She wasn’t meant to conquer the “world,” but the “universe.”
Two years after her heart-breaking loss at the Miss World pageant in the United States in 2016, Australian-Filipino beauty queen Catriona Elisa M. Gray was crowned 2018 Miss Universe before a packed audience at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday morning.
A crowd favorite since she arrived in Thailand, the 24-year-old Gray became the fourth Miss Universe from the Philippines after Gloria Diaz (1969), Margie Moran (1973), and Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach (2015).
Gray wore a sparkling red dress as she was handed the crown to the delight of a roaring crowd that generally favored Southeast Asian contestants. Gray said her gown’s design, with its lava color and appearance, was influenced by Albay’s iconic Mayon Volcano.
The singer and model said she wore red because “when I was 13 my mom said she had a dream that I would win Miss Universe in a red dress.” She said her mom cried when they saw each other after she won the competition, the 67th Miss Universe pageant.
Gray edged out first runner-up Tamaryn Green of South Africa and third-place Sthefany Gutierrez of Venezuela. She succeeds Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa.
As soon as she was declared winner, Filipinos watching the televised contest cheered wildly and jumped for joy.
Celebrations were especially buoyant in Oas, Albay, from which Gray’s Filipina mother Normita Ragas Magnayon hails.
Gray’s father Ian is Australian of Scottish descent and she was born and grew up in Cairns, Australia. She studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the United States.
Tamaryn Green of South Africa was named 1st runner-up while Sthefany Gutierrez of Venezuela was 2nd runner-up.
Malacañang immediately congratulated Gray, who is in a relationship with Filipino-German Clint Bondad, for making the country proud and bringing to center stage the “genuine qualities defining a Filipina beauty.”
“Ms. Gray truly made the entire Philippines proud when she sashayed on the global stage and showcased the genuine qualities defining a Filipina beauty: confidence, grace, intelligence, and strength in the face of tough challenges. In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work,” Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
With her victory, Gray will fly to New York, USA, and stay in a luxurious apartment for one year during her reign. Officials of the Bb. Pilipinas beauty contest said Gray should go first to the US and then come back possibly in January, 2019 for her homecoming.
It was recalled that in December, 2016, Gray competed in the Miss World pageant in Washington, D.C., USA. She ended up in the Top 5 but lost the crown to Stephanie del Valle of Puerto Rico.
Her legions of fans believed that Gray was robbed of the crown so they encouraged her to join Bb. Pilipinas 2018 pageant where she easily won the Miss Universe Philippines title.
Earlier, pageant critics believed that the 2018 Miss Universe crown would be a toss-up between the Philippines and South Africa. In the end, it was Gray who emerged victorious after hurdling challenges in swimsuit and evening gown competitions and question-and-answer portion.
For the Top 3 girls, American television host Steve Harvey threw a common: “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life, and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?”
Gray responded: “I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila, and the life there is very poor and very sad. I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it, to look for the beauty in the faces of the children, and to be grateful. 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 face. Thank you.”
Puerto Rico and Vietnam completed the Top 5.
The Top 5 candidates were asked different questions on various issues.
Gray was asked: “Canada recently joined Uruguay as the second nation in the world to make marijuana legal. What is your opinion on the legalization of marijuana?”
Gray replied: “I’m for it being used in a medical use but not so for recreational use, because I think if people were to argue, what about alcohol and cigarettes? Well, everything is good but in moderation.”
The Top 20 candidates came from three regions of the world and the wild card: Africa and Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Americas.
The candidates from Africa and Asia-Pacific were: South Africa, Philippines, Nepal, Vietnam, and Thailand; Europe: Poland, Belgium, Great Britain, Hungary, and Ireland; the Americas: Curacao, Costa Rica, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica; and the Wild Card: USA, Venezuela, Indonesia, Brazil, and Australia.
Miss Spain Angela Ponce, who made history as the first transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe beauty pageant, did not make it to the semis. Moments after the Miss Universe Organization gave her a tribute, Ponce went to the stage and waved as the audience cheered on.
Laos debuted in this year’s pageant and won the Best in National Costume.
After the selection of Top 20 semifinalists, each of the girls made an opening statement about their platform aimed at impressing the judges.
In her opening statement, Gray said: “Working in some of the poorest areas of my country, I found that it was a lack of child support, not poverty, that killed their dreams. A child once told me, ‘Cat, that’s just not my life, and those dreams are meant for me’. But I stand here today because someone believed in me and we owe it to our children to believe in them.”
From Top 20, the candidates were narrowed down to Top 10 for the chance to compete in the swimsuit and evening gown competitions.
The Top 10 girls were: South Africa, Vietnam, Venezuela, Philippines, Costa Rica, Curacao, Nepal, Canada, Thailand, and Puerto Rico.
Filipino designer Mak Tumang, who created the evening gown of Gray in the final competition, said it was inspired by Mayor Volcano which he described as fiery and lovely perfection.
“Catriona can be considered as the modern-day Daragang Magayon. She embodies the Filipina’s beauty, intelligence, and burning passion. This lady is definitely on fire!” Tumang said.
Three-time Grammy awardee Ne-Yo opened the show with his hit song “Night Like This,” backed up by Thai cultural dancers.
For the first time, the selection committee of the Miss Universe contest was made up women, including two Filipinos – fashion designer Monique Lhullier and businesswoman-architect Richelle Singson-Michael.
Gray is known to spontaneously burst into song, which is most likely due to her love of the arts and her Master Certificate in Music Theory.
“I am a creative person. My mom told me that even when I was in the womb, I was dancing along with the music. I’m doing painting, I’m doing drama, and now I’m leading to music which is one of my greatest passions now.
“It’s just a feeling in a way that everything else wasn’t. We’re bombarded with so much information these days and the ways of wording things in different languages. But there’s something about music that can just make you feel in a certain way or can strike a chord. Even if you don’t understand what the lyric is, there’s something everyone can relate to. I love that you can connect on that level,” she said.
Gray said her parents taught her never to give up on her dreams when she was younger.
“My parents, especially my dad, he would always say that a longer journey starts with a single step. When you have dream, or an ambition and it’s so far away, that’s so high up, you can feel overwhelmed. But when you look at it as one step at a time, one day you’re gonna look up from your feet and you’ll be at your destination,” she added.
Aside from being an art lover, Gray is said to be a great travel buddy. Heart-racing adventures, like zipline, are always game for her.
She is also openly passionate about her love for Filipino dishes, including adobo, balut, and the sweetest mangoes in the world.
Gray is also an advocate of HIV/AIDS at Love Yourself Philippines, and volunteers as a teacher’s assistant to students of a non-government organization Young Focus. (With reports from AP and Roy C. Mabasa)