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Miss Universe says crown fulfills lifelong dream

Stefania Fernandez, an 18-year-old Venezuelan, had a rocky start at the beginning of her pageant career, finishing last in one of her first contests. "I entered the world of 'misses,' and by chance life kept rewarding me bit by bit."
/ Source: The Associated Press

The 2009 Miss Universe says her title fulfills a lifelong dream — and an improbable one for a girl who finished last in one of her first beauty pageants.

Stefania Fernandez, an 18-year-old Venezuelan, said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press that despite the rocky start, she continued competing in order to keep busy.

"I don't like to be at home doing nothing," Fernandez said. "I entered the world of 'misses,' and by chance life kept rewarding me bit by bit."

She moved from her hometown of Merida to the city of San Cristobal two years ago to pursue her increasingly successful pageant career, which culminated Sunday night when she edged the runner-up from the Dominican Republic to become the new Miss Universe.

Fernandez's win made Venezuela the first country to claim the title two years in a row, after Dayana Mendoza was crowned in 2008. She is also the sixth Miss Universe from the beauty-obsessed South American nation.

"Imagine what this means to me," said Fernandez, who wore a flowing green summer dress and gold-hoop earrings to the interview. "I'm making history in my country."

She said she does not expect that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — who did not congratulate Mendoza last year — will praise her as other leaders have done with winners from their countries. But perhaps fittingly for a beauty queen, she offered a diplomatic answer when asked her opinion of the socialist leader's policies.

"I think they are extreme measures, but I trust that little by little, Venezuelans will start understanding each other and try to make the country better. We are trying to communicate more with each other."

Fernandez will spend the next year traveling the world as an ambassador for the pageant, lending her celebrity to causes such as AIDS awareness.

Afterward she plans to go to college and specialize in communications, and is also interested in pursuing English and French.

"My house is covered with photos of me from Miss Venezuela and Miss Universe," Fernandez said. "But I promised my dad that my university degree would be up there too."