France crowned Miss Universe in celebration of diversity

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 30 2017 11:02 AM | Updated as of Jan 30 2017 01:31 PM

Pia Wurtzbach places the Miss Universe crown on Miss France Iris Mittenaere after the latter was declared winner in the Miss Universe beauty pageant at the Mall of Asia Arena, in Pasay City on Monday. Erik De Castro, Reuters

MANILA -- (UPDATE) France's Iris Mittenaere was crowned Miss Universe on Monday in a glittering ceremony that celebrated diversity and overcoming life struggles over the perfect runway strut that has become the pageant's trademark for decades.

Mittenaere, a 23-year-old dentistry student from Lille, touted the open immigration policy of her country and Europe as the United States under Donald Trump tightened immigration controls.

"When you fail, you have to be elevated, you have to try again and keep going. If tonight, I'm not one of the winners, I will still have the great of honor of being one of the three finalists," she told the judges minutes before she was crowned by the Philippines' Pia Wurtzbach.

Haiti's Raquel Pelissier, a model from Port-au-Prince who survived the 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean country, was first runner up, while Colombia's Andrea Tovar was second runner-up. The Philippines' Maxine Medina, Thailand's Chalita Suansane and Kenya's Mary Esther Were completed the top six.

DIVERSITY

The 13 semifinalists included women of color: Tovar, Were, the United States' Deshauna Barber, and Brazil's Raissa Santana.

Canada's Siera Bierchell talked about how she overcame criticism about her weight, while Indonesia's Kezia Warouw spoke of the awkwardness of being six feet tall, one foot taller than the average woman in her country.

Peru's Valeria Piazza overcame an accident that nearly paralyzed her. She said participating in Miss Universe was her main motivation.

Blonde and statuesque Mariam Habach from Venezuela, a favorite during the preliminaries, missed the first cut.

The show opened with tight close ups of the contestants, rallying women to be strong, and hosts Steve Harvey and Ashley Graham played up how this year's batch included a microbiolgist and an army soldier.

"Every shape, every size, every height is beautiful. You should not be defined by what you wear. You should not be defined by material wealth," Kenya's Were said in a video message.

Bierchell said joining pageants helped her do humanitarian work in Kenya. "Pageants can be a platform to achieve your greatest dreams," she said.

The pageant was also a showcase for Philippine tourism, which hosted Miss Universe for the third time since 1974.

"I think it's time to bring the Philippines back on the world stage.... We have so much beauty and so much to offer," Wurtzbach said.

NEW FORMAT

The 65th edition of Miss Universe followed a brisk format that trimmed the number of semifinalists to 13 instead of 15.

The 13 competed in swimsuits then the group was whittled down to 9 for the evening gown round. Six advanced to the first interview round. Mittenaere, Pelissier and Tovar were the finalists.

US rapper Flo Rida opened the show with a medley of his hits, including his debut, "Low," and most recent radio staple "Zillionaire."

A surprise soundtrack to the evening gown parade was indie act Kiiara's "Gold."

Boyz II Men lent '90s R&B flair when they serenaded the finalists with "I'll Make Love To You," "On Bended Knee," and "End of the Road."

HARVEY BLUNDER

Host Steve Harvey poked fun at his blunder last year throughout the pageant.

Harvey mistakenly announced Colombia's Ariadna Gutierrez as Miss Universe instead of Wurtzbach during the pageant's 64th edition in Las Vegas

Wurtzbach playfully handed him a pair of reading glasses before he announced Mittenaire as the winner.

During the opening skit, Harvey was shown planning an escape route from the MOA Arena in case he fumbles again.

Gutierrez's successor, Tovar, calmed Harvey during their semifinal interview, saying she loves him.