Miss USA Olivia Culpo is crowned Miss Universe

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - An American university student is the new Miss Universe, defeating dozens of contestants from six continents to bring the crown back to the U.S. after a drought of more than a decade.

Twenty-year-old Olivia Culpo won the title Wednesday night at the Planet Hollywood casino on the Las Vegas Strip, replacing outgoing champion Leila Lopes of Angola.

The Boston University sophomore’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 Miss Universe title since Brook Lee won in 1997.

Culpo, who beat out 88 competitors, wore a tight navy blue mini-dress with a sequined bodice as she walked on stage for the event’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.

No one was more surprised than Culpo’s family when told them she was entering the Miss Rhode Island contest last year, her father Peter recalled.

“We didn’t know a thing about pageants,” he said.

She won that contest in a rented $20 dress with a hole in it and then began working out, dieting, and studying current events on flashcards to compete for the Miss USA crown.

Culpo was good enough during preliminary Miss Universe contests to be chosen as one of 16 semifinalists who moved on to compete in the main show. 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.

Moments before she won, Culpo 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.”

One of those siblings, 17-year-old Gus, was cheering from the front row with his sister’s glittering Miss Rhode Island sash wrapped around his shoulders

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.

After the show, Culpo appeared wearing a white gold crown atop her long brown hair and told a group of reporters she hoped to bring the country some good news in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Connecticut.

“It’s such an honor to be representing the USA in an international beauty contest in spite of all the tragedy that’s happened in this country lately,” she said. “I really hope that this this will raise everybody’s spirits a little.”

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