FRANCE won its first Miss Universe crown in 63 years on Monday in a made-for-television spectacle where finalists spoke out on the refugee crisis and other hot-button global issues.
Iris Mittenaere, a dental surgery student from Lille in the north of France, beat 85 of the world’s most beautiful women at the event in the Philippines scheduled for primetime viewing in the United States.
Mittenaere, 24, edged out Miss Haiti, the first runner-up, and Miss Colombia, the second runner-up, to win France’s first Miss Universe title since 1953.
“I was very surprised. I am always touching the crown and saying ‘Oh my God. I have the crown on my head. I don’t believe it,’” Mittenaere said in a post-pageant news conference.
“French people love beauty pageants but they don’t really know Miss Universe because never [did] our country win,” she said, adding she would advocate for good hygiene and educating children.
In the final question round, the six remaining contestants were each asked questions relating to various political issues in their own countries or abroad.
When asked about the global refugee crisis, Mittenaere said France had the right to close its borders to refugees if it wanted but she also spoke about the benefits of migration.
“In France we want to have the most globalization that we can. We want to have the biggest exchange of people that we can. Maybe someday that will change but now we have open borders,” Mittenaere said, with her comments translated into English for the audience.
“Having open borders allows us to travel more through the world and to find out more about what’s out there in the world.”
Miss Kenya, another finalist, said Donald Trump’s presidency “may not have been the choice of many people” in the United States.
“So many people oppose his position. But I feel that once [Trump] took up his position, he was able to unify the entire nation,” said Mary Esther Were, 27.
Miss Colombia appeared to allude to Trump when asked why violence was prevalent in the world.
“Although there are presidents who don’t get along with others, we work together to unite. Campaigns, respect and inclusivity to be able to have a social transformation that would educate our children,” said Andrea Tovar, 23.
Monday’s show was headlined by US performers including Grammy award-winning rhythm and blues group Boyz II Men and rapper and Grammy award nominee Flo Rida.
Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines won last year following a major blunder in which the host—Emmy Award winner Steve Harvey—mistakenly awarded the title to Miss Colombia.
Harvey corrected the error minutes later, apologizing on air to Wurtzbach and Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez.
The mistake featured prominently on Monday’s show, with candidates and the home audience often ribbing Harvey about it.
“Steve, I never got to thank you but thank you for making me the most popular Miss Universe,” Wurtzbach told Harvey at the opening of show.
Facts about Iris Mittenaere, 65th Miss Universe
Born in North of France in a town called Lille
Loves extreme sports, travelling and cooking new French dishes.
3rd Miss Universe to be crowned in the Philippines. The other candidates being Miss Universe-Spain Amparo Muñoz (1974) and Miss Universe-India Sushmita Sen (1994).
Only the 2nd French woman to win the Miss Universe crown, ending France’s 63-year title drought since the victory of Christiane Martel (1953).
Harvey this year got through the closing moments of the ceremony smoothly.
The Philippines agreed to host the pageant as part of efforts to draw tourists and investors.
Beauty pageants are also hugely popular in the Philippines, particularly among the tens of millions of poor who see the contests as a chance for their beautiful compatriots to live a life of fame and luxury.
But allowing the Philippines to host has proved controversial, with critics claiming the pageant would whitewash Duterte’s brutal drug war, which has left more than 6,000 people dead.
Environmentalists also hit out at pageant organizers for letting the bikini-clad contestants swim last month with endangered whale sharks.
Mittenaere, who turned 24 five days before the grand coronation, was born in the north of France in Lille and represented Nord-Pas-de-Calais during the Miss France national pageant. She is a model and currently pursuing a degree in dental surgery.
The 5-foot-7 stunner is the first European winner since 1990 and the second woman from her country to win the crown after Christiane Martel won in Miss Universe 1953 breaking France’s 63-year title drought. It’s also the third time that France made it to the top six since the pageant’s inception in 1952.
Philippine bet Maxine Medina had a top six finish along with Miss Thailand and Miss Kenya. Rounding up the top 13 were Miss USA, Miss Canada, Miss Peru, Miss Brazil, Miss Indonesia, Miss Panama and Miss Mexico.
