R'Bonney Gabriel becomes the first Filipino-American Miss Universe
NEW ORLEANS — R'Bonney Gabriel, the Filipino-American 28-year-old beauty from Texas, became the first Filipino-American to become Miss Universe when she bested 82 other ladies in the recently concluded 71st Miss Universe competition in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Miss Universe USA beauty queen, who is a sustainable fashion designer by profession, was stunning in a sexy black gown by Filipino fashion designer Rian Fernandez from Pangasinan.
In the Q&A portion of the competition for the three finalists, Gabriel was asked how she would work to demonstrate Miss Universe as "an empowering and progressive organization" if she were to win.
She replied, "I would use it to be a transformational leader. As a very passionate designer, I've been sewing for 13 years, I use fashion as a force for good. In my industry, I'm cutting down pollution through recycled materials when I make my clothing, I do sewing classes to women who survived human trafficking and domestic violence. I say that because it's so important to invest in others, invest in our community, and use your unique talent to make a difference. We all have something special and when we plant those seeds to other people in our lives, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change."
Born on March 20, 1994, in Houston, Texas to Filipino Remigio Bonzon "R. Bon" Gabriel from Malate, Philippines and Dana Walker from Beaumont, Texas, R'Bonney got her name from her dad. Her father, who emigrated to Washington at the age of 19, has a doctorate in psychology at the University of Houston.
R'Bonney has a bachelor's degree in fashion and a minor in fabrics from the University of North Texas.
Backstage with the press, Gabriel said she is proud to be a Filipino-American and proud to represent both cultures.
"A lot of young girls were even texting me that they are inspired by me and that I am their role model," she said.
She even graciously thanked the Filipino press media by saying, "Maraming salamat!"
The first runner-up in the competition was Miss Venezuela, Amanda Dudamel, while the second runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic, Andreina Martinez.
Both Filipinos and Filipino-Americans showed their love and support to Gabriel and Miss Universe Philippines Celeste Cortesi who unfortunately did not make it to the top 16.
The New Orleans Morial Convention Center was showered with confetti when Gabriel was crowned and announced the winner while thumping music and loud hurrahs from the enthusiastic audience filled the area.
Harnaaz Sandhu of India crowned Gabriel. It is the United States' first victory in 10 years and the ninth victory of the country.
Hosted by Jeannie Mai and Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo, the event was also co-hosted by Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray and Zuri Hall, who served as backstage correspondents.
The competition is the first edition of the pageant to be held under the new ownership of Thailand-based JKN Global Group headed by Anne Jakrajutatip. She proudly told the audience that for the first time the Miss Universe is now "for women and ran by women."
—MGP, GMA Integrated News