First posted 11:52pm (Mla time) Mar 30, 2006
By Ruben V. Nepales
LOS ANGELES—“I would love to,” said the Pampanga-born American TV show host and former Miss Teen USA Vanessa Minnillo when I asked if she would like to grace or judge a beauty contest in pageant-crazy Philippines.
Born at Clark Air Force Base in 1980, Vanessa is the daughter of a Filipina, Helen Berecero, and Vince Minnillo. Vanessa’s parents met when he was a USAF aircrew member assigned at Clark. Crowned Miss Teen USA in 1998, this beautiful Filipino-American has been enjoying a winning career streak in entertainment.
The 5’8” tall stunner is the New York correspondent of “Entertainment Tonight,” the world’s top syndicated entertainment newsmagazine. She is a VJ on MTV’s “Total Request Live” and has hosted several MTV specials.
Recently, Vanessa landed the plum assignment as one of the co-hosts of the Academy Awards’ official red carpet arrivals show, “Oscar Countdown 2006.” Vanessa’s lovely Amerasian features and sweet.
Vanessa has hurdled many challenges to get where she is now. According to Self magazine, the exotic-looking Vanessa, upon winning the Miss Teen USA title, was hurt when someone told a friend of hers, “How can she (Vanessa) represent the United States, looking the way she does?”
After her parents separated when she was 6, Vanessa constantly moved around, to such places as Florida and Nevada, with her mother and adopted older brother, Vincent. At one point, Vanessa lived in Turkey and Germany when her mother married another serviceman. Of those peripatetic times, Vanessa looked at the positive side: “I love travel and new experiences. Those were amazing learning experiences for me.”
In high school, Vanessa finally enjoyed a settled life when she and her brother lived with their father (now retired) and stepmother (Donna Minnillo) in Charleston, South Carolina.
Despite stories of their estrangement, Vanessa never fails to point out in interviews the winning qualities that she inherited from her mother, a native of Leyte.
She is also grateful about her beauty contest background which, she believes, opened many doors for her. “With the proper mind-set, a woman can find that beauty contests are very beneficial,” she told me via e-mail. She judged the Miss Teen USA 2003 tilt and covered the backstage action in the 50th Miss USA pageant in 2001. These pageants, plus Miss Universe, are owned by Donald Trump in partnership with NBC.
Vanessa has been linked to New York Yankees baseball player Derek Jeter and actor Orlando Bloom. She appears as a former love interest of Nick Lachey in his new music video, “What’s Left of Me.” In Vogue’s Oscar Awards-themed February issue, Vanessa was photographed as Jennifer Beals’ memorable character in legwarmers and cut-off sweatshirt.
There is an online photo of you wearing your Miss Teen USA sash with some members of the Filipino community of Charleston, South Carolina. How close are you to this community?
My mother was my biggest link with the Filipino community. Once I lived with my father and stepmom, it was hard to keep up with the community, but I always [remember] my roots and how I grew up. My favorite dish is chicken adobo. I made my stepmom learn how to cook it for me. She still does to this day.
You were born at Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga. Have you been back since to the Philippines?
I have not gone back but I look forward to the day when I can. I know it will be emotional for me.
Do you speak the Pampango dialect or understand Tagalog?
I know when a mother is telling her kid to stop or be quiet, or behave. I heard that a lot growing up. Ha- ha!
What qualities or traits do you have that you think came from the Filipino in you?
My spark! And my passion to follow my dream. I have to try a little harder than the next person, but that’s what gives me the drive and desire. Also, my sensuality. I have my mother’s eyes and looks that can say a lot, I think. My dad always says, “Your mother would give that look!”
Reading about you, I notice that your sense of humor and affable personality are always singled out. To whom do you attribute these qualities?
Both my parents. I got my outgoing traits from my mother. I learned humility from my father and inherited his sense of humor.
