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.
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.