MOSCOW—These may be trying times back home but if the Miss Universe contest proved anything, it was that even a country where inflation was running high, salaries were plunging and basic goods like milk were in short supply could churn out a beauty queen.
A 25-year-old Venezuelan television presenter, Gabriela Isler, on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) was crowned Miss Universe in Moscow in a glittering ceremony.
Miss Philippines Ariella Arida finished third runner-up.
Judges, including rock star Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, picked the winner from 86 contestants at the show, watched by millions of viewers around the world.
American television presenter Thomas Roberts, who cohosted the final with ex-Spice Girl Melanie Brown, dedicated the show to the people suffering from the typhoon in the Philippines.
“We send our very best, our thoughts. We dedicate tonight’s show to you” Roberts said.
Tiara falls off
In the excitement after the announcement of the winner, the tiara fell off Isler’s head as she was being crowned by Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo of the United States.
Isler caught the crown laughing.
Patricia Rodriguez of Spain was the runner-up.
Isler wore a silver rhinestone studded evening dress.
After the show, Isler waved to journalists, wearing the Miss Universe sash and standing next to the show’s owner, US tycoon Donald Trump.
In shock, but blessed
“I can’t describe all the things that I feel at this moment because I’m shaking,” Isler said. “I’m still in shock. I feel so blessed, so happy to be here.”
“It’s been a lot of fun and a great success,” Trump said, estimating that the television audience was “way over a billion people.”
In the decisive interview round, Tyler asked Isler what her greatest fear was.
She did not give any details, but said: “I believe we should overcome all our fears and this in turn will make us stronger.” She spoke in Spanish through an interpreter.
Isler, whose full name is Maria Gabriela de Jesus Isler Morales, appears on Venezuela’s Venevision television.
Isler was to pose on Sunday in a specially created jeweled swimsuit that the organizers said was worth $1 million.
The previous Miss Universe, Culpo, earlier appeared on stage wearing the white cutaway swimsuit studded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
“That swimsuit travels with an armed security guard 24/7,” commented Roberts.
The show included a performance by Tyler, who sang “Dream on, dream until your dream comes true,” while standing on top of a white grand piano.
All contestants initially appeared on stage in red and black cocktail dresses. They then changed into red and black bikinis.
Boos from audience
The judges whittled down the contestants to a final 16, who faced off in a bikini round, carrying white fur stoles.
Then a final 10 women strutted on the stage in elaborate sequined evening gowns, before the final five answered questions in the interview round.
Host country Russia was eliminated immediately, prompting boos in the audience.
The contest, whose slogan is “confidently beautiful,” was first held in 1952 in the United States. It still requires the women not to be married or pregnant.
The decision to stage the show in Moscow sparked debate over Russia’s new law banning “homosexual propaganda,” a measure that prompted the original US cohost to pull out.
His replacement, Roberts, who is also openly gay, said he sympathized with Russia’s gay community.
“I certainly think that discriminatory laws are just that, discriminatory and they marginalize the LGBT community,” he told Agence France Presse, referring to the lesbian, gay, biosexual and transgender community.
Roberts did not refer to the issue of gay rights on stage, however.
Russia won the Miss Universe title in 2002, but the policewoman Oksana Fyodorova was dethroned after US shock jock Howard Stern provoked her into chatting about her sex life. She now presents a children’s television show.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated Isler on Twitter, calling her title a “triumph” for Venezuela, a country that has won three of the last six Miss Universe pageants.
Beauty queen industry
Venezuela has won more major international beauty competitions than any other nation, and beauty pageants rank alongside baseball as the country’s most-followed diversion.
A whole industry of grooming schools, plastic surgeons and beauty salons has emerged to prepare young women for the thousands of pageants that take place each year around the country in schools, army barracks and even prisons.
Venezuela has kept its beauty queen industry flourishing, despite economic problems that have worsened as inflation touched a two-decade high of 54 percent and shortages of basic goods like milk have worsened.