Catriona Gray first strutted into the spotlight when she was crowned Miss Universe 2018 and since then the Filipino-Australian star has been actively involved in social work and has been a social media sensation. The 27-year-old beauty queen’s experiences from that victory inspired the 2019 song ‘Raise Your Flag’, performed by KZ Tandingan and Kritiko. In a full circle moment, Gray released her own rendition of the track in May.
“The first sentiment of ‘Raise Your Flag’ came up in a question in Miss Universe. I was asked, ‘if I could write a song about my experience at Miss Universe, what would I call it?’ she said in a Zoom interview with Gulf News.
The soaring track sees Gray encourage people to stand up for each other and fight for their dreams. “Don’t ever let them put you down/You’re a fighter,” she sings in the inspiring song.
Gray, who’s a fighter indeed with a black belt in Choi Kwang-Do martial arts, opened up about releasing the track amid a pandemic, why she’s returning to pageants soon and her top tip for Zoom.
What was the inspiration for ‘Raise Your Flag’?
Being at Miss Universe representing my country of the Philippines… it was a huge honour for me. I just feel like being a representative, something very symbolic of representing your country is a flag. So that’s how the term ‘Raise Your Flag’ came about because I was standing there with all these other really accomplished and successful women representing their countries.
That’s where the original sentiment came about. And then the song ‘Raise Your Flag’ was written because it was actually inspired by things that I had said throughout my journey through Miss Universe. So if you listen to the lyrics, these are the sentiments or expressions that I said along the way to my journey. So it’s a very personal song for me, but of course, its beginnings were in pageantry and in being a Filipino and representing my country. But now, I feel the song [has] evolved to mean so much more than that; you don’t have to be Filipino to appreciate the message of the song. If you read the lyrics, it’s all about calling people to action and lifting each other up.
You’ve been formally trained in music. Is music something you want to do full-time?
Yeah, definitely. It’s actually been something that I wanted to pursue for the longest time. It was actually really funny when I was younger I was in the school choir; I was the head of my jazz band as a vocalist. But I never actually thought that I could seriously pursue music because honestly I didn’t think that I was that good. When I got older, I had come up with this idea to give my mom a gift for Mother’s Day and I had recorded these cover songs for the first time in a studio and I was really surprised like, ‘oh, that’s what I sound like!’
From there it’s just been this not necessarily straight journey for me pursuing music because there’s been a lot of detours things have been put on hold and now I just feel like it’s the time that I’ve been given the opportunity to really pursue music with all my heart, and that’s what I really want to do.
There is a message of perseverance and rising through struggle in the song, which released amid the pandemic. Could you tell me more about the song and how it was created?
We recorded the song just before the lockdown and pandemic last year. What I really loved about the experience of putting this song out to the world is that its meaning has evolved and grown along with the challenges and the learnings that I’ve undertaken in the last year and a half.
I work a lot with different organisations as a spokesperson for them. I work with Smile Train, which is to do with children with cleft, I work with Young Focus, which is an education-based NGO, I work with the Red Cross… so I really believe in using my platform and my sphere of influence… I really feel that everyone has a sphere of influence… it could be in your workplace, your family, your peers but I really believe in using your influence for the good and that is exactly the message of ‘RYF’ — it’s about doing something yourself for someone.
What inspires you in your work, your music and in your life?
I love listening to stories from different people, because I just feel like human connection is something that not all of us really have the ability to kind of grasp nowadays. Because we’re so isolated and social media is really our only tool to connect. But I love hearing other people’s stories of what they’ve gone through, what they’ve overcome, whether it be challenges or life experiences.
I saw the news recently that you crossed 12 million followers on Instagram, so you’re definitely in the public eye. But because of how things are you haven’t been able to meet your fans personally. Do you miss that kind of connection with your fans?
Oh, definitely, there’s something so different about being able to have face-to-face connection. But of course, I understand the current climate. I do really look forward to the day that we can all come together not just for me to be able to see my fans and supporters. Actually, now I’m talking to you from Australia because I’ve just recently been reunited with my parents for the first time in a year and half since the beginning of the pandemic. So my heart really goes out to the OFWs [overseas Filipino workers], all of the families who’ve been separated.
You’re also going to be hosting co-hosting the Binibining Pilipinas 2021. How do feel about preparing to get back on the pageant stage?
It’s so exciting! I started out as a candidate in a Binibining Pilipinas [the national beauty pageant in the Philippines] and I won the Miss Universe Philippines title in 2018 and now in 2021 I’ll be returning as the first female co-host tandem with a very good friend of mine and hosting the Binibining Pilipinas. It feels like a game-changing type of edition because it’s never been done before and I’m really honoured with the trust that the national pageant has given me and my co-host Nicole [Cordoves], because we’re both former beauty queens.
Catriona’s tips to look great on Zoom
Honestly, the biggest tip is to have good lighting. Right off the bat, I have a ring light with me and usually natural light is really great if you have it. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve worn foundation in like a year and a half. I just try to put concealer because on the screen people can’t really tell; it’s very forgiving. So yeah, I don’t think that one needs a lot of make-up.
Catriona’s beauty tips
When it comes to beauty you really need to learn what works for your features. Because we’re all unique, we all have unique faces, and unique skin types and we also live in unique climates, so just really studying what works for your eye shape or your skin colour. It’s just a trial and error or getting other people’s opinions. Just try to emphasise what you have and not try to change or alter what you have.
What’s in her bag:
Phone! I can’t go anywhere without my phone. I always have a notebook because I’m just one of those people that I need to write things down. Not necessarily to remember, but if I have like a moment of inspiration or I come up with an idea I really like to process by writing things down. My earphones or my headphones because I love listening to music.
What she’s listening to:
I’ve been listening to Guy Sebastian’s new album ‘T.R.U.T.H.’ and there’s a song called ‘Who I Love’ and ‘Standing with You’. I’ve been listening to Maggie Rogers’ album. And I always listen to a lot of Ariana Grande too. My music taste is very varied.
What she’s watching:
I’ve been watching this series called ‘Hannibal’… it’s a little bit gory. It’s like a crime thriller type series, but I love its videography style and I think it’s such a cool series.
Favourite make-up products:
Definitely cheek tint, which is like a cream blush type of product. You just put it into your skin and it looks like you’re just blushing... Then a good lip balm. It’s always great if it has a little bit of colour because it’s like a two in one. Then third would be like a soap brow which is like a soapy product that you use to keep your eyebrows in place.