*Freshly-crowned Miss Universe Leila Lopes hopes her victory will allow her to assist her native Angola further escape its history of war and impoverishment and said she plans to focus on combatting HIV around the globe.
Speaking in a timid voice early Tuesday shortly after taking the crown in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the 25-year-old Lopes said that “as Miss Angola I’ve already done a lot to help my people.”
“I’ve worked with various social causes. I work with poor kids, I work in the fight against HIV. I work to protect the elderly and I have to do everything that my country needs,” she told the Associated Press. “I think now as Miss Universe I will be able to do much more.”
Responding to questions, Lopes said that she has never had cosmetic surgery of any kind and that her three tips for beauty were to get a lot of sleep, use sun block even when it’s not sunny and to drink lots of water. She said her smile was her best weapon in the competition.
Asked about racism in light of the fact that she’s one of the few blacks ever crowned Miss Universe, Lopes said that “any racist needs to seek help. It’s not normal in the 21st century to think in that way.”
Lopes is Angola’s first winner. She beat out 88 other competitors to win the title during the 60th anniversary of the world’s biggest beauty pageant. She replaces last year’s winner, Ximena Navarrete of Mexico.
Lopes deftly handled the interview question that is asked of the remaining top five contestants. She was questioned about what physical trait she would change if she could.
“Thank God I’m very satisfied with the way God created me and I wouldn’t change a thing,” Lopes said. “I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty. I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family and I intend to follow these for the rest of my life.” [Scroll down to watch.]
The first runner-up was 23-year-old Olesia Stefanko of Ukraine and the second runner-up was Priscila Machado of Brazil. The third was Miss Philippines and the fourth Miss China.
Contestants spent the past three weeks in Sao Paulo, trying to learn samba dance steps, visiting impoverished children and kicking a football around for cameras as the Miss Universe pageant came to Brazil for the first time.
Despite battling against a home country favorite, Lopes won over the audience, speaking in the shared language of Portuguese. Angola, like Brazil, is a former Portuguese colony.
The Miss Universe contestants must never have been married or had children and must be at least 18 years of age and under 27 years of age by Feb. 1 of the competition year.
Hosted by NBC “Today” anchor Natalie Morales and the Bravo network’s Andy Cohen, the competition was broadcast live on NBC and distributed to about 170 countries. The contest is co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC, and the celebrity judges included Connie Chung and two prominent Brazilians, supermodel Isabeli Fontana and Indy race car driver Helio Castroneves.
Morales, who is half Brazilian, said that “what’s most important is for the women to be beautiful inside and out.”
For Cohen, the task of hosting was an easy one.
“It’s a fun job. All I have to do is stand there, smile and scream the names of countries,” he said.