On January 15, R’Bonney Gabriel, a fashion designer, model, and sewing instructor from Texas who, according to competition authorities, is the first Filipina-American to win Miss USA, was elected Miss Universe.
Gabriel closed her eyes and held hands with Miss Venezuela’s runner-up, Amanda Dudamel, during the dramatic unveiling of the winner, then delighted when her name was called.
At the 71st Miss Universe Competition, held in New Orleans, she was presented with a bouquet of flowers, wrapped in the winner’s sash, and crowned with a crown onstage to the sound of thumping music. The second runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic Andreina Martinez.
In the Q&A at the last stage of the competition for the three finalists, Gabriel was asked how she would work to demonstrate Miss Universe is “an empowering and progressive organisation” if she were to win.
“I would use it to be a transformational leader,” she responded, citing her work using recycled materials in her fashion design and teaching sewing to survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence.
“It is so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference,” Gabriel continued. “We all have something special, and when we plant those seeds to other people, we transform them and use that as a vehicle for change.”
According to Miss Universe, Gabriel is a former high school volleyball player and a University of North Texas graduate. A short bio on the organisation’s website said she is also the CEO of her sustainable clothing line.
According to the competition’s organisers, around 90 contestants from around the world participated in “personal statements, in-depth interviews, and numerous categories including evening gown and swimwear.”
Gabriela Dos Santos, Miss Curacao, and Ashley Carino, Miss Puerto Rico, rounded out the top five contestants. Last year’s winner was India’s, Harnaaz Sandhu.