Alfonso Sibayan Jr., a junior social and behavioral sciences major, represented the Filipino League at Seton Hall (FLASH) in the Mr. Philippines (PI) pageant on Nov. 14.
Sibayan, who also serves as the FLASH president, said he was chosen as the male representative and immediately got to work in preparing for the event along with his entourage, who spent a month helping him plan, execute and deliver his performances.
For the past 20 years, 28 schools across northern New Jersey, New York and Long Island have competed to win the title prize. But, due to COVID-19, only 15 schools competed this year virtually.
The pageant is divided into three main sections: Introduction, Cultural and Talent. For the cultural portion, contestants are instructed to choose a societal issue that occurs in the Filipino-American community. In his case, Sibayan said that he decided to focus on mental health awareness in regards to depression and anxiety.
“As a person myself who suffers from continuous anxiety, there’s a lot of stigma and pressure, especially from family members, your own peers and your own self,” Sibayan said. “I wanted to bring that to light and express this advocacy through dance.”
He said he interpreted his vision through dancing “tinikling,” a traditional Filipino folk dance, to the song “Underdog” by Alicia Keys.
In the talent portion, Sibayan expanded on his mental health experience and created a dance to “Heavy” by Kiana Ledé and “Nonstop” by Drake. To help with choreography, Alfonso said he relied on his friends, Julianna Quiambao, a sophomore occupational therapy major, and Nicholas Giaquinto, a sophomore undecided major.
Quiambao said she created a lyrical routine for “Heavy,” illustrating the struggles Sibayan went through in battling anxiety, depression and his school responsibilities.
“That song is basically kind of like highlighting the weight that he has on his shoulders,” Quiambao said. “But then there’s a moment where he feels confident stepping into his comfort zone, but he still kind of holds back because he’s very anxious.”
On the other hand, Giaquinto said that “Nonstop” was an upbeat, hip-hop number showing Sibayan fully breaking out of his shell. Giaquinto said he implemented moves catered to Sibayan’s sharp and strong movements.
“He’s really one of the best dancers that I’ve seen,” Giaquinto said. “And he has certain things that makes him look really good, so I made sure to add these things to make him stand out.”
On the day of the pageant, Alfonso said he hosted a watch party at his house as the event was held virtually on YouTube Live. Prior to the event, each contestant submitted videos to the event organizer who edited them into a three-hour-long video.
Sibayan recounted enjoying the show alongside his family and entourage while eating Korean barbecue. Since Seton Hall was the first school to introduce itself, Sibayan vocalized how tense he was while watching the show.
“All of my entourage members were enjoying it but for me, I was so nervous because it was the first time everyone was going to see it,” he said. “I had seen it many times, and I really wanted it to be perfect so my nerves were up there.”
Sibayan won the superlative “Mr. Buzzworthy,” which is presented to the contestant who receives the most tweets using their creative hashtag. Sibayan’s hashtag, #ALFliptheswitch, received 2,000 to 3,000 tweets, allowing FLASH to reclaim its title it previously won back in 2017 and 2018.
Members of his entourage expressed their happiness in seeing their friend grow in his confidence.
“Throughout the practices, you can tell his confidence level skyrocketed after he learned the choreography more and everything fell into place,” Giaquinto said. “Also, he’s a good friend of mine, so I was really happy to see him grow.”
Sibayan said he felt a sense of pride and honor in representing FLASH at Mr. PI from his freshman year until now. He said he credits the organization as a place of love and support.
“To see myself now as a junior compared to that freshman who was being encouraged to do outstanding things and go above and beyond really is a heartwarming feeling to me,” Sibayan said. “Nothing is impossible as long as you have a strong heart and mind to make your own dreams into a reality.”
Charis Edmond can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.