lies in realising we are stronger united and that we have got to set our differences aside. My magic wand would dissolve any need for violence or threat. My deepest condolences and sincerest empathies go out to the families and friends of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting.
What are the qualities in you that can help you become the next Miss Universe?
My strength as a woman comes from within and the values that I was brought up with. I am hardworking, courageous and fearless. These qualities help me to strive for anything I set my mind to. Every experience is an opportunity to learn something new. I believe in being 100 percent authentic and true to myself.
What do you think is your USP as opposed to the other candidates for the main event?
I would like to say that I am uniquely Singaporean – with a diverse ethnic background spanning Eurasian Portuguese and German heritage and a happy upbringing amidst a large Eurasian family in Singapore, I've been exposed to a wide range of traditions, languages and cultural differences across a vastly multiracial society. I have an ability to form a deep connection with people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. A gesture as small as a smile or the gentle touch of a hand transcends all cultural barriers and speaks a thousand words.
What is the one philosophy you follow?
Treat others as you wish to be treated. When you give love, you get love. When you put out kindness, it is returned to you. I believe that you cannot control the way someone treats you, but you can control how you react and how you treat them. In this, you can find the true nature of a person.
If not the beauty pageant, what would you have become?
If not for Miss Universe, I would have continued pursuing positive work in charity and the arts. That is not to say I have stopped doing these things now that I am Miss Universe!
What for you is the essence of being a woman?
At the heart of womanhood is compassion. Women are protectors, caregivers, and lovers.
As Sushmita Sen famously answered "Just being a woman is God's gift that all of us must appreciate. The origin of a child is a mother, and is a woman. She shows a man what sharing, caring and loving is all about. That is the essence of a woman. "
Name something that you failed at in the course of your life that in return created the person that you are.
I have always been very headstrong and determined to see my visions become a reality. In my earlier years as an art student, my mentor and I often clashed over creative differences and sometimes I let my emotions get in the way of what I wanted to achieve. I learned to navigate professional differences quickly and diplomatically and have been able to achieve more than I had ever dreamed. I reminded myself that this is my passion and I can use my talents and gifts to help people and project a wider message of hope and the power of imagination.
As my father has always taught me, it is not the size of the 'failure', but the quality of the recovery that is important.
How do you plan to represent your country for the main event in November?
LOUD AND PROUD! I am committed to giving my 110 percent for my country. Winning the title, the crown and the chance to represent Singapore was an absolute dream come true for me. But now I understand that all the hard work that follows is no longer just about me. I am representing my nation and will do everything to make Singapore's flag fly high!
Tell us one thing that you believe contributed to your selection.
My smile and the willingness to make the best of any situation. I believe the genuine character of a person can be found in the eyes and the smile.
How would you describe your personality?
I am quirky, curious, and creative. I am unapologetically ambitious and confident in my own skin. I have never believed in trying to be something I am not. I have never believed in trying to be something I am not.
According to you what does the title of Miss Universe actually signify?
Miss Universe is a responsibility; to be a positive role model, to celebrate womanhood and the projection of my values, confidence, and kindness.