Denied of the customary first walk as Miss Universe during the 64th edition of the pageant because of Harvey’s mistake, Wurtzbach, in a shimmering blue ball gown, took her final walk in front of her countrymen who proudly cheered her name before she passed on her crown to the new Miss Universe. Wurtzbach bowed and blew kisses to the judges and the crowd and then kissed an obviously grateful Harvey.
The 65th Miss Universe pageant opened to a Golden Globe-like Hollywood script where the American host and comedian was seen hatching an escape plan out of the Arena in case anything untoward happened to him before the 86 candidates walked out on stage to the beat of a rousing hip-hop/rap number from Grammy-award guest performer Flo Rida.
“Hello, Manila,” Harvey greeted the crowd. “I know what you’re thinking. Is that the guy from last year?’” he exclaimed in reference to the error he committed at last year’s pageant. “It’s me, I’m back. I paid the price from that incident and the best thing that I could do is to just keep moving on,” the comedian host said.
“I had surgery to my eyes you know,” Harvey joked. “But, tonight, it’s not about me but the 86 girls from all over the world who traveled to the beautiful Philippines,” he said before introducing the outgoing Miss Universe on stage.
“I have exceeded my expectations in Miss Universe. I’ve grown as a woman and I have loved my job as Miss Universe representing not just the Philippines but the whole universe,” Wurtzbach said.
“I remember just last year when you were the first runner-up for about 28 seconds,” Harvey told Wurtzbach.
“I never got to thank you, Steve. Thank you for making me the most popular Miss Universe,” Wurtzbach said.
“Thank you for making me the most famous host,” Harvey replied.
Sitting as judges were former Miss Universe winners Dayanara Torres, Leila Lopes and Sushmita Sen who was loudly cheered by the Filipinos. “I have to reciprocate ‘this love,’ Mahal kita Philippines,” an overwhelmed Sen said to the crowd. Sen, the first Indian woman to win Miss Universe, was excited to make a return to the country 23 years since winning in the Manila-hosted 1994 Miss Universe pageant.
Completing the judges’ panel were Cynthia Bailey, Francine LeFrak, and Mickey Boardman.
The Best in National Costume, the only special award presented, was given to Miss Myanmar Htet Htet Htun’s who appeared on stage with the winning costume off her back of a heavy stage backdrop designed to honor her country’s traditional art of puppet theater. The costume weighs about 40 kilograms.
Malacañang on Monday congratulated Mittenaere, the second woman from her country to win the coveted Miss Universe crown.
“Congratulations to the new Miss Universe, Iris Mittenaere of France. People of France are rejoicing. Truly, this is a proud moment for their country,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“Iris brought tremendous joy to her people by representing France well on the international stage with her winning grace, regal bearing and inspiring answer. She has won not only the nod of the judges but the affection of the entire world as well,” he added.
Mittenaere said winning the Miss Universe 2016 title was a “dream come true” but she said that getting a warm welcome from Filipinos was also worth celebrating.
“Thank you to all Filipinos—you are exceptional. You are so welcoming and so lovely with us,” the beauty queen said in a press conference after she was crowned.
Mittenaere, a dentistry student, said that all the candidates in the pageant loved the country and the people.
Her favorite tourist destination in the Philippines, she said, was Cebu because she enjoyed the sunny weather.
She said that like her predecessor, 2015 Miss Universe-Philippines Pia Wurtzbach, she was looking forward to traveling around the world.
“Miss Universe is a dream. I saw what Pia did. I want to do that also. I want to understand people. I want to travel and meet people. That’s why it is a dream for me to be Miss Universe,” Mittenaere said.
Asked what advocacies she would like to pursue, the aspiring dentist said that she would like to focus on oral hygiene and education.
“I will be dentist in two years. But now, I will represent the universe and I want to do more than that,” she said.
During her spare time, Mittenaere said that she engages in extreme sports, traveling the world and cooking new French dishes.
She is the third Miss Universe to be crowned in the Philippines. The other candidates crowned in the Philippines were Miss Universe-Spain Amparo Muñoz (1974) and Miss Universe-India Sushmita Sen (1994).
She is also only the second French woman who won the coveted crown. This ended France’s 63-year title drought since the victory of Christiane Martel (1953).
The French beauty queen will move to New York City where she will live during her reign and become a spokesperson for various causes. With AFP, PNA
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