Olivia Culpo, a stunning 20-year-old college student from Rhode Island was crowned the new Miss Universe on Wednesday night during a televised competition at the Planet Hollywood casino on the Las Vegas Strip, besting 88 other contenders from around the world.
“I’m dreaming, it’s a dream,” Culpo said while surrounded by the other ladies. Miss Philippines, Janine Tugonon, came in second, while Miss Venezuela, Irene Sofia Esser Quintero, placed third.
In the final stages of the competition, Culpo — after strutting in a purple and blue bikini and a red velvet gown — was asked whether she had she had ever done something she regretted.
“I’d like to start off by saying that every experience no matter what it is, good or bad, you’ll learn from it. That’s just life,” she said. “But something I’ve done I’ve regretted is probably picking on my siblings growing up, because you appreciate them so much more as you grow older.”
One of those siblings, 17-year-old Gus, was proudly cheering from the front row with his sister’s glittering Miss Rhode Island sash draped around his shoulders.
The Boston University sophomore’s coronation ends a long losing streak for the U.S. in the competition co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC. An American had not won the Miss Universe title since Brook Lee captured the title in 1997.
After the show, Culpo — wearing her white gold crown — told reporters she hoped to bring the country some good news in the wake of the tragic school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It’s such an honor to be representing the USA in an international beauty contest in spite of all the tragedy that’s happened in this country lately,” she said. “I really hope that this will raise everybody’s spirits a little.”
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Culpo succeeds last year’s winner Leila Lopes of Angola.
The contestants voted to give the Miss Congeniality crown to Miss Guatemala.
The panel of 10 judges included singer Cee Lo Green, Iron Chef star Masaharu Morimoto and Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants.
Contestants in the pageant cannot have been married or have children. They must be younger than 27 and older than 18 by February 1 of the competition year.
The winner of the crown receives an undisclosed salary, an extensive wardrobe, a limitless supply of beauty products, and a luxury apartment in New York City.
The pageant aired live on NBC and was streamed to more than 100 countries.