Boston University student Olivia Culpo was announced as the new Miss Universe during the competition on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Culpo brought the Miss Universe crown back to the United States for the first time since 1997.
LAS VEGAS — The 20-year-old Rhode Islander who brought the Miss Universe crown back to the U.S. for the first time in 15 years is hoping that her quick rise through the beauty pageant ranks and an onstage stumble will show women that anything is possible.
Perched high above the Las Vegas Strip in the Planet Hollywood winner's suite Thursday, Olivia Culpo told The Associated Press that her yearlong transformation from Boston University sophomore to pageant winner proves that women can accomplish anything to which they set their minds.
"My first pageant was a year ago," she said.
She pointed to the fact that she stumbled on her red velvet evening dress on Wednesday night before beating out 88 beauty queens from six continents as proof that confidence and poise matter more than perfect performance.
"I think the fact that I tripped is cool," she said.
The former Miss USA spent the first day of her reign surrounded by stylists and handlers, wearing a scarlet mini-dress with cutout cap sleeves and sky-high silver heels. Plates of cupcakes and fruit sat untouched as she sipped from a water bottle with a straw.
Miss Universe and Miss USA traditionally room together, and for the past six months, Culpo has shared a New York City apartment with outgoing queen Leila Lopes of Angola.
Her coronation ended a long losing spell for the U.S. in the competition co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC. An American had not won the Miss Universe title since Miss Hawaii Brook Lee won in 1997.
Culpo, a middle child of five, was studying theater and communications at Boston University when she decided to enroll in the Miss Rhode Island pageant last year to improve her stage presence.
She ended up winning that contest in a rented $20 dress with a hole in the back. She claimed the Miss USA crown in the spring, despite losing an earring during the interview portion.
Culpo said she used stacks of flashcards to study world events, prepared for interview questions and memorized proper walking and posing techniques.
The aspiring actress took a year off from Boston University to fulfill the travel and charity obligations that come along with the Miss USA crown, and now says she will not return to her former college.
"I don't think that Boston is a big enough market for all this," she said.
Culpo's mother, a professional viola player, discouraged her from entering the world of beauty competitions last year.
"I didn't see the point; I thought it was silly and a waste of time," Susan Culpo said. But she changed her mind when she saw the joy her daughter brought to hometown fans.
On Thursday, the mayor of Culpo's home town of Cranston, R.I. called her win an inspiration for the city, state and nation.
Culpo will advocate for HIV prevention, the official platform of the title holder, but does not intend to speak out on other issues.
"Miss Universe has to be very diplomatic in everything," she said.