Analou Reyes Mrs. Grand International Philippines

    It was a windy day outside yet the beauty queen whom I'm about to interview remains a regal composure. I found her at the corner of the restaurant where we agreed to meet. Even in a simple shirt and jeans ensemble, you wouldn't miss the natural charisma she excludes. Her smile spells reassurance and her eyes would tell you thousands of tales even before she opens her mouth. I sat down and immediately turned my recorder on right after we exchanged hellos. After all, I am interviewing no less than Ms. Analou Reyes - the reigning Mrs. Grand International Philippines who will be representing our country for the Mrs. Grand International crown happening next year in Myanmar. The woman before me is also one of the recipients of the 3rd Laguna Excellence Awards – an award given to those who have made a germane impact through their life’s oeuvre. 

   I met Ms. Analou in a recently-opened bar and restaurant establishment which she co-owns in Mandaue City a few months ago. Despite her busy schedule as an entrepreneur and a single mother, everyone who knows her would attest to how she handles herself effortlessly with grace. You wouldn’t think of her as someone who has been on a rough road or someone who has a story that mirrors what most of our modern-day heroes (OFWs) have experienced. 

Honest & Humble Beginnings

    Analou and her family used to live in a squatter area right under the first Mactan-Mandaue Bridge. Named ‘Paradise Island’, living there was an irony for the young Analou. She remembered how her family has to endure the flood among other hardships brought by being a resident of the place. “I am not ashamed of spending much of my time growing up in a squatter area, but it made me dream to provide my family for a better place to live in – for a better life.”

    “It wasn’t all glam and smile,” this is what Ms. Analou revealed when I asked her of her humble beginnings that made her who she is today. She began her story when she was a nascent student-performer at the University of San Jose Recoletos. “I got a scholarship in college as a performer under Dr. Milagros Espina. I was an all-around performer as we were taught how to dance, sing, act – basically how to perform in front of an audience.” She credited her time with Dr. Espina and her batchmates as the moment when her confidence begun to bloom. Apart from being a huge help for her to study, her scholarship also gave her an opportunity to travel abroad for the first time as a performer. “The scholarship was a project of Madam Amparito Lhuillier. The program was a really big help and I’m very thankful to be a part of it.”

    Sadly, she has to stop pursuing her college degree to support her younger siblings. “It was way back in 2000 when I stopped and decided to go abroad with my bandmates. We were supposed to head for Malaysia, but our journey was halted in Thailand. Little did we know, we were scammed by our agent at that time.” She recalled having to eat once a day without any salary for a month. “I remember being saved by the one-dollar I have in my wallet. We bought a fruit I could barely recall just to get us through hunger.”

    Eventually, Analou and her bandmates were able to head to Malaysia after an 18-hour journey from Thailand. However, their voyage in Malaysia is not the wonderland they thought it was going to be. “In Malaysia, we were able to perform in a five-star hotel with good food and proper place to stay in, but we didn’t receive any salary from our boss. At that time, we decided to come home to the Philippines even without savings.”

    Right after her stint in Malaysia, Analou decided to fly to South Korea with high hopes. While working as a singer, Analou took the chance to work sideline for a Korean-owned restaurant. “I took the job because I was hoping that it will help me save more for my family. Unexpectedly at work, immigration officers started checking for our work documents. Some of my colleagues including ate Vicky, a TNT whom I met and helped secure a job in Korea, did not have the proper documents. That night we were taken to a jail in Incheon as prisoners.”Analou was imprisoned for three days, while some of her colleagues stayed in jail for months.

    Analou considered the experience as a breaking point of her life in Korea. To make the matter worse, she was carrying her child at that time. “It made me ask what I did to deserve the trauma that it brought upon me. The only thing I wanted and hoped for in working abroad is to provide for my family.” The worst part for her is deciding to leave the father of her child and go back to the Philippines. “As much as I love him, I couldn’t bear the trauma and having to stay in Korea at that point. All I think about is going home to be with my family.”

    Her fighting spirit brought Analou to work as a performer in Hongkong. It wasn’t the good life she expected; she and some other Filipino coworkers were scammed by a Chinese agent. They found themselves collecting garbage in order to earn extra income and be able to have a decent meal. “For a year, I endured a tough working condition in Hongkong. I’ve suffered from different sorts of humiliation as a Filipina.” 

    After a short period of work in Jakarta, Analou got married in the Philippines. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last long, and Analou found herself working in China. “I had my own share of struggles working in China; communication-barrier being one of those. Working there was my last stretch as an overseas Filipino worker. I decided to come back to the place I always call home – the Philippines.”

Analou Reyes Mrs. Grand International Philippines
Born to perform! Analou Reyes is gifted with a golden voice
Analou Reyes Mrs. Grand International Philippines
Ms. Analou Reyes while working as an overseas Filipino worker in Hongkong and in China proper

Taking New Heights

    In 2010, Analou won the Talentadong Pinoy competition hosted by TV5. It was her talent in singing that made her win out of six different talent acts. The glamorous world of pageantry opened its doors to Analou when Mandaue-based makeup artist Keith Bacayo encouraged her to join Mrs. Cebu. Her journey as a beauty queen continued to flourish when Jessie Glova, a renowned Cebuano makeup artist reached out to her in vying for the Mrs. Philippines crown. “I am very thankful to Keith and to Jessie for believing in me even when I had hesitations to even try joining beauty pageants. At that time, I wasn’t even confident in joining beauty pageants as I know I have a lot to work out. I’ve always identified myself as a singer.” In 2011, Analou gathered the 1st Runner Up for Ginang Alaska. She greatly credited a very good friend of hers' Jeum Paracuelles for supporting and believing with her to give pageantry a first try. 

