By Neil Hartnell
Venezuelan Stefania Fernandez, an 18-year-old brunette, won the Miss Universe 2009 title on Sunday, giving her South American country its second consecutive win and its sixth title in the beauty pageant.
The svelte Venezuelan model defeated favorites from Australia and Dominican Republic to became the 58th winner of the crown in a show broadcast live around the world from the Atlantis, Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas.
The first runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic, Ada Aimee de la Cruz, while Miss Kosovo, Gona Dragusha, was second runner-up.
Fernandez received the crown from fellow Venezuelan Dayana Mendoza, who won the 2008 Miss Universe contest held in Vietnam's resort city of Nha Trang.
Overcome with excitement as the two Venezuelan beauties embraced, Mendoza initially fumbled and dropped the jewel-studded crown before placing it on Fernandez' head.
It was the first time that a contestant from the same country won the title for a second year running.
Oil producer Venezuela is famous for its beauty queens and has accumulated more international beauty pageant titles than any other country. 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.
Only the United States has won more Miss Universe titles with 7.
Fernandez was selected out of five finalists chosen from a total field of 83 contestants. The other five finalists came from Dominican Republic, Kosovo, Australia and Puerto Rico.
In the deciding questions that preceded the announcement of the winner, Fernandez was asked by a judge what obstacles faced women seeking to become leaders of business corporations.
"We've already reached the same level as men," she replied confidently, speaking through an interpreter.
Before her, 21-year-old Australian model Rachael Finch, who had been widely favored to win the crown, defended the swimsuit parade of the pageant, which has sometimes been criticized by critics of beauty contests.
"I think our bodies are a beautiful part of a women and we should definitely show them to the world," Finch said.
Government officials in the Bahamas, a scattered group of islands and keys southeast of the United States, were hoping that hosting the 2009 Miss Universe pageant would provide a much needed short-term boost to the islands' economy and tourism industry.
Bahamas, like other Caribbean states, has been badly hit by the global economic recession which has reduced visitor arrivals and investment. Bahamas' unemployment rate has nearly doubled in the last year to just over 14 percent in May.
The annual Miss Universe pageant -- which tries to present itself as something more meaningful than a swimwear parade -- was first held in Long Beach, California, in 1952.
The event was taken over in 1996 by U.S. real estate mogul Donald Trump.