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Image: Miss Angola Leila Lopes is crowned Miss Universe 2011 on Monday
Andre Penner  /  AP
Miss Angola Leila Lopes is crowned Miss Universe 2011 by last year's winner Ximena Navarrete in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Monday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/13/2011 3:22:57 AM ET 2011-09-13T07:22:57

Newly crowned Miss Universe Leila Lopes hopes her victory will allow her to assist her native Angola further escape its history of war and impoverishment and said she plans to focus on combatting HIV around the globe.

Lopes, 25, laughed and smiled as she hugged runner-up Miss Ukraine Olesia Stefanko, then felt a crown placed carefully on her head after dazzling a panel of judges with her beauty and impressing them with her brain.

Speaking in a timid voice early Tuesday shortly after taking the crown in South America's largest city, the 25-year-old Lopes said that "as Miss Angola I've already done a lot to help my people."

"I've worked with various social causes. I work with poor kids, I work in the fight against HIV. I work to protect the elderly and I have to do everything that my country needs," she said. "I think now as Miss Universe I will be able to do much more."

Responding to questions, the business student said that she has never had cosmetic surgery of any kind and that her three tips for beauty were to get a lot of sleep, use sun block even when it's not sunny and to drink lots of water. She said her smile was her best weapon in the competition.

Story: Natalie at Miss Universe looked like 'she could win,' KLG says

"I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty," she told the judges.

Asked about racism in light of the fact that she's one of the few blacks ever crowned Miss Universe, Lopes said that "any racist needs to seek help. It's not normal in the 21st century to think in that way."

Sequins and feathers
Lopes is Angola's first winner. She beat out 88 other competitors to win the title during the 60th anniversary of the world's biggest beauty pageant. She replaces last year's winner, Ximena Navarrete of Mexico.

Lopes had worn a bright bikini, then paraded around the stage with poise in a form-fitting evening gown colored in gold and silver sequins and feathers.

Image: Miss Angola Leila Lopes wears a bikini
Andre Penner  /  AP
Miss Angola Leila Lopes won over the Brazilian audience by speaking in Portuguese.

In fan voting, Lopes tallied only a 3.6 score for the swimsuit but earned a 7.2 for her evening gown. Fan voting, however, did not count in the final tallies from nine judges.

Slideshow: Beauty queen scandals (on this page)

Lopes deftly handled the interview question that is asked of the top five contestants. She was questioned about what physical trait she would change if she could.

"Thank God I'm very satisfied with the way God created me and I wouldn't change a thing," Lopes said. "I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family and I intend to follow these for the rest of my life."

Samba dancing
The first runner-up was the 23-year-old Stefanko and the second runner-up was Priscila Machado of Brazil. The third was Miss Philippines and the fourth Miss China.

Contestants spent the past three weeks in Sao Paulo, trying to learn samba dance steps, visiting impoverished children and kicking a football around for cameras as the Miss Universe pageant came to Brazil for the first time.

Image: Sixteen finalists during the Miss Universe pageant
Andre Penner  /  AP
The sixteen finalists stand in line during the Miss Universe pageant in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Monday.

Despite battling against a home country favorite, Lopes won over the audience, speaking in the shared language of Portuguese. Angola, like Brazil, is a former Portuguese colony.

"She captivated the crowd and we were all behind her," said Brazilian Natalie Bursztyn, 20, who was in the crowd inside Credicard Hall where the event took place. "It was great that the judges also saw what the fans saw and gave her the crown. Her dress was beautiful and she knew exactly what to say when they asked her the question about her looks."

Another fan in the audience, Carolina Rocha, said Lopes' win was "well deserved, we were cheering for her all along. Her smile and her friendliness was what set her apart from the others. She also answered her question very well, that likely helped her a lot."

The panelists, who included race car driver Helio Castroneves to actress Vivica A. Fox and journalist Connie Chung, scored the women on each contest, narrowing from a group of 16 down to a final five.

'These women are not just objects'
Speaking before the event, Chung said that she was taking the contest seriously.

"I know my job and I'll be tough, but fair," Chung said. "You have to keep in mind that these women are not objects just to be looked at. They're to be taken seriously. I want to choose somebody I take seriously and the world takes seriously, too."

The contestants must never have been married or had children and must be at least 18 years of age and under 27 years of age by Feb. 1 of the competition year.

The pageant, hosted by TODAY anchor Natalie Morales and the Bravo network's Andy Cohen, was broadcast live on NBC and distributed to about 170 countries. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft.) The contest is co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC, and the celebrity judges included Chung and two prominent Brazilians, supermodel Isabeli Fontana and Indy race car driver Helio Castroneves.

