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The 71st Miss Universe

It's like the Super Bowl of pageants, Miss Universe. This year it was just a "short" flight to New Orleans, Louisiana.

I had to go. The competition was held at the Ernest N. Moral Convention Center, where 83 talented queens represented their countries so well.

The opening number was stunning, wearing gorgeous dresses from Portia and Scarlett, and of course their perfect sashes from The Sash Company. The competitors were narrowed down to the top 16 delegates after the preliminary competition. The prelim selection committee: Mara Martin, Olivia Jordan, and Kathleen Ventrella, had a very rough time getting their top 15, and 1 selected by a public vote. I personally loved that this judge's panel was entirely made up of women. The final competition was also hosted by all females, Olivia Culpo (my favorite but I'm from Rhode Island) and Jeannie Mai Jenkins; and backstage commentators Catriona Gray and Zuri Hall.

TOP 16 (in the order they were called)

* is people's choice

  1. Puerto Rico - Ashely Cariño

  2. Haiti - Mideline Phelizor

  3. Australia - Monique Riley

  4. DominicanRepublic - Andreína Martínez

  5. Laos -Payengxa Lor

  6. South Africa - Ndavi Nokeri

  7. Portugal -Telma Madeira

  8. Canada - Amelia Tu

  9. Peru - Alessia Rovegno

  10. Trinidad and Tobago - Tya Jané Ramey

  11. Curaçao - Gabriëla Dos Santos

  12. India - Divita Rai

  13. Venezuela - Amanda Dudamel

  14. Spain - Alicia Faubel

  15. USA - R'Bonney Gabriel

  16. *Columbia - María Fernanda Aristizabál

Then it was time for the top 16 to compete in the swimsuit and evening gown competition. The finals selection panel had a difficult job of then narrowing them down to the top 5!

Swimsuit Competiton

During the swimsuit competition, each delegate wore a custom cape that they had a hand in designing.

Haiti's peace and unity cape was simple and beautiful. Australia's was so detailed and the coloring was beautiful. South Africa's cape depicting diverse women, was absolutely beautiful.

Portugal's cape was designed by artists with mental and physical disabilities and it was quite beautiful. Canada's incorporated the Canadian flag which I appreciated, and her spin in her walk was quite impressive, I know I would've fallen.

Peru's cape was amazing, with diverse queens, because she was bullied for not being a display of Peruvian beauty, as she has Italian roots. Curaçao's cape was just stunning.

India's cape depicting the vibrant culture was so pretty, and her smile was just beautiful. Venezuela's was made with children of her country, her walk was so fierce and her cape was dedicated to ending child abuse.

USA, a fashion designer, designed her cape herself and it was inspired by a rising phoenix. The swimsuit competition was so fun, and honestly, I couldn't even tell you who had the best walk because I was so entranced by those capes.

ImpactWayv Award

Anne, the new owner of Miss Universe, came on stage to talk about how women are taking the lead, in the Miss Universe Organization. "From now on it's going to be run by women," she said. Anne then presented the winner with the Impact Wayv Award. Miss Universe awarded The Impact Wayv award goes to a contestant that is making an impact in their country. The winner of the award was Miss Thailand, Anna Sueangam-iam.

Eveningwear Competition

The eveningwear competition is ALWAYS my favorite to photograph. The sparkles, the fierce walks, the beauty, I love it.

With a local New Orleans performer, all contestants were on stage for a beautiful production number, every woman on that stage shined, and it was amazing to see all 83 gowns before the competition started.

