The Road to Mister Universe 2024

The Road to Mister Universe 2024

No, it’s not the bodybuilding competition that crowned Schwarzenegger in the ‘60s. And it’s not the Mr. Nude Universe that Playgirl magazine presented in the ‘90s (a dozen male exotic dancers competing in the buff). Mister Universe 2024 is a “modern man pageant” that follows in the footsteps of  Miss Universe (“the greatest celebration of women”) and gathers 50 studs from all over the world, all vying for the coveted title of Mister Universe this September. Will the pageant become “the greatest celebration of” men? Why a male beauty pageant and why now? We invited Jino Cabrera, President of the Mister Universe Organization, to our Hollywood offices and asked him.

What inspired you to embark on this journey?

Growing up in the Philippines before my family moved to the USA, it has always been a tradition in the country to organize watch-parties for the Miss Universe pageant. The whole event is comparable to the Super Bowl here in the US, in fact it is considered a National Holiday there, the ‘most beautiful day in the Universe’, they say. I’ve always admired the show and the excitement and the inspiration the candidates brought to everyone around the world!

Miss Universe is no longer televised. Do you see male beauty pageants blossom and female pageants falter?

My understanding is that Miss Universe did really well at last year’s show: even through a streaming service, they will always have their fan base and they will be there to watch the show every year. I hope they come back in a big way. And I do envision male beauty pageants succeed because there is a need for a platform that provides a safe space for men to share their stories and drive impact personally, professionally and philanthropically.

We are not surprised to see contestants from Korea and the Philippines, where male beauty pageants have exploded in recent years. But we also see contestants from Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt, Kazakhstan… The Los Angeles finals will truly celebrate “all cultures, backgrounds and religions.” How did you pull this off?

That was one of the goals I had: to be inclusive of everyone and especially of the countries that don’t typically get represented. As luck would have it, my team found inspirational men from those countries through social media and I am proud to say that they’ve been getting the utmost support from their countries and around the world! Mister Kazakhstan received almost a million views for his introduction video. Which really speaks volumes for the need to have representation!

Tell us more about these fifty contestants. Something funny, something sexy, something remarkable perhaps?

Our selection team discovered Mister Canada from a video of him walking the runway of “Miami Swim Week” fashion show so confidently he’d bounce his pecs like they had a mind of their own! We reached out to him for an interview and found out he’s from a very small town in Canada: he grew up in a pig farm. His childhood dream was to make it to the big stage and he’s going to do just that at Mister Universe with his personality, talent, wit and sense of humor!

Another remarkable candidate we have this year is Mister Venezuela. He placed 2nd runner up at an international pageant in 2022 and 1st runner up last year at another international pageant. He is determined to win one for his beloved country and make them proud and inspire people to never give up on their dreams.

Who’s your target audience?

Everyone of all ages, male or female, who wishes to be inspired by the stories of these extraordinary men, empowered, grounded in integrity and strong in character.

What do you tell critics who argue that beauty pageants may perpetuate unrealistic body standards?

Pageantry has evolved: we celebrate culture, diversity, intelligence and empowerment. It is not solely about outer beauty; we recognize the inner beauty and intelligence of our contestants. What we are looking for is more than just physical attributes, we encourage everyone to not compare themselves to others and strive to become the best version of themselves. In doing so, you become a role model and a transformational leader.

In the coming weeks/months, Playgirl will roll out a few of the Mister Universe contestants opening a window into their diverse “cultures and backgrounds,” while offering plenty of eye candy. Cabrera argues that Mr. Universe “is not just about physical appearance.” But what if it were? Playgirl’s founders wanted the magazine “to oppose the double standard of expectation for women’s and men’s sexual expression.” At its core, Mr. Universe is, in fact, about equal representation and that’s something we can all get behind. It’s about challenging stereotypes and social contructs: “male pageantry redefines traditional masculinity by celebrating all physicalities of the male nature. In doing this, the notion of toxic masculinity is unraveled.” (“Grit and Glamor: Reimagining Masculinity through Male Pageantry”)