Fil-Am Miss USA R'Bonney Gabriel was named Miss Universe 2022 on Sunday, Jan. 15 (Philippine time).
Gabriel bested 83 other delegates from different countries across the globe, succeeding Harnaaz Sandhu of India. Her win marks the first time for a USA representative to take the highly coveted crown in 10 years, with Olivia Culpo as the last one to bag the title in 2012.
She was followed by Miss Venezuela Amanda Dudamel and Miss Dominican Republic Andreína Martínez as first runner-up and second runner-up, respectively.
— PhilSTAR L!fe (@philstarlife) January 15, 2023
The first Filipino-American to win Miss USA and represent the latter in the prestigious pageant, Gabriel is an eco-friendly fashion designer, model, and sewing instructor who is the CEO of her own label R’Bonney Nola. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design with a Minor in Fibers in 2018 at the University of North Texas.
Putting the spotlight on the importance of embracing one’s culture, Gabriel has served as a voice for Asian-Americans who are pushing for more diversity and representation in the society. According to the Miss Universe organization, her mission is “for women and young girls to see themselves in her, and feel inspired to conquer their goals by owning who they are.”
At the swimsuit competition ahead of the coronation night, Gabriel made a statement in a red-orange bikini elevated with a cape that she designed by herself. Echoing her life mission, it read: "If not now, then when?"
While she represented the USA at the tilt, the Fil-Am counted on the brilliance of Filipinos for some of her pageant looks. Gabriel turned heads onstage with her NASA-inspired outfit created by Pinoy fashion designer Patrick Isorena for the national costume segment. "As a Houston native, where the NASA space center is located, I am proud to be from a city working to send the first female to the moon," she wrote in an Instagram post where she talked about her chosen number.
"The purpose of this costume," she added, "was to inspire women in all spaces across the universe to dream big, shoot for the moon, and achieve something out of this world."
Gabriel tapped another Filipino designer, Rian Fernandez, for her evening gown look at the preliminaries. The Pinoy creative highlighted Pantone's Color of the Year "Viva Magenta," which he described as a "brave and fearless color that truly empowers Queen R'Bonney Gabriel's fashion and style." It featured a brilliant mix of edge and sophistication, amped up with a detachable oversized cape shawl.
During the question-and-answer portion with the Top 5, Miss USA was asked about a change she would like to see in Miss Universe, following its decision to allow mothers and married women to compete this year. To which, she replied: "For me, I would like to see an age increase because I am 28 years old, and that is the oldest age to compete. I think it's a beautiful thing. My favorite quote is 'If not now then when?' Because as a woman, I believe age does not define us. It's not tomorrow. It's not yesterday, but it's now the time is now that you can go after what you want."
The Top 3 finalists were asked the same question at the second Q&A segment: "If you win Miss Universe, how would you work to demonstrate this is an empowering and progressive organization?"
"Well, I would use it to be a transformational leader. As a very passionate designer been selling for 13 years, I use fashion as a force for good. In my industry, I'm cutting down on pollution through recycled materials when I make my clothing, I teach sewing classes to women that have survived human trafficking and domestic violence," she said.
"And I say that because it is so important to invest in others invest in our community, and use your unique talent to make a difference. We all have something special and when we plant those seeds for other people in our life, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change," she added.
The 71st Miss Universe pageant took place at New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in Louisiana, USA. It was streamed live on A2Z, Kapamilya Channel, Metro Channel, and iWantTFC. Same-day replays will also be available at 10:30 p.m. on the same channels.
Philippines’ Celeste Cortesi didn't make it to the semi-final round of the competition, marking an end to the country's years-long streak of placing in the beauty pageant's semi-finals from 2010 to 2021. At the 70th Miss Universe, Beatrice Luigi Gomez of Cebu City finished in the Top 5.