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R’Bonney Gabriel, the first Filipina-American to win Miss USA, beat out 83 other contestants to be crowned Miss Universe on Saturday night in New Orleans.

The Miss Universe website called Gabrielle “a voice for Asian Americans” who is “opening the door for more diversity and representation in society.”

Gabriel has previously spoken about his immigrant roots. “My dad moved from the Philippines to America on a college scholarship with about $20 in his pocket,” she said last year when she was crowned Miss USA. “I’m a very proud Filipino American.”

The news caused a stir in his father’s homeland. The Philippine Star wrote about her background, while the Manila Times said Filipinos “rooted” for her after the nation’s own contestant failed to make it to the finals.

At the age of 28, Gabriel is above the age limit set by the competition. Delegates must be at least 18 years old and up to 28 years old on the day the national competition starts,” the official website says.

When asked during the competition what change he would make to the competition, he said he would raise the age limit. “I am 28 years old. And that’s the oldest age to compete. And I think it’s a beautiful thing,” he said, according to CNN.

This year’s Miss Universe pageant allowed married women and mothers to compete for the first time in its 70-year history.

Controversy has erupted at Miss USA after contestants say the pageant is rigged

Houston-based Gabriel is the chief executive officer of R’Bonney Nola, a clothing line that it says specializes in “using sustainable design methods and using recycled/natural fabrics.” She received her BA in Fashion Design from the University of North Texas.

Last week, Gabrielle took to the stage at the competition’s costume show wearing a NASA-inspired outfit that featured metallic thigh-high boots, a moon-like hat and wings made of silver stars. It was created by the Filipino designer Patrick Izorena, according to the Philippine media.

Izorena wrote on Instagram that the dress weighs about 30 pounds.

The costume show is an opportunity for candidates to showcase their cultural heritage and honor their homeland. But Gabriel’s ensemble sparked backlash on social media, with some saying it suggested the United States was laying claim to the moon.

“Do you know what is American? The moon!” one Twitter user said in response to the outfit. “The United States of America, a country known for restraint and modesty,” another said.

Explaining her outfit choice on Instagram, Gabrielle said that being from Houston, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, she was “proud to be from a city that is working to put the first woman on the moon.”

“On July 20, 1969, two American astronauts became the first men to set foot on the moon, achieving one of the most remarkable achievements in human history,” he wrote. “Fast forward to today, and women are more involved than ever in the Artemis program, which aims to send the US back to the moon.”

NASA is several years into the Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the Moon in a series of missions, the first since Apollo in the 1960s and 70s. The program has promised to include an astronaut of color and a woman on its missions this time.

Miss Venezuela Amanda Dudamel was crowned first runner-up at the Miss Universe pageant in New Orleans on Saturday, while Miss Dominican Republic Andreyna Martinez was crowned runner-up.

Maham Javaid contributed to this report.


An earlier version of this report said designer Patrick Izorena’s NASA-inspired outfit weighed 14 pounds. It weighed 14 kilograms according to Isorena’s Instagram post, which would be about 30 pounds.


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