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Slideshow: Miss Universe 2011 (on this page)

Morales, who is half Brazilian, said that "what's most important is for the women to be beautiful inside and out."

There have been no headline-grabbing gaffes going into this year's competition, as opposed to past years that have seen controversies of various stripes. The show itself went off without a hitch.

Some of the contestants have complained to the local news media about the size of bikinis used in some photo shoots, with Miss Mexico Karin Ontiveros saying they were "very small."

That was enough to draw chuckles in Brazil, where women from all walks of life, not just beauty queens, sport barely there swimwear on beaches throughout the country.

Miss USA Alyssa Campanella, from California, failed to end a long losing spell for the U.S. in the competition. An American has not been named Miss Universe since Brook Lee won the title in 1997.

The pageant started as a local bathing suit revue in Long Beach, California, organized by a swimwear company.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Miss Universe 2011

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  1. And the winner is...

    Miss Angola 2011, Leila Lopes, left, is crowned the winner of the 2011 Miss Universe Competition by Miss Universe 2010, Mexico’s Ximena Navarrete in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Sept. 12, 2011. Lopes, 25, said she plans to focus on fighting HIV around the world. (Darren Decker / Miss Universe Org. via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Giving back

    After winning the title of Miss Universe, Angola’s Leila Lopes, 25, told press that, “I work with poor kids, I work in the fight against HIV. I work to protect the elderly and I have to do everything that my country needs." She added: "I think now as Miss Universe I will be able to do much more." (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Contestants' congratulations

    Newly named Miss Universe Leila Lopes wears her crown proudly as she is congratulated by the other contestants. When asked what she would change about herself during the question-and-answer portion of the competition, Lopes said, “I'm very satisfied with the way God created me and I wouldn't change a thing." (Nacho Doce / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The runner-up

    Miss Ukraine Olesia Stefanko, left, who came in as first runner-up, embraces Miss Universe winner Leila Lopes. The 23-year-old brunette was the first woman representing the Ukraine to place this high in the Miss Universe competition. (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thrill of victory

    Leila Lopes, right, reacts to the announcement that she has won the MIss Universe competition. She wears a stunning strapless gold and silver gown adorned with feathers. (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. No home-court advantage

    Brazil’s Priscila Machado, right, takes second runner-up in the Miss Universe competition held in Sao Paulo to loud cheers from her hometown crowd. She thanked them with several air kisses. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The top 10

    The top 10 finalists in the MIss Universe competition stand proudly on stage. From left: Miss Austrailia, Miss Costa Rica, Miss France, Miss Ukraine, Miss Portugal, Miss Panama, Miss Philippines, Miss Angola, Miss China and Miss Brazil. (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Standing firm

    Miss Philippines Shamcey Supsup placed third runner-up at the Miss Universe pageant. When asked by judge Vivica A. Fox whether she would change her religion for the person she loved, Supsup answered with a definitive no. (Andre Penner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Dress stress

    Controversy surrounded Miss Australia Scherri-Lee Biggs, whose evening gown almost didn't get cleared because it was too sheer. (Miss Universe Org. via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Say what?

    Miss China 2011 Luo Zilin was a favorite going into the competition. She made it into the top five, but placed as fourth runner-up after an odd answer during the question portion. When asked about her thoughts regarding public nudity, Zilin said through a translator, "Every country has its rules and regulations...We should respect them and be more understanding." (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Miss USA an also-ran

    Miss USA Alyssa Campanella was eliminated after making it to the top 16. (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Walking tall

    China’s Luo Zilin poses in her bikini on stage. The beauty says that she used to be insecure about her 6-foot height, but has grown more confident about it over the years. (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Going swimmingly

    Miss Universe 2011 contestants pose in swimsuits. (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. In the pink

    Miss Ukraine Olesia Stefanko wears a bikini as she competes in the Miss Universe pageant. She came in first runner-up to Miss Angola Leila Lopes. (Andre Penner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Good as gold

    Miss Angola 2011 Leila Lopes poses on stage in a golden-hued bikini. She went on to win Miss Universe. (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Bevy of beauties

    Miss Universe 2011 contestants participate in the 60th annual Miss Universe beauty pageant in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Miss Universe 2011
    Darren Decker / Miss Universe Org. via EPA
    Above: Slideshow (16) Miss Universe 2011
  2. @Melissa_M_King\Twitter
    Slideshow (23) Beauty queen scandals

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