NEW ORLEANS — Texas fashion designer, model and sewing instructor R’Bonnie Gabriel, who pageant officials say is the first Filipina-American to win Miss USA, was crowned Miss Universe on Saturday night.
During the dramatic reveal of the winner, Gabrielle closed her eyes and shook hands with runner-up Miss Venezuela Amanda Dudamel, then beamed after her name was announced.
Loud music played and she was given a bouquet wrapped in the winner’s bag and crowned with a tiara at the 71st Miss Universe pageant in New Orleans.
Q:During the final round of the competition for the three finalists, Gabrielle was asked how she would work to show that Miss Universe is an “empowering and progressive organization” if she wins.
“I would use it to be a transformational leader,” she replied, citing her work using recycled materials in her fashion designs and teaching sewing to victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. “It’s so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference.”
The rights to the pageant, once partially owned by former President Donald Trump, were bought last year by the Thai business magnate and transgender activist for $20 million from New York-based sports and talent marketing firm IMG Worldwide LLC.
Chakrapong “Anne” Chakrajutathib, who oversees JKN Global Group Public Co. Ltd., is a reality TV star in Thailand who is candid about being a transgender woman.
Chakrajutathib said when the purchase was announced in October that he wanted to “evolve the brand for the next generation”.
According to Miss Universe, Gabrielle is a former high school volleyball player and graduated from the University of North Texas. A short bio on the organization’s website says he is also the CEO of its sustainable clothing line.
“We all have something special, and when we plant those seeds in other people in our lives, we transform them and use that as a vehicle for change,” Gabriel said.
Around 90 contestants from around the world took part in the competition, organizers said, including “personal statements, in-depth interviews and various categories including evening gown. & swimsuit.”
The runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic Andreyna Martinez.
Miss Curaçao, Gabriela dos Santos, and Miss Puerto Rico, Ashley Carino, rounded out the top five finalists.
Last year’s winner was Harnaaz Sandhu from India.