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Miss Universe R'Bonney Gabriel talks about her Houston roots

In her first local interview, the new Miss Universe talked about how she felt when she won and why the title is so important to her.
Credit: KHOU 11

HOUSTON — She made history as the first Filipina-American to be crowned Miss Texas and Miss USA. And now, R’Bonney Gabriel of Friendswood is the newly crowned Miss Universe.

She told KHOU 11’s Marcelino Benito Monday that it's been a whirlwind since she won, though it took a few seconds for her to realize they called her name.

“It was such an incredible feeling,” she said. “I was in disbelief. I wasn’t sure whether it was me who really won. When you’re on that stage in the auditorium, everybody was cheering so loud. I could barely even hear them say my name.”

She said winning the crown is starting to sink in and recognizes the history that she made.

“It’s just a huge honor to the first Filipino-American,” Gabriel said. “It’s not only a win for me, it’s a win for my family and a community and all the women and little girls who are messaging me. I really just hope this brings a message of inspiration and hope that women and young girls, they can be the first to do anything. Everybody should not be scared to be a trailblazer.”

While she hasn't been back home to Houston since becoming Miss Universe, she has nothing but love for her hometown.

"I feel like this is a win for my city,” she said. “I’m so happy to represent Houston. I’m a born and raised H-town girl. I’m looking forward to coming home and just celebrating with everybody. I feel Houston proud. I feel like I’m putting Houston on the map even more. Growing up in Houston, I was so inspired by so many different people who were successful from Houston and I feel so happy I can be one of those people now and continue to inspire a city.”

All night at the competition, Gabriel set herself apart. In the swimsuit competition, she donned a cape she designed herself using plastic bottles. The fashion designer even paid homage to her hometown on the international stage, strutting in a NASA-inspired moon costume weighing 33 pounds. 

Ultimately it was her answers on stage.

“I would use it to be a transformational leader," she said in one of her answers Saturday night

That sealed the win over Miss Venezuela and Miss Dominican Republic, earning loud applause when suggesting Miss Universe allow women older than 28 compete for the crown.

Gabriel is a former high school volleyball player and a graduate of the University of North Texas. She's the lead sewing instructor at Magpies & Peacocks, a nonprofit in Houston dedicated to the "collection and sustainable reuse of post-consumer clothing, scrap textiles and accessories diverted from landfill."

She said as a little girl she never dreamed about competing in pageants but then realized that doing so would give her a bigger platform for her message.

“I watched Miss Universe and Miss USA growing up, but I never thought I wanted to be like them,” Gabriel said. “It just seemed like such a far-off goal. I was so focused on fashion design, doing my clothing brand, continuing to be a model and advocating for sustainability, but when I had the opportunity of competing in a pageant, I realized everything I was doing would actually be able to be input in a pageant and let me speak about it more.”

What would be the one big takeaway from her win?

“I really hope this inspires everyone to believe they can do something,” Gabriel said. “I didn’t think I could do something and that was blocking me from so much potential. Everyone needs to realize they have unlimited potential, but it starts with that single positive belief you can do that.”

When we spoke with her, she was in New York City doing interviews for national media and wasn’t sure when she’d be back. But coming back to the Houston area is something she said she’s really looking forward to.

“Houston has shown me such much love,” she said. “I have so much love for H-Town.”

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