Puerto Rico's silver shimmering gown shined, and we got to learn that she hopes to be the first Miss Universe that goes to space. Haiti's gold gown was so beautiful and she's the CEO of her very own modeling agency. Australia's silver strapless was gorgeous, she is an actress and hopes to star in a movie. Dominican Republic's gorgeous was stunning and you can tell she's beautiful inside and out by getting recognized for her commitment to her community. Laos' dress was stunning and bejeweled, she shared about almost having an arranged marriage. South Africa's dress was the first of the finalists with stunning color, the deep V cut was amazing. Portugal's dress was beautiful with silver and touches of blue it was amazing, she shared that she volunteered during the fires that affected her country. Canada's jeweled dress and feathered cape were just so beautiful she really shined. Peru's strapless sparkling silver dress shined as did she and we learned how she helps women and children in her country. Trinidad's dress was gorgeous and very unique, she rocked the stage. Curaçao's dress was a strapless silver purple, with a very deep V, it was stunning. India's sparking gown with a gorgeous train was stunning. Venezuela is a chief creative officer, and it shows with her very creative blue gown. Spain's sparkling blue and nude gown was stunning, she was so beautiful. USA's dark blue gown was shimmering and the fringe was gorgeous, we learned that she teaches sewing at a non-profit. Columbia's green gown was so beautiful, with a deep V and gorgeous green earrings she really sparkled on stage.

What a tough decision these judges had to narrow it down to the top 5!

TOP 5 (in the order they were called)

  1. Venezuela - Amanda Dudamel

  2. USA - R'Bonney Gabriel

  3. Puerto Rico - Ashely Cariño

  4. Curaçao - Gabriëla Dos Santos

  5. DominicanRepublic - Andreína Martínez

Question Round

Venezuela started this competition, she reached into a bowl to select the judge that would ask her question. She was asked, "Tell me about a time you felt shame, and how you turned that feeling into fuel." Venezuela talked about how she felt shame about wanting to be a fashion designer, but that, you should follow your dreams. USA was next, "Miss Universe recently made a change an inclusive change, allowing mother and married women o compete next year. What's another change you'd like to see, and why?" USA talked about how she'd like to see an age increase. Puerto Rico, was asked, "If you were crowned Miss Universe how would you represent ALL of this year's delegates throughout your reign?" She talked about how she is a mirror for all women and will work to represent all women.

Curaçao was next with, "if you had the opportunity to speak with the president of your country, what would you want to discuss," She said there's a lot to discuss, and Curaçao is a multicultural country and would like to discuss inclusion and anti-bullying.

Miss Dominican Republic got the final question, "what is the most significant obstacle that women in your country face, and what should be done about it?" The Dominican Republic said women need more access to education, and that action needs to be taken to get access to education for women,

After the Question Round, there was a beautiful tribute to Cheslie Kryst. Her mother, April Simpkins, came on stage and honestly, I was in tears. She is such a strong woman, and she spoke about Cheslie's battle with high-functioning depression. This is why it is so important to check in on your strong friends.

Miss Congeniality

When I competed in pageants, I actually won Miss Congeniality, and I love the award. If you didn't know, Miss Congeniality is voted on by the contestants! This year at Miss Universe Congeniality was a tie, with Chile and Malta.

Final 3 (in the order they were called)

It was getting to the final countdown, as we moved on to the top 3!

  1. DominicanRepublic - Andreína Martínez

  2. USA - R'Bonney Gabriel

  3. Venezuela - Amanda Dudamel

The Top 3 had a final question round, where all 3 delegates were asked the exact same question, and the other contestants wore sound-blocking headphones

"If you win Miss Universe, how would you work to demonstrate this is an empowering progressive organization?

Dominican Republic talked about showing up every day, showing her determination, and showing her leadership.

USA said she'd use it to be a transformative leader, talked about how she teaches women how to sew, and how she uses recycled materials to make the clothing. However, Miss USA did go over time.

Venezuela said she'd follow the legacy, talked about how Miss Universe moves women forward, and how she wants to be a part of that.

I was on the edge of my seat. "Who is winning this crown?" I thought. The one-minute-thirty-second break felt like an eternity.

The final 3 came out again for a final look. All of these queens performed so well, and it could have been any one of them, but it was almost time to crown the winner, with the "Force for Good" crown, by Mouawad.

First, they announced El Salvador as the next location for the Miss Universe competition location. Then Harnaaz gave her farewell walk where she looked amazing, in a gorgeous black and white gown.

And it was time!!!


Second Runner Up Dominican Republic

First Runner Up Venezuela

Miss Universe USA

And that was that Miss Universe is R'Bonney Gabriel from the United States!


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