MIAMI — 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 at Sunday's pageant in Miami.
Vega, a 22-year-old student of business administration from Barranquilla, Colombia, said the contests leading up to Miss Universe were the first she had participated in. She also said they would be her last as she would be eager to return to her studies in Colombia after her reign.
"It will be a dream come true to represent the woman of today. A woman that not only cares about being beautiful and being glamorous, but also cares about being a professional, intelligent, hard-working person," Vega had said earlier in the week in talking about the role of the winner.
Following Sanchez, the 24-year-old Miss USA from Las Vegas, Nevada, the second runner-up was Miss Ukraine Diana Harkusha.
Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell and Miss Netherlands Yasmin Verheijen were also among the top five, emerging from the field of 88 contestants.
Sanchez, a 24-year-old resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, had spoken earlier of looking forward to the often-dreaded interview portion. She had been running practice questions all week with her roommate Miss Australia Tegan Martin, who made it to the top ten.
Sanchez has a fourth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has traveled the country teaching others. She spoke previously about equipping women to defend themselves against crime.
"It's just something that's so prevalent in our society and why not empower women to take control of a dangerous situation into their own hand," she said.
"Today Show" personality Natalie Morales served as host of the show. Miss Colombia was crowned by the outgoing Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela. The broadcast included performances by singers Nick Jonas and Prince Royce.
Crowd favorite Miss Venezuela Migbelis Lynette Castellanos was cut after the top ten. She had tremendous support and pressure locally and back home. The Miami suburb of Doral, which was host to the women during their stay, is also known as "Doralzuela" for its many Venezuelan residents. Three of the last six Miss Universe titles have gone to Venezuela, where beauty pageants are big business.