Beauty queens from around the world have arrived in New Orleans for the 71st Miss Universe pageant, which bills itself as "the greatest celebration of women".
A total of 86 delegates are set to take part in the pageant, including Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa, who was crowned in September. Khalifa, 24, will be only the second beauty queen from her country and the only representative from the Gulf to take part in the contest.
Miss Universe is one of the longest-running and most-watched beauty competitions in the world; it is broadcast in 165 countries and seen by more than half a billion people annually.
Ahead of the glitzy event, here's everything we know so far about Miss Universe 2022.
When is Miss Universe 2022?
While the coronation night for Miss Universe 2022 will be held on Saturday, a crucial preliminary competition will take place on Wednesday, which will be followed by the colourful national costume competition.
In the preliminary competition, contestants will parade in their evening gowns and swimsuits in front of the judges. This will determine their scores and who makes it to the semifinal, the results for which will be announced on the coronation night on Saturday.
The postponed event means two Miss Universe pageants are likely to be held this year — the second one later in the year to crown Miss Universe 2023. It has also extended the reign of the current titleholder, Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu, from India.
The longest-reigning Miss Universe is Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, who won the tile in 2019. Tunzi held her title for 525 days after the 2020 pageant was cancelled owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. She crowned her successor Andrea Meza from Mexico in May last year, in turn making Meza's the shortest reign in history.
Meza passed on her crown to Sandhu at a pageant held in Israel in December last year, after only 211 days.
Where will Miss Universe 2022 be held?
The city of New Orleans will host Miss Universe 2022. Known for its history, musical traditions and festivals, including the Mardi Gras, the former French and Spanish colony is also referred to as NoLa, which stands for New Orleans, Louisiana, or The Big Easy, an ode to its laid-back culture.
“There is no place like New Orleans. This vibrant city has been at the top of our list to host for quite some time due to its rich cultural history, as well as its unique arts, entertainment, and culinary scene,” said Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organisation. “I look forward to our delegates from all over the world getting to experience all it has to offer."
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the first female mayor in the city’s 300-year history, said her city and the Miss Universe Organisation "share common values of celebrating inclusion, culture and the empowerment of women. Former Miss Universe delegates and winners have gone on to become surgeons, diplomats, politicians and business leaders, and they all champion social causes that are important to them.
"Hosting this event demonstrates the significant global impact an international city like New Orleans has on the world’s tourism and cultural stages," she said.
Online voting for Miss Universe 2022 opens
Online voting is now open for Miss Universe 2022, giving fans the chance to send their favourite contestant into the semifinal. Official photos of 86 contestants have now been uploaded to the Miss Universe website. The contestant with the highest number of fan votes will automatically qualify for a spot in the semifinal of the live pageant.
Schedule for Miss Universe 2022
Here is the full schedule for the New Orleans pageant:
- January 3-5: Arrivals, registration and fittings
- January 6: Orientation day
- January 11: Preliminary competition and national costume competition
- January 14: Live telecast of final show
- January 15: Departure of delegates
New owner of Miss Universe Organisation
In October, Thai media and content company JKN Global Group acquired the Miss Universe Organisation from IMG, making chief executive Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip the first woman to own the global beauty competition in its 70-year history.
JKN, which owns a portfolio of broadcast and media titles, said the deal will build on the pageant's legacy and further its commitment to inclusivity. There are also plans to expand the Miss Universe brand, including the launch of MU Lifestyle, a new licensing and merchandising arm.
"We are incredibly honoured to be acquiring the Miss Universe Organisation and working with its visionary leadership team," said Jakrajutatip. "We seek not only to continue its legacy of providing a platform to passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and traditions, but also to evolve the brand for the next generation."
Miss Universe has changed ownership a number of times since the first pageant was held in 1952. Former US president Donald Trump bought it in 1996 and sold it to global events and talent company IMG in 2015, following a backlash against his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants.
In November, four former Miss Universe titleholders joined the reigning queen, India's Sandhu, to celebrate new owner Jakrajutatip at an event in Bangkok.
Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova of Canada, Miss Universe 2011 Leila Lopes of Angola, Miss Universe 2020 Andrea Meza of Mexico and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray of the Philippines shared the stage with Miss Universe 2021 Sandhu and Jakrajutatip at the gala event at the Siam Pavalai Royal Grand Theatre.
Reigning Miss Universe Thailand Anna Sueangam-iam and Miss Universe Spain 2018 Angela Ponce were also at the event along with Miss Universe president Paula Shugart and chief executive Amy Emmerich.
New Miss Universe rules about married women and mothers
Last year, the Miss Universe Organisation made a historic decision to change qualification rules for contestants for the first time in seven decades. According to an internal memo seen by The National, the organisation said it will allow married women and mothers to participate.
Previously, only single women, aged between 18 and 28, who have never been married or had children, could apply.
"We all believe that women should have agency over their lives and that a human's personal decisions should not be a barrier to their success," the memo said.
However, the new rules will not be applicable to the January 14 pageant, as many countries had already named their delegates when the decision was made. They will be effective for the 72nd Miss Universe contest, likely to be held later this year.
How many countries will compete in Miss Universe 2022?
The number of countries participating in the pageant changes every year. At the Miss Universe 2021 pageant, 80 countries took part, including first-time contestant Miss Universe Bahrain.
Manar Nadeem Deyani, a fashion designer living in Dubai, made history by being the first beauty queen to represent Bahrain.
For Miss Universe 2022, 86 countries will participate.
Is the swimsuit round at Miss Universe mandatory?
While the controversial swimsuit round will still be a part of the competition, contestants are not obligated to wear them. Miss Universe Bahrain Deyani made waves at last year's pageant by walking the swimsuit round in fully covered sportswear.
Deyani's successor Khalifa will also be modestly dressed and, crucially, her decision is fully supported by the pageant.
“Fortunately, the Miss Universe organisation respects our tradition and our culture so, of course, they allow us to be covered or not covered, which is what I really respect about this organisation," she told The National earlier. "So, I will be in a burkini. I respect all the girls who wear the bikini, but I want to show the world that a woman who is covered can also be beautiful.”
Scroll through the gallery below for more images from Evlin Khalifa's photoshoot
A new crown for Miss Universe 2022
Last month, Lebanon's Mouawad, the official jeweller for Miss Universe, unveiled a new crown to be worn by Miss Universe 2022 at a glitzy event in Bangkok. Called Force for Good, the crown is estimated to be worth $5.5 million and comes embedded with 110 carats of blue sapphires and 48 carats of white diamonds.
"The Force for Good crown is a work of extraordinary craftsmanship. It's a crown filled with symbolism. And we hope it will inspire not only the winners, but all of you to be a force for good," said Fred Mouawad, the "co-guardian" of the Beirut-founded brand, who added that the crown represents "a future forged by women who push the limits of what's possible".
How to watch the Miss Universe pageant live
The preliminary and national costume competitions will be streamed live on the Miss Universe YouTube channel on Wednesday starting at 7pm Central Standard Time in the US. For those in the UAE, that will be 5am on Thursday.
The coronation night will stream on The Roku Channel globally and broadcast live on TV networks in various countries. Alternatively, JKN Global Group will be livestreaming the show on its YouTube channel and Facebook page.