SAO PAULO (AFP) – Angola’s Leila Lopes has become the new Miss Universe, edging out beauties from Ukraine, Brazil, the Philippines and China as the pageant marked its 60th anniversary.
Lopes, 25, wearing a glittery strapless gown with feathery fringe, accepted the crown on Monday from last year’s winner, Mexico’s Ximena Navarrete, after upsetting a line-up of Latin American beauties who had been favored to win.
Ninety-eight young women took part in the contest — in South America’s largest city, Brazil’s industrial hub of Sao Paulo — watched by an estimated one billion people around the world.
“Now I have work to do, and I want to try to keep my feet on the ground,” Lopes told reporters as she struggled to hold back tears after receiving a standing ovation at Sao Paulo’s Credicard Hall.
Earlier, when the judges asked what physical trait about herself she would change if given the opportunity, she replied: “Nothing, I am satisfied with what God gave me,” and added that it was important to have “inner beauty.”
She will go on to serve as a world ambassador of sorts, with a full calendar of public appearances to raise awareness about the fight against AIDS and other serious diseases.
It was the ninth time the competition was held in Latin America but the first time it was hosted by Brazil. Latin American women were the favorites this year after winning the crown in seven of the last 10 competitions, and all eyes were on the slender Vanessa Goncalves of Venezuela, which has a highly competitive beauty pageant circuit.
Venezuela won back-to-back crowns in 2008 and 2009 — a first in the competition — and with a total of six wins falls just one short of the United States, which has more than 10 times its population. But Goncalves and another favorite, Miss Kosovo, were eliminated after the swimsuit competition and did not make it into the group of finalists.
The hometown favorite, Brazil’s Priscila Machado, came in third, upsetting Miss China and Miss Philippines but falling short of Ukraine’s Olesia Stefanko, who came in second. Lopes wore a light-colored, glittery dress that contrasted well with her dark skin, and pinned her voluminous hair up in a bun that sent murmurs of wonder through the local press corps.
The contest, organized by US real-estate tycoon Donald Trump, was judged by a panel of seven fashion experts and celebrities, including Brazilian supermodel Isabeli Fontana and Indy driver Helio Castroneves. Participants must be between 18 and 27 years old and unmarried. They cannot have been pregnant or posed nude.