A 20-year-old Boston University sophomore and a self-described "cellist-nerd" brought the Miss Universe crown back to the United States for the first time in more than a decade when she won the televised contest Wednesday.
Olivia Culpo beat out 88 other beauty queens to succeed Leila Lopes of Angola during the two-hour competition at Planet Hollywood Resort on the Strip.
Culpo wore a tight navy blue mini-dress with a sequined bodice as she walked on stage for the competition’s opening number.
Later in the night, she strutted in a purple and blue bikini and donned a wintery red velvet gown with a plunging neckline.
Culpo’s coronation ends a long losing spell for the United States in the competition, co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC. An American had not won the right to be called Miss Universe since Brook Lee won the title in 1997.
Culpo was good enough during preliminary competitions to be chosen as one of 16 semifinalists who moved on to compete in the pageant’s finale. Her bid lasted through swimsuit, evening wear and interview competitions that saw cuts after each round.
She won over the judges, even after tripping slightly during the evening gown competition. Telecasters pointed it out but also noted her poised recovery.
Minutes before the middle child of five was crowned, she was asked whether she had she had ever done something she regretted.
"I’d like to start off by saying that every experience no matter what it is, good or bad, you’ll learn from it. That’s just life," she said. "But something I’ve done I’ve regretted is probably picking on my siblings growing up because you appreciate them so much more as you grow older."
Miss Philippines, Janine Tugonon, came in second, while Miss Venezuela, Irene Sofia Esser Quintero, placed third.
All of the contestants spent the past two weeks in Sin City, where they posed in hard hats at a hotel groundbreaking, took a painting lesson and pranked hotel guests by hiding in their rooms.
Culpo was the first Miss USA winner from Rhode Island when she took the national crown in Las Vegas in June.
She grew up in Cranston with two professional musicians for parents and has played the cello alongside world-renowned classical musician Yo-Yo Ma. On her Miss Universe page, she said she hopes to pursue a career in film or television, and cites Audrey Hepburn as a role model because of her "generosity, intelligence and grace."
With Culpo’s promotion, Miss Maryland Nana Meriwether becomes the new Miss USA.
The Miss Universe pageant was back in Las Vegas this year after being held in Sao Paulo in 2011. It aired live on NBC.
As Miss Universe, Culpo will receive an undisclosed salary, a wardrobe fit for a queen, a limitless supply of beauty products and a luxury apartment in New York City.