   Despite not being professionally trained as a singer, Analou’s voice has been her tool to go through life and to provide for herself and her family. “I’ve always loved singing, and maybe it is God’s gift to me because ever since I started looking for means to earn, it has always been my voice which I consider as my bread and butter. I am proud to say that through my God-given talent, I was able to give my family a better place to live in which has been my dream ever since I was a young girl.”

Analou Reyes Mrs. Grand International Philippines
Ms. Analou Reyes during the Ginang Alaska 2011 coronation night

Analou Reyes Mrs. Grand International Philippines
Analou on her Talentadong Pinoy journey

Analou Reyes Mrs. Grand International Philippines
A queen inside and out - Ms. Analou Reyes in blue swimwear donning her Mrs. Grand International crown and sash

Forging New Paths as a Role Model 

    Analou confessed to being a goal-getter. “I always make hard situations as an inspiration. Even with all the trials that I’ve gone through where at some point, I wonder if I am cursed because of the endless challenges, I never lose hope. I still dream. I still work to align my goals even at this moment.” 

    While striving hard to achieve her personal aspirations, Analou always chooses to look back and share. “Before the pandemic, and even when I was still able to earn from my jobs abroad, I always choose to give and share my blessings. I do this within my means such as initiating feeding programs in the community where I used to live.” Analou believes in the power of community connection. 

      A recent challenge once again tested her faith when close members of her family including her father tested positive for covid-19. As their hospital continues to increase up to seven hundred thousand pesos, she had no choice but to ask for help from her friends on social media. To her surprise, even strangers whom she hasn’t met offered her monetary help. “It was overwhelming in a good way. I didn’t expect such a response and help. I am very grateful to everyone who has extended me their help and I plan on how I can give back to them to thank them.” Analou found the experience humbling and crucial, but she is beyond grateful that her family members are now safe. For what it’s worth, she believes that the experience brought them closer as a family. Amidst all the tribulations she has encountered, Analou considers her family, especially her only son to be her stronghold and inspiration to keep going.

Analou Reyes Mrs. Grand International Philippines
Ms. Analou with her father and nephew. Facing the threats of the coronavirus together as one.

    With all the titles she has acquired, she wants to be remembered as a brave woman. She sees pageantry as an effective platform to promote the common good and means to reach out to other women especially single mothers. “I wanted to tell single mothers, mothers in general, that we are more than just someone who cares for our family. We can also serve as an inspiration to others and we should not stop caring and loving ourselves as we continue to love and care for our family.”

    Having been through an abusive relationship in the past, Analou wants to be a voice for victims of abuse particularly children and women. While it’s not a new societal issue, Analou believes that programs about it must be strengthened and that it continues to be a relevant point of discussion to this day. It can be noted that cases of domestic abuse towards women and children significantly increased during the height of the pandemic. 

    Since the election period draws nearer, I couldn't help but ask Ms. Analou how she describes a great leader.  “A great leader should be a good listener. He or she should be emphatic to the people and be able to maintain his or her credibility and integrity even in the face of great adversity."

   Analou is elated to represent the Philippines in an international arena for a beauty pageant competition next year. "I have so much preparation to do, but I will always be proud to represent our beautiful country. Our resilience and our bravery as a nation make me proud as a Filipina."

      A veteran singer, Analou has performed countless songs but one of the songs etched in her heart is the classic hit by The Beatles "Let It Be''. "I still have so much to achieve, but whether I'll attain them or not, I will let God be my guide. I've been judged, humiliated, told that I'm too ambitious for my dreams. It's normal for us to react and get hurt by other people's words, but let's try to understand them to the best of our capabilities as we come from different backgrounds. Maybe the person is also struggling, or it could be the person's upbringing. I want love to go beyond hate," such are the words of Analou while recalling all the criticisms and Nos she received in the past. 

       With her tales of hope and triumph, it is clear that she is on a quest for a grand journey befitting a warrior queen ready to conquer storms life may befall upon her.

***Ms. Analou Reyes would like to thank her generous sponsors for their relentless support on her journey - Ms. Sandy Parreñas and Mr. Jack Baldwin of Sandy’s Saloon , Ms.Joanna Banilad Tandan of Albertos Pizza - Tipolo  Mandaue City, Ms. Taryn Tan of Skin Bar, Dr. Lorna M.Quimco of Amor Dental, Mr. Dante Francisco of Chicky’Oink, her Olé Live Music + Bar family,  Jessica Eribal - Mrs. International 2017 for her guidance, Mr. Aries Concepcion - General Manager Glamore Productions, and Ms. Angel 'Maan' Cueto Aris - Founder Mrs. Philippines International.

Ms. Analou is also grateful for her family, friends, and supporters.