Miss USA R'Bonney Gabriel wowed judges at the Miss Universe beauty pageant on Sunday to become the first-ever Filipina-American winner in history.
Gabriel beat 83 other participants for the title at the 71st annual pageant and was crowned by the reigning Miss Universe, Harnaaz Sandhu, who was the first Indian contestant to take the title in 21 years back in 2021.
The fashion designer beat runners-up from Venezuela, Amanda Dudamel and the Dominican Republic, Andreina Martinez, to take the crown after the more than 80 competitors were gradually whittled down during the night.
None of the competitors from the Middle East, including Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa, made it to the shortlist, where contestants paraded in swimwear and evening gowns for hundreds of spectators and a live television audience.
In later rounds, finalists were questioned on issues such as bullying, women’s empowerment and the future of the Miss Universe pageant.
Gabriel wept as she was bestowed with the $5.5 million crown by Lebanese jeweller Mouawad, which is embedded with 110 carats of blue sapphires and 48 carats of white diamonds.
The beauty queen, 28, from Bayou City, Texas, has previously created some of her own pageant gowns. Her own eco-friendly fashion line, which encompasses T-shirts to dresses, is called R'Bonney Nola.
She will start her reign as Miss Universe 2022 with immediate effect after last year’s ceremony was postponed because it clashed with the Fifa World Cup. Another competition to pick the 2023 winner is expected to be held later this year.
Swimwear and evening gown rounds
Sunday’s glitzy final kicked off in an explosion of music and colour, with Mardi Gras performers sashaying around the stage to lively Cajun fiddler Amanda Shaw and New Orleans funk band Big Sam’s Funky Nation, who looked the part in sequinned blazers, jaunty flat caps and dark shades.
All 84 delegates strutted in front of raucous crowds wearing shimmering gowns by event sponsors Portia and Scarlett, before the final was officially opened by host, US television personality Jeannie Mai-Jenkins, who demanded: “Who runs the world?” as the audience erupted in rambunctious cheers.
Of the starting delegates, only 16 were chosen for the semi-finals, which included secondary swimsuit and evening gown rounds, following on from Wednesday’s preliminary bouts.
Each delegate swept across the stage in swimwear and a custom cape designed to represent their individual countries Among the performers, Tank and the Bangas frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball rocked the room in a shin-skimming pink puffer jacket.
Using her background in textiles to her advantage, Gabriel dyed her own cape, which was inspired by her father’s advice to act on her dreams and desires.
Dudamel’s cape was a collage of artwork that represented her charity work with children from the country’s largest slum. Martinez’s cape implored us to be more conscious about how we treat the environment.
Scroll through the gallery below to see more from the national costume round
The swimwear round was followed by the evening gown round, in which participants competed for their place in the final five wearing their jewel-encrusted best.
Dudamel turned heads in a rainbow-hued off-the-shoulder number, while Gabriel wore a stunning black cut-out design made from 8,000 stones and crystals.
Martinez, meanwhile, donned a plunging silver backless gown with a daring centre split.
Who were the Mena Miss Universe representatives?
Regional representatives at the Miss Universe 2022 final included Miss Bahrain Evlin Khalifa and Miss Lebanon Yasmina Zaytoun, who appeared during the opening ceremony but didn’t make it to the final 16.
On Wednesday, Khalifa, 24, made waves in the swimsuit round wearing a burkini and a customised cape with the message: "Arab women should be represented. Muslim women can also become Miss Universe".
The cape also featured the word "equality" written in Arabic.
For the evening gown round, she wore a glittery silver dress, complete with a head covering, by Filipino designer Furne One, whose Amato label is headquartered in Dubai.
Zaytoun, 20, a journalism student, was crowned Miss Lebanon 2022 in a ceremony in Beirut in July, held for the first time since 2018.
In the preliminary rounds, she wore a glamorous custom gown by Lebanese designer Charbel Zoe featuring glittery frills.
Who was the previous Miss Universe?
Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu was the third-ever delegate to take the crown back to India in the pageant’s history.
Inspired by her gynaecologist mother, Sandhu has been vocal about women's empowerment from her early pageant days winning Miss Chandigarh 2017 and has been instrumental in working towards menstrual equity.
For this, she's visited 25 cities in nine countries to help spread awareness. She has given more than 50 speeches at events across the world, from India to the Philippines and South Africa.
While on a trip to India in December, Sandhu launched a coalition for menstrual equity comprising 11 non-profit organisations, which aims to reach five million women in 200 places by 2025.