How challenging was it to get to where you are now, career-wise, especially as an Asian American helping break barriers in mainstream American media?
It is quite challenging. But it made me want it more and try harder. We can all be whatever we want, and I was out to prove that. There are still challenges [but] they make me stronger.
In what way is being a former Miss Teen USA helping?
It was the stepping stone I needed. I gained confidence and found myself. I felt proud to be an Asian American and represent the USA as Miss Teen USA 1998. I felt that I was given an extra responsibility to do something with my title.
And how does being a former beauty queen pose an extra challenge?
As with my ethnicity, I have to prove myself and work harder. But that’s in my personality.
The live coverage of your “Miss Teen USA” triumph was pre-empted by a televised address by then President Clinton on the Lewinsky scandal. Did you wish he had chosen a different night?
Some things are out of my hands. But it was fun because I got to watch myself crowned on TV, with my family and friends. And I was still nervous as I watched, as if I was still competing!
You were a backstage correspondent for the 50th Miss USA pageant. Didn’t you want to join the Miss USA, too?
Miss Teen USA and Miss USA get the same opportunities. Having won in 1998, I did not want to try out again and take that chance away from someone else. Instead, I started working and forwarding my career.
What is the best part of living in New York and being a correspondent for “Entertainment Tonight”?
All the wonderful events, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and the people I meet. For example, I had a private piano session with Clive Davis and Barry Manilow. Recently, I walked through an exhibit with Drew Barrymore where she showed me her personal private photos from Africa. I just love my job!
What has been your most memorable experience so far as co-host of MTV’s “Total Request Live” and previous MTV specials?
My favorite so far is covering the “Live 8” concert. Wow, it was touching—1.3 million people in Philadelphia. MTV is always fun and fresh.
Name some celebrities that you are still hoping to meet and why.
Demi Moore, for her career longevity and timeless beauty. Angelina Jolie—I’d love to talk to her in person about her work as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. I have met everyone else I’ve ever wanted to meet. They have all come to MTV’s “Total Request Live” or on “Entertainment Tonight.”
If you could invite several celebrities to a dream dinner, who would you ask?
Jim Carrey, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Kate Hudson and Robert Redford, just to name a few.
What is one thing about you that most people don’t know and they would probably be surprised if they knew?
That I get very nervous before I talk to anyone at work. I become quiet. I try to play the interview out in my head first. Sometimes nervousness makes me sick in the stomach.
A college scholarship came with your Miss Teen USA title. Do you still plan to go to college?
Sure, I’d love to go one day. My father got his college degree at 45, so I can, too!
How did you prepare for your Oscar pre-show hosting stint?
We had two days of rehearsal. We did practice interviews with stand-ins. So, on the day of the Oscars itself, I knew exactly who I would be talking to, and what questions I would be asking. But there were a few last-minute, on-the-spot interviews. I felt very comfortable and prepared.
What were you most nervous about?
I didn’t get to see some of the Oscar-nominated movies and performances. I was nervous that I’d run into some things that I was not familiar with. No one can see every movie.
But overall, I was relaxed. I’ve met most of the celebrities from “Entertainment Tonight” or on MTV, so I wasn’t nervous. It was very structured and organized. They definitely had it together. I was just icing on the cake with the other co-hosts.
What was the most exciting part for you?
Seeing George Clooney again. He’s very charming and his smile is contagious. Also, the opportunity to be in a show that was broadcast globally. In such a big stage or setting, I’m always proud to represent my heritage.
The most fun?
It’s always fun to see what everyone wears. I saw Dolly Parton for the first time. She’s so little!
You have acted on “The Bold and the Beautiful” and have guested in several sitcoms. Is being an actress still one of your goals?
Yes, but acting is a craft that you have to master. You don’t just jump into it.
What are your other dreams and goals, professionally and personally?
I want to do all that I can. Be an entrepreneur. Have a family one day. I can’t wait to have Vanessa mini-mes walking around.