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Image: BHS-ENTERTAINMENT-MISS UNIVERSE
Timothy A. Clary  /  AFP - Getty Images
Miss Venezuela Stefania Fernandez is crowned Miss Universe 2009 by 2008 Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza from Venezuela, right, at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas on August 23, 2009.
TODAY staff and wire
updated 8/27/2009 10:39:26 AM ET 2009-08-27T14:39:26

Latina beauty Stefania Fernandez won the title of Miss Universe 2009 at the competition held in the Bahamas Sunday night. She makes history, as this is Venezuela's second consecutive win in the international beauty pageant.

Dressed in a flowing red gown, Fernandez embraced runner-up Miss Dominican Republic as the announcement was made, and received the crown from last year's winner, Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela. The sparkling tiara fell to the floor at one point as Fernandez danced in joy.

During a question-and-answer segment with the top five finalists, Fernandez said she believed women have overcome obstacles such as hitting the proverbial glass ceiling.

“I feel we have reached the level that men are at,” she said. Fernandez, 18, beat out 83 contestants for the title, including first runner-up Miss Dominican Republic, Ada Aimee de la Cruz. Kosovo was named second runner-up, Australia third and the contestant from Puerto Rico was fourth runner-up.

Video: Miss Universe stops by TODAY Venezuela is famous for its beauty queens and has more international beauty pageant titles than any other country except for the United States, which has won seven titles. The South American nation had produced five previous Miss Universe winners in 1979, 1981, 1986, 1996 and 2008, and has also won the Miss World contest five times.

“I think this is the most beautiful group of women I've ever seen,” pageant co-owner Donald Trump told reporters. “In the old days, you got what you got. Now, Trump picks them. It makes a big difference.”

The top 15 finalists appeared in bathing suits before the final 10 were chosen for the evening gown segment. The final five answered questions from the judges.

The televised event included musical performances by Flo Rida, Heidi Montag, David Guetta and Kelly Rowland.

Montag gave her first live performance, singing “Body Language” from her debut album.

Fans cheered on the blond star of MTV’s “The Hills,” although NBC, which broadcast the event in the Bahamas live, blocked out more than half of her performance as they introduced the 15 finalists.

“I think people don’t know what to expect, and how can they? It’s my first performance live and it’s in front of a billion eyes. So I’m very excited to show everyone what I’m coming with,” said Montag prior to her performance.

The hosts were Billy Bush, co-anchor of “Access Hollywood,” and Claudia Jordan, a former Miss Rhode Island USA who has appeared on several TV shows. Judges included actor Dean Cain and supermodel Valeria Mazza.

Miss China, Wang Jingyao, was named Miss Congeniality and Miss Thailand, Chutima Durongdej, won Miss Photogenic.

Many contestants have suffered from dehydration in recent weeks, and Jewel Selver, Miss Turks and Caicos, went home Saturday to recuperate, said Esther Swan, Miss Universe spokeswoman.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

Photos: Miss Universe 2009

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  1. And the winner is...

    Miss Venezuela Stefania Fernandez, center, reacts as she is named Miss Universe 2009. As the beauty queen dances with joy, the sparkling tiara falls to the floor at the end of the pageant, held at Atlantis on Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. (Andres Leighton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Making history

    Miss Venezuela Stefania Fernandez, left, takes the title of Miss Universe 2009. Fernandez, 18, makes history, as her country takes the crown for the second consecutive year. She is crowned by 2008 Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza from Venezuela, right. Venezuela has won the crown six times. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Ladies-in-waiting

    Miss Dominican Republic Ada Aimee De la Cruz, left, Miss Venezuela Stefania Fernandez and Miss Kosovo Gona Dragusha, right, wait for the decision. In the end, Miss Kosovo is second runner-up, Miss Dominican Republic is first runner-up and Miss Venezuela is crowned Miss Universe 2009. (Orlando Barria / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Moment of truth

