BANGKOK -- Catriona Gray was crowned Miss Universe here Monday, capping a two-year long journey from her heartbreaking loss at Miss World to her rise as visionary beauty queen and social media star.
The 24-year-old Filipino-Australian won the Philippines' fourth Miss Universe crown, pulling all the stops from a giant lantern strapped to her back, a slow-motion twirl in a hot pink bikini, and a long gown in flame hues that symbolized a mythical Filipino bird.
Fans screamed at the IMPACT Arena here as outgoing Miss Universe Demi Leigh Nel Peters from South Africa crowned her successor.
Pia Wurtzbach last won the Miss Universe crown for the Philippines in 2015 and the succeeding edition was hosted in Manila.
Tamaryn Green of South Africa was first runner-up followed by Miss Venezuela Sthefany Gutiérrez.
During the final question, Gray was asked "What is the most important lesson you've learned in your life and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?"
She replied: "I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila and the life there is... it's poor and very sad. And I've always taught myself to look for the beauty of it, to look for beauty in the faces of the children and to be grateful. And I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe, to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson. If I could teach also people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their faces. Thank you."
FROM THE WORLD TO THE UNIVERSE
Only 2 years ago, Gray was widely tipped to win the Miss World crown, a campaign that ended in defeat to Puerto Rico's Stephanie del Valle.
A photo of Gray weeping, clutching the Philippine flag close to her chest, made the rounds on social media platforms.
Miss World Philippines head Cory Quirino stepped down after Gray's defeat and the Philippines struggled to make the winner's circle of the London-based pageant since then.
Gray reemerged in January for the Binibining Pilipinas screenings, trading the high bun for long curls and the baby pink dress for a short red dress.
In an Instagram post at that time, Gray said much of her transformation happened away from the public eye.
The self-described "stubborn" and "visionary" beauty enlisted the help of a new team and went outside her old mentors' circle, which was largely behind the Philippines' hot streak at Miss Universe since Venus Raj broke the 10-year semifinals drought and finished in the top 5 in 2010.
The Philippines has made at least Top 10 at Miss Universe since Raj's breakthrough performance in Las Vegas. This year, the country's Miss International bet, Ahtisa Manalo placed first runner while Celeste Cortesi finished top 8 in Miss Earth.
FOR THE PHILIPPINES
Gray has 1 million followers on Instagram and her photo on the Miss Universe Facebook page was liked or loved by over 600,000 users, the most for any candidate.
She made ear cuffs a conversation piece when she wore a gold and diamond "three stars and the sun" on her right ear during her Miss Universe-Philippines crowning.
From there, her every move was rife with nationalist symbolism.
Her national costume, while difficult to walk in, paid homage to the Philippines' 3 main islands. A government body praised Gray for highlighting Filipino civilization before the Spanish occupation with her 'pintados' body suit.
Her fire orange and yellow gown stood out from a sea of sheer and gold tones, symbolizing both the Ibong Adarna, which can cure with song, and the rising phoenix from which the Miss Universe crown by Japanese jeweler Mikimoto was patterned after.