South African model takes Miss Universe crown

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LAS VEGAS—Beauties from across the globe converged in Las Vegas Sunday (Monday in Manila), where Miss South Africa was crowned Miss Universe.

Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, 22, edged out her rivals from Colombia and Jamaica to take the crown.

Nel-Peters, a graduate in business management, said her disabled half-sister had been among her great inspirations.

Philippine bet Rachel Peters failed to reach the Miss Universe Top 5, ending her journey early in the competition held at The Axis at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

COMEBACK CROWN. Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (left) reacts as she is crowned Miss Universe 2017 by Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere in Las Vegas, Nevada. During the telecast, a familiar crown made its comeback: the Mikimoto crown, last used in 2007 by Japan’s Riyo Mori. It was first worn in 2002 when Oxana Federova of Russia was crowned. It has since been kept by the Miss Universe Organization after switching to the crowns by Diamond Nexus Lab and the Diamond International Corporation. AFP

In the pageant’s 66th year, nearly 100 women from around the world—including first-timers from Cambodia, Laos and Nepal— took part.

The runner-up was actress Laura Gonzalez of Colombia, who was followed by second runner-up Davina Bennett of Jamaica.

The current Miss Universe, Iris Mittenaere from France, crowned her successor to a din of squeals and cheers.

American comic turned TV host Steve Harvey hosted the event for the third time, making several jokes at his own expense. 

In 2015 he famously made a mistake heard round the world when he announced the wrong person as Miss Universe, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable, tense correction and a deluge of internet memes.  

Grammy-winning singer Fergie and pop star Rachel Platten provided the musical entertainment for Sunday’s show.

In the “Final Word” portion of the competition, Nel-Peters said “Miss Universe is a woman who has overcome many fears, and by that she is able to help many women overcome their fears.”

“She is a woman that nothing is ever too much to ask for,” she said. “And I think that is exactly who I am.” 

Peters advanced to the top 16 via wildcard and sashayed the pageant stage for the swimsuit round. She then made it to the top 10 where she participated in the evening gown competition wearing a pale bluish-gray dress by designer Val Taguba.

South Africa’s Nel-Peters was declared winner besting 91 other delegates and became the second South African woman to be crowned Miss Universe after Margaret Gardiner’s win in 1978.

The 22-year-old model and business management graduate from North-West University was crowned by outgoing Miss Universe Iris Mittenaere of France with the US$250,000 pearl-encrusted Mikimoto crown, which was last used by the pageant in 2009.

Nel-Peters teaches self-defense courses for women inspired by her own experience. 

She was held at gunpoint by three carjackers in June as she was driving through Johannesburg, about a month after she was crowned Miss South Africa. 

A Good Samaritan saw her fleeing the scene and drove her to safety, and she escaped unharmed.

During the competition’s Q&A portion, host Steve Harvey asked Nel-Peters about what she thought was the most important issue facing women in the workplace.

“In some places, women get paid 75 percent of what men earn for doing the same job, working the same hours—and I do not believe that this is right,’ she said. ‘I think we should have equal work for equal pay for women all over the world,” she said.

Miss Colombia Laura Gonzalez finished as first-runner up while Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett was named second-runner up. Also in the Top 5 were Miss Venezuela Keysi Sayago and Miss Thailand Maria Poonlertlarp.

Miss USA Kára McCullough, Miss Canada Lauren Howe, Miss Spain Sofia del Prado and Miss Brazil Monalysa Alcântara also made the Top 10 list. Rounding out the Top 16 were China’s Roxana Qiu, Croatia’s Shanaelle Petty, Ghana’s Ruth Quashie, Great Britain’s Anna Burdzy, Ireland’s Cailín Toíbín and Sri Lanka’s Christina Peiris.

“It has been 39 years since a South African wore the Miss Universe crown and I promise to dedicate and commit myself to ensure the crown will once again be on South African soil,” Nel-Peters said earlier after the winning the right to represent her country which was won under controversy after fellow contestants alleged that she had a “special relationship” with two of the judges.

The Miss Universe Organization implemented a new mechanics for the coronation event, selecting the top 16 per continent. Four candidates from The Americas (North America, Central America, South America, Caribbean), four candidates from Europe, four candidates from Asia, Africa, and the Oceania, plus four wild cards.

Making their debuts in this year’s pageant were Laos’ Souphaphone Somvichith, Cambodia’s By Sotheary and Nepal’s Nagma Shrestha. Named best in National Costume Contest was Japan’s Momoko Abe.

Seated on the judges tables were Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, Hollywood Today host Ross Mathews, fashion correspondent Jay Manuel, top internet influencer Lele Pons, UFC backstage reporter Megan Olivi, hair care/spa products company founder Farouk Shami, and Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam.

 

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