Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo, and TV personalities Jeannie Mai Jenkins and Maria Menounos hosted the pageant on Saturday, while John Legend performed
A new Miss Universe has won the coveted crown!
Miss Nicaragua was named Miss Universe 2023 on Saturday after an evening of competition at the José Adolfo Pineda Arena in San Salvador, El Salvador.
In a tense moment before the winner was announced, Miss Nicaragua, Sheynnis Palacios and Miss Thailand, Anntonia Porsild, stood on stage with their hands clasped together as the venue descended into darkness, with the exception of a spotlight on the two finalists.
After a lengthy silence that saw both women with their eyes closed as they waited for the winner to be announced, a voice was heard saying: "Nicaragua!"
The new, and 72nd, Miss Universe had an emotional reaction to her win, tearing up and holding her shaking hands up to her face as the crowd cheered.
The evening culminated with last year's winner, R’Bonney Gabriel, 29, presenting Palacios with her crown as she passed on the title of Miss Universe to her successor. Miss Australia, Moraya Wilson, placed third in the competition as second runner-up.
Palacios was the first-ever Nicaraguan to win the title and marks the country's fifth time placing in the semifinals.
In a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) the new Miss Universe celebrated her win by posting several images of herself wearing her new crown, along with the caption "Hello Universe," in English as well as a message in Spanish noting that Nicaraguans had made history with her crowning.
— Miss Universe (@MissUniverse) November 19, 2023
In another first for the evening, Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo, and TV personalities Jeannie Mai Jenkins and Maria Menounos hosted the pageant, making it the first time the show was mc’d by an all-female team.
In addition, for the first time in its history, the pageant allowed married women and mothers to compete. The international competition also featured two openly trans women, Marina Machete from Portugal and Rikkie Kollé from the Netherlands, according to CNN affiliate WLWT5.
The finalists were led through four rounds of competition: evening gown, swimwear, personal statements and in-depth interviews.
Among the questions Palacios was asked: If you could live one year in another woman's shoes, who would you choose and why?
"I would chose Mary Wollstonecraft because she opened the gap and gave an opportunity to many women," she said through an interpreter, referring to the 18th century British writer, philosopher and advocate of women's rights.
"And what I would do, I would want that income gap [to] open up so that women could work in any area they choose to work in because there are no limitations for women. That was the 1750s. Now in 2023, we’re making history."
Palacios, who was born in Managua, Nicaragua, made her beauty pageant debut in 2016 when she won the Miss Teen Nicaragua title. She went on to win Miss World Nicaragua in 2020 and represented her home country at the Miss World 2021 competition, where she placed in the top 40. The 23-year-old beauty holds a degree in mass communications and played varsity volleyball for Universidad Centroamericana.
84 delegates from around the world competed for the crown on Saturday, however, Noelia Voigt, who was this year's Miss USA, failed to make it into the top 10 of the competition following the swimwear round.
Back in July, the author and childhood cancer survivor, who was also the first Venezuelan-American to be named Miss Utah, reflected on her Miss USA win in an interview with PEOPLE.
“Miss USA is a symbol of unity and diversity and inclusivity,” Voigt told PEOPLE at the time. "If the United States is going to call themselves the land of opportunity and a place where you can achieve the American dream … Miss USA should be able to represent all of them.”
Last year’s competition made history as well. Gabriel was not only the first Filipina America to earn the title, but also the first Miss USA to win Miss Universe in 10 years since Culpo, 31, took home the crown in 2012.
The fashion designer, model and sewing instructor from Texas also became one of the oldest to take on the crown given the age restrictions, where contestants must be between 18 and 28 years old.
Gabriel also pointed out the age barrier during the competition, saying that she hopes Miss Universe would allow women past the age of 28 to compete. (Earlier this year, organizers announced that starting in 2024, all women over the age of 18 will be eligible for the Miss Universe crown.)
"I am 28 years old, and that is the oldest age to compete," she said at one point during last year's competition. "And I think that's a beautiful thing."
"My favorite quote is, 'If not now, then when?' " Gabriel continued. "Because as a woman, I believe age does not define us."
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JKN Global Group purchased Miss Universe for $20 million in October 2022, making its CEO, Anne Jakapong Jakrajutatip, the first woman to own the organization in its 72-year history.
The Thai businesswoman, who is also a transgender rights advocate, laid out her plans for the organization in a press release announcing the deal, according to a previous Variety report.
"We seek not only to continue its legacy of providing a platform to passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and traditions, but also to evolve the brand for the next generation," Jakrajutatip said at the time.
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