NEW ORLEANS — R’Bonney Gabriel, a fashion designer, model and sewing instructor from Texas who contest officials say is the first Filipino American to win Miss USA, was crowned Miss Universe Saturday night.
Gabriel closed her eyes and joined hands with runner-up Miss Venezuela, Amanda Dudamel, at the moment of the winner’s dramatic reveal, beaming as her name was announced.
There was booming music and she was handed a bouquet of flowers, draped in the winner’s sash and crowned with a tiara on stage at the 71st Miss Universe contest, held in New Orleans.
In the Q&A in the final stages of the competition for the three finalists, Gabriel was asked how she would work to show that Miss Universe is “a powerful and progressive organization” if she were to win.
“I would use it to be a transformational leader,” she replied, citing her work using recycled materials in her fashion design and teaching sewing to survivors 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 owned in part by former President Donald Trump — were bought last year by a Thai business mogul and transgender activist for $20 million from IMG Worldwide LLC, a New York-based sports and talent marketing company.
Chakrapong “Anne” Chakrajutathib, who owns JKN Global Group Public Co. Ltd. is a reality show star in Thailand who is outspoken about being a transgender woman.
Chakrajutathib said when the purchase was announced in October that she wanted to “develop the brand for the next generation.”
According to Miss Universe, Gabriel is a former high school volleyball player and a graduate of the University of North Texas. A brief biography on the organization’s website said she is also CEO of her own sustainable clothing line.
“We all have something special, and when we plant those seeds for other people in our lives, we transform them and use that as a vehicle for change,” said Gabriel.
Nearly 90 contestants from around the world took part in the competition, organizers said, with “personal statements, in-depth interviews and various categories including evening dress & swimwear.”
The second runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic, Andreina Martinez.
Miss Curacao, Gabriela Dos Santos, and Miss Puerto Rico, Ashley Carino, rounded out the top five finalists.
Last year’s winner was Harnaaz Sandhu from India.