I DON'T know any of the 12 Miss Cebu 2010 candidates except one. I saw some of them in person when they visited the Sun.Star Cebu newsroom last week as part of their orientation.

The girls are all pretty but some are simply a lot prettier than the others, if you were to ask their moms, cousins and "titas." The choice of the judges for Miss Cebu 2010 didn't sit well with some people, as shown in many Facebook status right after the pageant.

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Reena Elena Malinao, who pronounced her self-description of "taray" tah rei, may have been the judges' choice but not to some pageant watchers and maybe even to some of the candidates themselves.

It's not Malinao's fault. If the judges thought she deserved the crown more than the other girls, then let her have that recognition. Every one of those young ladies deserved the crown.

The thing with beauty pageants, the judges' choice is not always the people's choice. We root for the one we know, for the prettiest, for the one with the most coherent answer. And when the judges don't agree with us, we are disappointed and rail at their poor judgment and the winner's flaws.

Malinao is not the prettiest of the candidates but she exuded confidence and intelligence that the other girls missed doing or fell short of doing during pageant night.

Some quarters are grumbling that Miss Cebu 2010 was not a beauty contest but a quiz bee, while others say the judges made a statement by picking brains over conventional beauty.

But Miss Cebu is not all about beauty. The candidates have a month or so of classes 101 in social graces, tourism, personality development, entrepreneurship, media transaction and everything else that the organizers think will prepare them for the job of Cebu's ambassadors of goodwill. Within this period, the girls reveal themselves whether they deserve to be called Miss Cebu.

On pageant night, the girls present themselves to the public equipped with the knowledge and confidence that they were to have acquired the days before. To many of us who don't see the girls until coronation night, we see the sum of the parts. The girls are judged on how they present themselves in one night.

Malinao, a 21-year-old nurse, seems to be not the conventional beauty. The judges, who are not from Cebu, must have seen in her something unique. Against the other girls, she is not the prettiest but Tuesday night at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino, she stood out.

She called attention by describing herself as "tah-rei," her pronunciation of the Tagalog word jarring the ears of the hard-intoned Bisdak.

It is said that her looks register differently on tv, in person with makeup and without and on the papers. When she and five other candidates visited the newsroom last week, I couldn't tell one girl from the other, except one because I knew her.

Natasha Holganza may not have made it to the top five but she is my winner. The daughter of Joeyboy and Aimee is quite a looker without makeup and has the greatest sense of humor a girl of her age can have.

Each of the 12 girls deserved to be crowned Miss Cebu 2010 but only one got the gods' favor. So let's leave it at that.