R’Bonney Gabriel, a Texas fashion designer, model, and sewing instructor, was crowned Miss Universe on Saturday night. According to competition officials, she is the first Filipino American to win Miss USA.
Gabriel closed her eyes and held hands with Amanda Dudamel, the runner-up Miss Venezuela, during the dramatic announcement of the winner. She then beams when her name is mentioned.
At the 71st Miss Universe Competition in New Orleans, she was presented with a bouquet of flowers, draped in the sash of the winner, and crowned with a tiara onstage.
Gabriel was asked how she would work to show that Miss Universe is “an empowering and progressive organization” during the final round of Q&A for the three finalists.
She responded, “I would use it to be a transformational leader,” citing her work teaching survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking how to sew using recycled materials in her fashion designs. “It is so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference.”
A Thai business tycoon and transgender activist purchased the rights to the pageant from IMG Worldwide LLC, a sports and talent marketing company based in New York, for $20 million last year. Former President Donald Trump had a portion of the rights to the pageant.
Chakrapong “Anne” Chakrajutathib, who owns JKN Global Group Public Co. Ltd., is a Thailand-based reality show star who has come out as transgender.
When the purchase was announced in October, Chakrajutathib stated that she wanted to “evolve the brand for the next generation.”
Gabriel, according to Miss Universe, played volleyball in high school and attended the University of North Texas. She is also CEO of her own sustainable clothing line, according to a brief bio that was posted on the organization’s website.
“We all have something special, and when we plant those seeds to other people in our life, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change,” Gabriel said.
According to the organizers, the competition featured “personal statements, in depth interviews and various categories including evening gown & swimwear” and attracted nearly 90 contestants from all over the world.
Miss Dominican Republic Andreina Martinez came in second place.
Gabriela Dos Santos, Miss Curacao, and Ashley Carino, Miss Puerto Rico, rounded out the top five finalists.
India’s Harnaaz Sandhu was the winner the previous year.
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