Who is Miss Universe 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel, the first Filipina-American to win the crown?

Model and fashion designer says she is a 'proud Filipina-Texan'

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R'Bonney Gabriel has been named Miss Universe 2022, becoming the first Filipina-American to win the crown.

On her journey to beauty pageant glory in the Miss Texas and then Miss USA competitions, Gabriel, aged 28, has always believed in one thing: the importance of embracing her true self.

The model and fashion designer has always proudly spoken about her mixed heritage. She even wore a dress inspired by her Filipino ancestry to the Miss Texas interview.

“I feel at peace knowing I have put in the work to develop into the truest form of myself. I’ve learnt the importance of embracing who I am,” she said on Instagram, wearing an outfit she designed herself, inspired by the Filipiniana dress, usually characterised by oversized sleeves.

The beauty queen said she represents Texans, Filipina-Americans and those who push past self-doubt "to reach their greatest potential".

Gabriel was crowned Miss Texas in July, earning her a spot in the Miss USA contest.

"Representing Texas is my biggest honour. I carry the pride and love of Texas and Filipina-Americans on my shoulders," she said following her win.

She then beat 49 other candidates to the Miss USA 2022 crown. Earlier in the evening, Gabriel also won Best National Costume, with her look inspired by the Texas state flower, the bluebonnet, and created by Filipino designer Patrick Isorena.

During Miss Universe, she represented her home state in the national dress round, while also choosing to showcase her home state Houston's space credentials.

Called Woman on the Moon, Gabriel's costume by Isorena is an ode to Nasa's mission to send the first woman to the moon.

"As a Houston native, where the Nasa space centre is located, I am proud to be from a city working to send the first female to the moon. The purpose of this costume was to inspire women in all spaces across the universe to dream big, shoot for the moon and achieve something out of this world," Gabriel, 28, wrote on Instagram ahead of the competition.

Who is R'Bonney Gabriel?

Born to a Filipino father and an American mother in San Antonio, Texas, Gabriel is a model and fashion designer who runs her own label R'Bonney Nola.

She is 170 centimetres tall and graduated from the University of North Texas.

Following her win, she said she now feels a “big responsibility” to share her multicultural background and empower others to embrace their identities.

"My dad moved to America from the Philippines on a college scholarship with about $20 in his pocket. He wanted to pave a new life for himself. He met my mom in Texas, who is a country woman from Beaumont,” she told ABC News. “I'm a very proud Filipina Texan."

When questioned on how she would work to demonstrate Miss Universe as an empowering and progressive organisation, Gabriel answered: “I I would use it to be a transformational leader. As a very passionate designer, sewing for 13 years, I use fashion as a force for good in my industry.

“I'm cutting down on pollution through recycled materials and when I make my clothing, I teach sewing classes to women that have survived human trafficking and domestic violence.

"I say that it is so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference.

“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.”

A love for beauty pageants

Like many Filipinos, Gabriel has always been interested in pageantry.

Her journey with beauty contests began when she took part in the Miss Friendswood competition in 2021. Gabriel is from Friendswood, a city on the outskirts of Houston. She then participated in Miss Texas 2021, finishing second after winner Victoria Hinojosa.

Not one to give up easily, Gabriel participated again in Miss Texas 2022 in July.

Gabriel is passionate about the environment, which is also reflected in her eco-friendly fashion label.

For the question and answer round at Miss USA, she was asked about what she would do to help address the issue of climate change and how women are more vulnerable to its impact, particularly in developing countries.

"I am a fashion designer. I actually made the outfit I'm wearing and I upcycle pieces and recycle different clothing to be more sustainable in my industry because I feel like it's my duty," Gabriel said. "So I think that's something we can all look for in our certain industries and in our homes — to be more sustainable."

Allegations Miss USA was 'rigged'

In October, after Gabriel won Miss USA, Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe took to TikTok to claim the contest was unfair and shared her theories along with it.

In a series of videos, O’Keefe claimed some of the competition’s practices were suspicious and that other pageant contestants feel the same way, which may explain why viewers noticed some beauty queens immediately walk off after Gabriel was crowned instead of giving the traditional congratulatory hugs.

"Bottom line is, most of the Miss USA contestants feel very strongly that there was favouritism towards Miss Texas USA and we have the receipts to prove it," she claimed in a TikTok video.

"The current allegations are based on perception, and not the truth," Gabriel told People. "I would never want to enter a competition that was rigged."

"I know all of the contestants worked really hard to prepare and I don't want these allegations to overshadow the accomplishments of all the women who participated in this year's Miss USA competition," she said.

Miss Universe Organisation also responded, saying in an Instagram Story: "We are aware of the concerns that have been brought forth by this year's Miss USA contestants. We commend the women for bringing these issues to our attention and will always be an organisation that encourages women to use their voice."

"There are existing systems in place to ensure the fairness of our national competitions and as such we have begun an active review into this situation."

Mixed-race Filipinas at Miss Universe

For Miss Universe, Gabriel went up against Celeste Cortesi, who was crowned Miss Universe Philippines 2022 in a ceremony at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila in April.

Cortesi, 24, is Filipino-Italian. She was raised in Italy before moving to the Philippines five years ago to pursue a career in pageantry.

Two mixed-race Filipinos have won the Miss Universe crown in the past, both for the Philippines. Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach is Filipino-German while Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray is Filipino-Australian.

Scroll through the gallery below for some of the Miss Universe 2022 contestants

A version of this article was published on October 4, 2022

Updated: January 15, 2023, 9:18 AM