Matea Mahal Smith, who was born in Coral Springs, Florida with family roots in Pililla, Rizal, Philippines, won the Miss Filipina International 2023 title in a glamorous, top-tier show in the prestigious International Ballroom of The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California last Saturday, August 5.
Smith, 21, became the first winner of Filipino and Black descent in the 10-year history of the pageant. A student of Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience at University of Florida, Smith hopes to become a trauma surgeon and positively impact people’s lives.
Also the winner of the best in swimsuit competition, Smith said that she admires her Filipina mother who taught her that no matter what life throws her way, obstacles are a temporary challenge, not an end, in her journey. She loves traveling, cooking, exercising, dancing, spending time with her loved ones and listening to music.
As the top winner of MFI, now owned by Geoffrey Jimenez, who also executive produced the glittering production to be aired by GMA Network, Smith will receive a BMW 2 Series car and a $10,000 gift certificate from iSkin Beverly Hills.
Last year’s winner, Blessa Ericha Figueroa, put the stunning brand new MFI crown, made of Swiss blue topaz, Japanese pearls and other gems, custom-designed by royalty designer Narcisa Pheres, on the head of Smith. The crown was presented by Jimenez while Michelle Dee, the reigning Miss Universe Philippines, put the sash on Smith.
Amanda Russo, born in Christiana, Delaware with family roots in Angeles City, Pampanga, bagged the Miss Filipina International Tourism title. The 18-year-old Finance and International Business student at Penn State University also considers her mom as her biggest inspiration. She wants to give back to the Filipino community and find ways to better the lives of elders.
The other winners were Lauren Skeoch, First Runner-up; Patricia Bianca Tapia, Second Runner-up; and Rylen Faith Steinbuch, Third Runner-up. Russo and these winners will receive cash prizes and iSkin gift certificates.
In partnership with Jonas Gaffud’s Empire Philippines, three MFI winners will be eligible to compete next year in Miss Universe Philippines while two MFI winners will vie in The Miss Philippines pageant.
From a field of 36 lovely aspirants representing various states across America and several countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and the Philippines, 15 semi-finalists were chosen: Denisse Nicole Samaniego, Dakota Swart, Hannah Angelica Marte, Mary Ann Monda, Rylen Faith Steinbuch, Kelly McIlroy, Beatriz Mclelland, Matea Mahal Smith, Kawena Janessa Kanhai, Lauren Skeoch, Patricia Bianca Tapia, Jessica Zemanek, Amanda Russo, Heather Casignia and Issha Rose Mata.
The winners in other categories and of sponsor awards were: best in evening gown, Manila International Film Festival Award and Enagic Water Ambassador, Beatriz Mclelland; photogenic, iSkin award and Philippine Airlines award, Rylen Faith Steinbuch; talent, Jessica Zemanek; best national costume, Hope Corpus; Miss Eloquent, Heather Casignia; best in glam, Mary Ann Monda; Jojo Bragais Walk + Win Challenge, Amanda Russo; and Legaspi Tax Ambassador, Alyanna Joelle Santos.
In the pageant co-hosted by Jeannie Mai Jenkins (“The Real”), who hosted the Miss Universe Pageant 2023 in January, and Cheryl Burke, a second-generation Filipina American TV personality, best known for the hit ABC reality show, “Dancing with the Star,” the Visionary Award was presented by Mario Lopez, via video, to Geoffrey Jimenez.
The chairman of Worldwide Media Entertainment and MFI owner was cited as “a philanthropist and true visionary who is passionate about helping his community to believe in the power of their dreams. He is not only a community leader but also an advocate and patron of Filipino talent, artistry and culture. With Miss Filipina International, Geoffrey has created a platform to amplify young Filipina voices and a home for future transformational leaders in our community.”
Jonas Gaffud, known as the “Beauty Queen King,” was honored by MFI with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The head of Empire Philippines, which holds the Miss Universe Philippines and The Miss Philippines pageants, was hailed for “offering young women more than just training. He offers them the courage to dream, the strength to persevere and the knowledge that they are capable of changing the world.”
The distinguished panel of judges on the coronation night included Michelle Dee, who will represent the Philippines in the 72nd Miss Universe in El Salvador in November; Hollywood actress Vivica A. Fox (“Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” “Independence Day” movies”); Krista Kleiner, Miss Philippines International title holder and philanthropist; Margaret Gardiner, Miss Universe title holder, author and entertainment journalist; Richard Maghanoy, iSkin Beverly Hills CEO and Image Body Spa COO; and Michelle Narvaez, Philippine Airlines officer-in-charge country manager in the U.S.
Also among the eminent judges were Marc Anthony Nicolas, two-time Daytime Emmy-winning producer of “The Talk”; Narcisa Pheres, MFI crown designer whose clients include former First Lady Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Madonna, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez; Natty Pappas, shipping executive and consultant; Alden Richards, GMA’s popular singer-actor-host; Anton San Diego, editor-in-chief of Tatler Philippines for an impressive 22 years; Voltaire Tayag, Miss Universe Philippines communications director; and Kathleen Espina Ynion, successful restaurateur and wellness advocate.
Francis Arden, a leading model and talent agent, and Paul Dreher, one of The Beverly Hilton’s directors of catering, joined the panel of judges in the preliminary competition, also held at the Hilton, last Friday, August 4. Accomplished and versatile performers Martin Nievera and Pops Fernandez co-hosted the equally spectacular prelims night.
Miss Ramonne and Terrell Carter performed musical numbers in the show which had multiple Emmy winner and P&L Media’s Lisa Lew, herself a Miss Philippines International title holder, as producer. GMA Network, which will air the exciting coronation night as a special, was represented by executives Joseph Jerome Francia, Joy Marcelo and Renze Banawa.