Gray, 24, finished first ahead of the South African and Venezuelan finalists in the glittering televised event hosted by American comic turned TV host Steve Harvey and supermodel Ashley Graham.
In the final round, Gray earned applause describing her work in the slums of Manila.
“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,” she said.
The model and singer concluded her answer by saying that she would like to teach people to be grateful so we could have an “amazing world where negativity could not grow... and children would have a smile on their faces.”
After winning she told reporters she would like to expand her work with an organization in the Philippines that promotes education on HIV and AIDS.
“A few years ago I lost a close friend to health complications with HIV,” she said.
“So spreading awareness on that cause and encouraging people to get the simple test and knowing their status is definitely one of my first projects that I’d like to pursue.”
Gray—a student of music theory—beat more than 90 contestants from around the globe in the 67th installment of Miss Universe, which was held in the Thai capital’s Impact Arena.
Gray was a crowd favorite during the swimsuit and evening rounds of the competition showcasing her signature walk, which her fans refer as a “lava walk,” and her slo-mo twirl while wearing a fuchsia-purple swimsuit.
READ: It’s ‘all or nothing’ for Catriona Gray
She continued to mesmerize the audience in a stunning, sultry red evening gown designed by Mak Tumang, who also created her Ibong-Adarna inspired national costume.
During the competition, which was broadcast live, candidates were asked questions on press freedom, legalization of marijuana, refugees and the MeToo movement.
This year’s event drew positive feedback for themes of inclusivity and an all-women panel of judges made up of business leaders and former Miss Universe titleholders.
Miss Spain’s Angela Ponce made history as the first transgender candidate in a competition once owned by President Donald Trump, whose administration has attempted to block military recruitment of transgender people.
“I always say: having a vagina didn’t transform me into a woman. I am a woman, already before birth, because my identity is here,” Ponce said Saturday, gesturing to her head.
She added she wanted her appearance to be empowering and that she hoped for a “new generation of human beings who are raised a lot better, more tolerant and respectful.”
But issues of tolerance and respect came center stage during the competition when Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers appeared to poke fun at Miss Vietnam and Miss Cambodia on social media for not being able to speak English.
The comments went viral but Summers later posted an apology on Instagram, saying she did not “intend to hurt” her fellow competitors.
Gray’s victory was closely followed in the Philippines, where beauty pageants are hugely popular.
Social media exploded with clips of fans jumping for joy and hugging each other as the Filipina contestant went through each successive round and eventually won.
A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte in a statement praised Gray’s win for putting the Philippines on the world map “for its beauty and elegance.”
Gray is the country’s 4th Miss Universe after Pia Wurtzbach (2015), Margarita Moran (1973) and Gloria Diaz (1969).
Lawmakers at the House of Representatives on Monday hailed Gray.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said Gray’s beauty is the embodiment of “Daragang Magayon,” the beautiful maiden in the legend of Mt. Mayon.
“Truly an Albayana, she was the most prepared candidate ever—if you prepare to fight calamities, the more you are prepared for victory,” Salceda said.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Ace Barbers said Gray’s victory is an inspiration to all Filipinos amid the challenging times.
Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman said the new Miss Universe would make a great ambassador for “peace, love, and compassion” in the international community.
Leyte Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt-Romualdez, who was Binibining Pilipinas International 1996, congratulated Gray and said her victory was “a testament to the faith and resiliency of the Filipino spirit.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Gray’s answer in the Q&A was “superb” and said the way she carried her long gown was “the final win.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged the public to focus on Catriona’s victory as she represents the Filipinos’ collective values and aspirations as a people.
Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri said Catriona’s answer in the Q&A portion showed she had a lot of heart in caring for underprivileged children.
Senator Grace Poe said that a woman of style, substance, and brave heart “deserves the crown.”
“Thank you for flying the Philippine flag high,” Poe said in a statement, referring to Gray.
Senator Nancy Binay said that Catriona’s win is her “sweetest Christmas gift” to Filipinos. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Maricel V. Cruz, PNA, AFPREAD: Catriona Gray’s fearless forecast
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