Miss Colombia Paulina Vega has been crowned Miss Universe, beating out first runner-up Miss USA Nia Sanchez and contestants from more than 80 other countries.
Vega, a 22-year-old student of business administration, said she would wear the crown with “pride and excitement” as she heard the news that fans in Colombia had taken to the streets to celebrate.
Although she was far from home in Miami, Vega said she still felt the support from local Latinos.
“It felt like home. I felt like I was in Colombia with my people,” she said, wearing a sparkling silver gown at a press conference after the competition.
Real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump, who owns the pageant, said many predicted Vega would take the crown a few weeks ago when contestants first arrived for the festivities.
“From the minute she walked in the building, people said, ‘She’s a star,’” Trump said.
Trump said Colombia was in the running to host next year’s pageant but noted China was also a strong candidate.
Beauty pageants are big business in Latin America, where girls are groomed for the contests from a young age and where Vega said women find “a lot of pride” in representing their country.
Crowd favorite Miss Venezuela Migbelis Lynette Castellanos was cut after the top 10. The Miami suburb of Doral, which was host to the women during their stay, is also known as “Doralzuela” for its many Venezuelan residents.
Pageants and performance run in Vega’s family. Her grandmother, Elvira Castillo, was Miss Atl?ntico 1953 (Colombia) and her grandfather is legendary tenor Gast?n Vega.
But the contests leading up to Miss Universe were a first for Vega, who is one of eight children. She also said they would be her last, as she is eager to return to her studies, saying: “It gives me independence. I want to have my own company.”
After Sanchez, the 24-year-old Miss USA, the second runner-up was Miss Ukraine Diana Harkusha. Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell and Miss Netherlands Yasmin Verheijen were also among the top five from the field of 88 contestants.
Fennell stood out with her short, spiky haircut and feisty personality.
“I don’t have long tresses like everyone else. I’m just representing myself, and that’s what beauty pageants are all about,” said Fennell, who wore a long, red beaded evening gown. “You don’t have to look a certain way … and I feel like I represent that.”
As Miss Universe, Vega will receive an undisclosed salary, a luxury apartment in New York, a wardrobe and oodles of beauty products, and a one-year scholarship from the New York Film Academy.