Across the Universe

Catriona Gray lava-walked her way from Twitter fame to a Miss Universe crown. Here, the Filipina queen and top model mentor Tyra Banks continue the thread in V119.

Tyra Banks’ interview with Catriona Gray originally appears in V119, our Music Issue. V119 is available for preorder now at

Tyra Banks Hi Catriona—can you hear me?
Catriona Gray Good morning from Indonesia, Tyra!
TB Wait, how do you say “good morning” [in Indonesian]? Don’t tell me. Selamat pagi! That’s it. Well, good afternoon from California. I’m still recovering from your “Lava Walk” at the Miss Universe pageant. I just kept watching and rewatching, like, What’s her secret? I was totally fangirling! Where were you when you saw that I had tweeted at you?
CG Oh my gosh, Tyra… I was sitting at dinner with all the girls. We were tired, quietly eating after rehearsal, when I got all these notifications from what you’d tweeted. I turned to my two friends, Sweden and Denmark, and started freaking out, like, Oh my gosh, Tyra Banks just tweeted about my walk!
TB It’s funny, I actually thought you’d already won. And then I saw the headlines, like, “Tyra is rooting for Catriona!” I was like, oh I hope I wasn’t showing favoritism or something. [But] a friend of mine, [YouTube personality] Patrick Starrr, [is also Filipino]. Have you met him yet? You guys are both amazing.
CG I follow his videos! I haven’t met him yet, but there was such support for my Miss Universe journey from all the Filipino celebrities. It’s something Filipinos often do: support our Filipino representatives, when we have them. And I freaked out when you tweeted me! You writing “Pinoy Power” was a proud moment for me and all Filipinos.
TB Well your walk, and how you arched your back, was amazing. But I heard you have a medical condition [having to do] with your back, right?
CG Yeah, I have scoliosis. It hasn’t really hindered me at all, except after long day in heels when I do particularly feel it in my posture muscles.
TB I am all about “flawesome,” which means your flaws are awesome. How did you start in pageants?
CG We love pageantry in the Philippines, but growing up my dream was never to be a beauty queen; I entered a pageant at 21 to bring awareness to the charity I was working for, and still work for. Even at Miss Universe, I was just grateful to be there. My mindset wasn’t, what if I don’t win; it was an attitude of gratitude.
TB Do you have any beauty secrets? Back in the day we’d hear about Vaseline on teeth. Any new tricks?CG I’ve actually seen girls backstage spraying their body with hairspray. Apparently it helps with jiggling.
TB Oh no way! So it’s a like a cellulite stopper? You know what’s so funny… For years, when I did the Victoria Secret runway, I would get these long trains and other models would get jealous, but it was to cover my cellulite! I wish I would have known the hairspray trick; I could’ve shown a little more! CB I haven’t tried it, but I saw girls doing it!
TB I love it. Okay, let’s talk about success. With success comes doubters and haters. “You’re dreaming that big? Come down to earth.” With your success now, what do you have to tell those people?
CG I really don’t understand the need to bring people down. It’s such a good feeling to celebrate and lift each other up. I would just tell them to look at their own life and how they treat other people. Maybe their perspective is a negative one, but life is too short.
TB Exactly. I always say that hurt people hurt people. Okay, tell me about your humanitarian work. How did you decide you wanted to give back?
CG I started after I had taken over as breadwinner for my family at the age of 20. It was a big responsibility that I just wasn’t ready for and I felt so much pressure having to provide as a model, which can be very sporadic work. I was down about my situation, and attempting to escape it by turning to charity work. I found a charity, the one I continue to work with, called Young Focus Philippines. It’s based in the Tondo neighborhood of Manila. The place itself is not very beautiful; it’s known as a garbage dump, and many of the families there make a living by scavenging. Most of the houses are made from scavenged materials and children play with things that they find in the trash. I had never experienced poverty first hand, and it impacted me so hard. So, we work giving free schooling to these children. Education is a solution to poverty; it’s something you can give a child that can never be taken away.

Click through the slideshow below to see Catriona Gray’s photos for V119.

Catriona Gray
Catriona Gray
Catriona Gray
Discover More