Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The People's Queen star Cecilio Asuncion says the show's all Asian-American cast will bring much-needed representation to TV.
"Representation is very important," Asuncion told UPI in an interview. "We need representation. It's good to see."
The new program hails from Filipino media giant ABS-CBN International and is the company's first foray into an English-language reality show. The series follows Asuncion (Strut) and Voltaire Tayag as they coach five beauty pageant hopefuls in Los Angeles.
The People's Queen features Katarina Rodriguez, Nikita McElroy, Katrina Dimaranan, Michelle Thorlund and Jenny Levy, who are all of Filipino heritage. The show premieres Wednesday on TFC-TV, Myx TV, Lifestyle Network and Metro, and aims to show "the real, unfiltered woman" beneath the lashes and gowns.
"You'll have a deeper appreciation for Asian beauty once you hear them speak and hear their experiences. It's not just about how they look; it's who they are," Asuncion said.
"[It's about] the pursuit of being the best possible versions of themselves. The crown represents more than just a literal crown -- it's them getting to find their voice and overcome the hurdles they've had," he added.
McElroy, who is biracial, struggled with bullying growing up, while Dimaranan spent years focusing on the needs of her immigrant family. Asuncion said people of all backgrounds will connect with the women and their stories.
"Because of how pageantry is, people see them as perfect. Seeing them talk about their inner struggles... it's those stories that I wanted to tell," he said.
Asuncion said the title of the show refers to more than just a pageant crown. He described "the people's queen" as someone "everyone can relate to" and somebody "perfectly imperfect and proud of it."
"These are just women who want to be the best possible version of themselves," Asuncion said. "They're not exempt from inequalities, they're not exempt from wanting the best, they're not exempt from grief. It's this unified experience in life we all go through, beauty queen or not. These are human stories."
The People's Queen will follow the women as they prep for domestic and international pageants, including Miss Hawaii USA, Miss World Philippines and Miss Supranational. Asuncion said the Philippines is a "very pageant-crazy country," in part because pageants are a space where women of color can take center stage.
"It's important to see representation on the world stage," he said. "To see somebody you look like make it into the Top 15... that's validation."
Asuncion recalled watching Miss Universe, Miss Philippines and other pageants every year in the Philippines, saying "the whole country would stop" on the day of competitions.
"It really is that bonding moment," he explained. "It's like a sport in the Philippines -- everyone enjoys it. That in itself is worth celebrating."
Asuncion said pageants have largely stayed relevant by changing to fit the times. In an era of women's empowerment and a growing emphasis on diversity, many competitions have become more inclusive and shifted focus from physical beauty to contestants' ideas and beliefs.
"Pageantry has evolved. It's not just one cookie cutter beauty anymore. You see a more diverse kind of beauty -- there's many different colors, there's natural hair, there's fuller-figured women, and I think that's good," Asuncion said.
"We trained the women to find their own voice," he said of the show's stars. "I think what pageantry is about now is who the woman is and what she stands for."
Asuncion and Tayag's focus on individuality appears to have paid off, as Rodriguez won Miss World Philippines this month. Rodriguez talked about being a feminist and finding her voice during her question and answer session.
"[Katarina] has proven it. But I really believe all [the women] can win a crown. They really just have to understand their biggest competitor is themselves," Asuncion said.
The People's Queen will air on VOD platforms in the future.