- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

LAS VEGAS (AP) - 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 take the title from Leila Lopes of Angola during the two-hour competition at the Planet Hollywood casino on the Las Vegas 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 U.S. 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 the contestants spent the past two weeks in Sin City, where they posed in hardhats 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 and was streamed to more than 100 countries.

Organizers had considered holding the 61st annual Miss Universe in the popular Dominican Republic tourist city of Punta Cana, but Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart said that country’s financial crisis proved to be too much of an obstacle.

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