It was a night to remember in El Salvador’s Gimnasio Nacional José Adolfo Pineda as 85 Miss Universe candidates showcased their best performance in front of 13,000 passionate fans.
The excitement grew as the 3-hour show moved along, from the first cut to 20 semifinalists to the top 10, which included the Philippines’ Michelle Dee.
Classy and powerful in both swimsuit and evening gown segments, Dee put her heart into everything but missed the top 5, which included Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Thailand, and Australia.
After the first Q&A round, the top 3 were named: Australia, Nicaragua, and Thailand. It was another round of Q&A and a final look before the winner was selected by the 10-member panel of judges. Second runner-up is Australia, 1st runner-up is Thailand, and the new Miss Universe is Sheynnis Palacios from Nicaragua.
Nicaragua had been one of the crowd favorites going into the competition and was stunning in the swimsuit, evening gown, and Q&A rounds. The celebration for Nicaraguans continued outside the venue as the country cherished their first ever miss universe crown.
The morning after her crowning, supporters could not get enough of their new queen. They followed her and continued to cheer till her last minutes in El Salvador.
"I was in shock, I can't believe when I saw all the girls saying, 'Believe it, you deserve it, you deserve it'… When I walked into the press conference, oh my God, so many people. I'm not just Sheynnis, Miss Nicaragua. I'm Miss Universe!" Palacios said in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News.
"Oh my God, I slept only 2 hours," the new queen added. "In my country, all the people come to the streets and celebrate with the flag and the horn. And we celebrate this moment because it's history for my country, and makes me so happy. It gave us a feel of victory. It's amazing!"
It had been a dream come true for Palacios to win the crown not just for herself but for her family, her country, and most of all God who she credits for giving her the staying power, focus, and calm needed through her journey.
"I feel my energy is controlled by God and whatever happens, God knows why it's happening," she said. "When I say 'thanks, God' it's because this crown is not mine, it's for Him and other delegates, and it's also to my country and family."
An advocate for mental health, Palacios aims to make her mark helping people overcome bouts of anxiety as she did. Day 1 on the job meant an early morning photo shoot and traveling to Mexico with 7 other candidates, among them Dee of the Philippines.
"It's a real honor for me, I feel so happy to bring a big legacy for young women, it is my mission." Palacios added. "I want to say thanks to all [from the] Philippines. I know a lot of Filipinos were here to support. Michelle, she is a great person, a great friend. Kamusta …so see you soon," she said.
Support for Michelle
A good number of Filipino friends, supporters and family of Dee travelled to El Salvador and were extremely proud of her representation of the country.
"Michelle, your performance was stunning, 10 out of 10. You left no stone unturned, we love you and we are right behind you," said fellow Pinay beauty queen Samantha Panlilio.
Another friend, Harry Hartman, said: "We know how much effort you put to make our country proud. You deserve the universe and the universe deserves you."
Proud mom Melanie Marquez declared: "I'm just so proud of her! She did really work hard and dedicated herself to give honor to our country. I strongly believe she should be in the top 5."
To perform at the level that she did, Dee worked extremely hard since winning the national title in May, giving attention to every detail of the pageant.
She credits her excellent team which executed her creative ideas. "I love just making all of my countrymen so proud. At kita niyo naman, I gave everything that I could afford to give, and left it to destiny. It's not the result we wanted, but as long as you saw the hard work and dedication, not just from myself but my team, that's enough for me," Dee said.
Dee won 3 special awards. Aside from the Carnival Cruise award, she was one of the three Voice for Change awardees and also topped the fan vote.
She created many new friendships in the last 3 weeks and is happy to be with the group selected to go to Mexico. "I'm very excited for what's in store. I've never been to Mexico so it will be a first time. I've a good relationship with Miss Mexico, I'm looking forward to what's next," enthused Dee.
The other candidates have started their journey back home, bringing with them unforgettable moments from El Salvador.
"I'm very satisfied with my performance. I did my best on stage. I'm just grateful that I enjoyed the moment and the people back home enjoyed the moment with me," said Miss Puerto Rico Karla Guilfú Acevedo.
Miss Namibia Jameela Uiras, who finished in top 20, was "extremely" happy. "I definitely will come back to El Salvador, the people have warmth and very accepting," she said.
"I'm very lucky, the girls have been amazing. I'm happy, greatly happy memories, once in a lifetime. I'm sad to go home, I will miss and feel sad, said Miss Denmark Nikoline Uhrenholt Hansen.
The pageant world is also looking forward to next year's hosting as Mexico plans another grand edition of Miss Universe.