    Ada Aimee De la Cruz, 23, representing the Dominican Republic, looks up nervously as she chooses a judge's name from a bowl for the question-and-answer session. De la Cruz is asked whether she believes HIV testing should be made mandatory, and she answers that it should, saying, "By just not being careful, in just one minute, we may lose our own lives." (Andres Leighton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Sick in style

    Miss Switzerland Whitney Toyloy, center, reacts to feeling ill as Miss USA Kristen Dalton comforts her during the beauty pageant. At left is Miss Czech Republic Iveta Lutovska and back right Miss Puerto Rico Mayra Matos Perez. (Andres Leighton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Dancing divas

    Miss Universe contestants dance to Sean Kingston's "Fire Burning on the Dance Floor" at the beginning of the beauty pageant. (Brennan Linsley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Glamour goddess

    Miss Kosovo Gona Dragusha,18, poses in her purple Grecian-style gown. "I tried many dresses," she said. "This is the one I loved the most." Dragusha finished as second runner-up in the competition. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Ready for drama

    Pageant co-hosts Billy Bush, left, of "Access Hollywood," and "Celebrity Apprentice" star Claudia Jordan stand on stage at the Miss Universe 2009 pageant. Bush, hoping for some drama at the live televised event, opens the show by asking, "What kind of scandal will be created here tonight?" Unfortunately for Bush, no real scandals occur. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The reigning queen

    Miss Universe 2008, Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela, greets the audience during the annual pageant. When asked what her most memorable moment was as Miss Universe, she answers that it was breaking her country's 12-year losing streak in the international competition. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Top 10

    Miss USA Kristen Dalton, of North Carolina, made it as a top 10 finalist during the Miss Universe beauty pageant, but did not advance after the evening gown competition. (Andres Leighton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. If you've got it, flaunt it

    Miss Australia Rachael Finch shows off her bikini body during the swimsuit competition. Finch finished as the third runner-up, after being asked by a judge how she feels about women in some countries being banned from wearing bathing suits. Swimsuits, she said, give women the chance to "show our figures ... and everything we've worked so hard for." (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Feel the beat

    Rapper Flo Rida, right, performs his hit songs "Jump" and "Low" during the swimsuit competition. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Blond 'Body Language'

    Reality TV star Heidi Montag gives her first live musical performance, singing "Body Language" from her debut album. Montag is best known as a star of MTV's "The Hills." Although fans cheer her on, more than half of her performance is blocked out as hosts introduce the 15 pageant finalists. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. She's got the look

    Miss Czech Republic 2009 Iveta Lutovska, 26, gets dolled up in preparation for the pageant. She is a top 10 finalist, but was cut after the evening gown competition. (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Touch-up

    Twenty-three-year-old Johanna Lasic, Miss Argentina 2009, sets her hair backstage moments before competing in the Miss Universe pageant. Lasic is not chosen as a finalist. (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Strike a pose

    Miss Argentina Joy Lasic, left, Miss Colombia Michelle Rouillard and Miss Bolivia Dominique Peltier, right, rehearse their dance moves prior to the Miss Universe competition. (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Sleeping beauty

    Miss Netherlands Avalon-Chanel Weyzig, right, naps in her seat as she and other candidates wait to rehearse for the competition. (Brennan Linsley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Costume conundrum

    Miss Peru Karen Schwarz pre-tapes her opening number wearing an intricate costume. Bolivia protested against Miss Peru using a costume from Andean dance Diablada as the outfit in the national costume section of the pageant. (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Show stoppers

    Singer Anthoney Wright performs with dancer Cassie Dzienny during the 2009 Miss Universe preliminary competition in the Bahamas, a week before the final competition. (Brennan Linsley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Working the runway

    Miss Montenegro Anja Jovanovic walks on the runway during the swimsuit event of the 2009 Miss Universe preliminary competition. (Brennan Linsley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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