Miss Universe was like 'being in the army'
Miss Universe Singapore Manuela Bruntraeger, who returns home tomorrow, shares her experience in the international pageant
Almost two months after the deadliest mass shooting in the US, Miss Universe Singapore 2017 Manuela Bruntraeger found herself staying blocks away from where a lone gunman opened fire at concertgoers on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct 1, leaving almost 60 dead and more than 500 injured.
For the 24-year-old artist, who was in Sin City for 15 days to compete in the international beauty pageant Miss Universe, it served as a reminder to be appreciative of the level of security surrounding the 92 delegates.
They were put up at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Resort and Casino, a 10-minute drive from the Mandalay Bay hotel, where the gunman fired from.
Speaking to The New Paper over the phone from Manila, Manuela said: "Though (the security) was intense at times, I understood its importance and was grateful that it was there."
She is visiting the capital of the Philippines alongside nine other Miss Universe delegates - who represent emerging tourism markets for the country - as part of its Bring Home A Friend campaign organised by the Philippine Department of Tourism. She will return to Singapore tomorrow.
"I had time (since returning from Las Vegas) only to unpack and repack before heading off again," said Manuela, who arrived home on Nov 30 after the Miss Universe finals on Nov 26 and flew off to Manila days later on Tuesday.
During the welcome event in Las Vegas, the delegates took part in a photo opportunity for Vegas Strong, an organisation that supports the casualties and families of those affected by the shooting. They donned black shirts with its logo in a show of solidarity for the city.
Manuela said the experience made her proud to have the platform to speak about issues such as gun violence.
She said: "It was inspiring to know that I could make a difference and was a part of a global event (like Miss Universe) that united the world."
Manuela, who last visited Las Vegas when she was 11, described competing in Miss Universe as "hectic but the most exciting experience" in her life.
She said: "It was a 26-hour journey (from Singapore). I was so out of my comfort zone, and (yet) I was expected to be organised.I felt a renewed sense of accomplishment, and it was a maturing moment for me."
She got close to Miss Universe Zambia Isabel Chikoti, Miss Universe Thailand Maria Poonlertlarp, Miss Universe China Roxette Qiu and Miss Universe Korea Cho Se Whee.
She was also friendly with Miss Universe South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who went on to be crowned Miss Universe 2017, and managed to pull her aside during the dress rehearsal for the finals to tell her to "do good out there".
She said: "I was proud and excited for her when she won. I was really rooting for her."
Manuela likened her experience to "being in the army, in terms of the diligence, organisation and discipline (required)". Her days started at 5am and ended at 1am to 2am almost every day.
In a particularly frantic moment, at the national costume showcase, she was faced with a Gardens by the Bay Supertree-inspired outfit with 25 metres worth of LEDs that refused to light up.
She remembered "freaking out", adding: "I knew if the LEDs didn't work, the main focus of the costume would be missing. I would be a tree-like structure, not a Supertree."
Fortunately for her, members of the Miss Universe lighting crew helped fix the problem and return her to her dazzling best.
Manuela found comfort sleeping with the Singapore flag in bed, "knowing that people were proud of me", and it was a "reminder of everyone back home" and how her family would be among the audience watching her.
Although she did not make it to the Top 16, she said: "It is (still) a big thing, to be one of the women who have represented Singapore (at Miss Universe), and puts this whole experience into perspective."