The Most Iconic Miss Universe Contestants Of All Time

Beauty pageants have been around for a long time. Despite what the name implies, they have been a platform that has allowed women all over the world to show more than just their beatuy. For instance, many women have used the pageants to become known and to get scholarships to further their academic careers. The Miss Universe pageant was created in 1952, and over the past seven decades, we have seen many breathtaking contestants that have claimed a spot in pop culture history. Today, we’ll look at the 30 most iconic Miss Universe contestants that have blown the whole universe away with their beauty and more.

#30. Yvonne Ryding

In 1984, Yvonne Ryding became the third Swede in history to win the Miss Universe pageant. Prior to competing, she was a midfield soccer player, and she had also participated in a Swedish beauty competition named Swedish National Lucia Bride. With her incredible looks and athletic inclination, she won the pageant, making her hometown of Eskilstuna proud. Although she was excited about her global fame, she was reluctant to leave Sweden.

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In the following years after the competition, she worked in the fashion industry and also did some commission work, but she missed Sweden very much. Four years later, in 1988, she decided to move back to Sweden because she was very homesick, and she launched her own skincare line called Y. Ryding. She also became a nurse and is now living a life away from the spotlight.

#29. Armi Kuusela

The gorgeous Armi Kuusela was the first ever Miss Universe winner, crowned at the first ceremony held on May 24, 1952. She represented Finland and was only 17 years old when she took part in the pageant. But she’s remembered not only because of that but because of the love story that made her give up her crown less than a year after earning it.

Photo: Courtesy of MTV

During a trip to the Philippines, Armi met Virgilio Hilario, a businessman, and they fell madly in love. After a whirlwind courtship, she decided to relinquish her title in order to marry him, and the two eloped to Tokyo and got married in 1953. The couple was together for 25 years until Hilario passed away. She remarried a few years later and dedicated the rest of her life to charity work.

#28. Sushmita Sen

Sushmita Sen is an Indian film actress and model who became Miss India in 1994. She later participated in and won the 1994 Miss Universe pageant when she was only years old. This opened the door for her to become a film actress, which had always been her dream. Her first commercial success came with the musical Ratchagan in 1997.

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In addition to acting in films, Sen has been an active stage performer and has stood up for social causes and was honored at the 2013 Mother Teresa Awards for her social activism. The gorgeous performer also served as a judge for the pageant in 2016, and is currently working as a full-time actress. She became a mother in 2000 when she adopted two girls on her own.

#27. Janelle Commissiong

Miss Universe only had white winners for many years, until Janelle Commissiong came in and took the crown in 1977. The beautiful contestant from Trinidad and Tobago made headlines all over the world as the first black Miss Universe. During her reign, she became a public advocate for black rights in countries where people of African ancestry faced racial discrimination.

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She was awarded the Trinity Cross, Trinidad and Tobago’s highest honor, after the pageant. Her face was also included in three stamps issued by her country so that everyone could recognize her face. As Miss Universe, she paid official visits to many African, Asian, and European countries as well as the United States and later interviewed Joaquin Balaguer, President of the Dominican Republic in 1978.

#26. Cecilia Bolocco

Cecilia  Bolocco became Miss Chile in 1987 and Miss Universe later that year. Thanks to her title, she was able to pursue a career in journalism, her true passion. She became a reporter for Spanish CNN, Telemundo, and also worked on various Chilean shows. She also worked as an actress and appeared on the Chilean soap opera Morelia.

Photo: Courtesy of Boredom Therapy

She also became the First Lady of Argentina in 2001, when she married Argentine president Carlos Menem. Bolocco also did a number of other things, such as studying civil engineering and costume design and learning to dance ballet. She is currently still working as a journalist and has won two Emmy awards because of her brilliant work in CNN.

#25. Miriam Stevenson

Born in South Carolina, the beautiful Miriam Stevenson is remembered as the first American to ever win the pageant. She was crowned after a tie-breaking decision in which she beat Brazil’s Martha Rocha in 1954. Reportedly, she won because her performance in the swimsuit category had been better. Stevenson gave Rocha the car she won as part of the prize package, as a consolatory price.

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She worked in Hollywood for a year after her win, but returned to South Carolina in order to complete her education. She then worked at local TV stations, and also worked as a model. She later appeared in national commercials and became a Miss Universe pageant judge. Nowadays, she enjoys a quiet life away from the limelight with her family.

#24. Ximena Navarrete

Beauty queen Ximena Navarrete represented Mexico in the Miss Universe pageant and became the winner in 2010. Born in Guadalajara, the gorgeous Navarrete became an actress after the pageant, having had roles in several Mexican soap operas. She used her title to raise awareness for the impoverished people of her home town with Children International.

Photo: Courtesy of Boredom Therapy

She worked with the organization focusing on helping impoverished children in her country. She also traveled to Panama to work with Aid for AIDS, as part of one of her official visits as Miss Universe. She later became a spokesperson for L’Oreal Paris and Old Navy and continued to pursue modeling, whilst working as a soap opera actress.

#23. Akiko Kojima

In 1959, Akiko Kojima became the first Asian Miss Universe winner at 22 years old. Akiko bested favored candidates from South America and Europe and made her country proud. She worked as a model in Tokyo before the pageant. She became a sensation in Japan, but unlike most Miss Universe contestants, she did not wish to pursue a career in the media.

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She went through negotiations to appear in two Filipino movies and was offered jobs in Hollywood, but in the end, she canceled everything. After her reign, she got married to actor Akira Takarada and decided that she wanted to live a quiet, normal life with her family and friends. There wasn’t another Japanese Miss Universe winner until 48 years later when Riyo Mori won in 2007.

#22. Jennifer Hawkins

The beautiful and talented Jennifer Hawkins represented Australia in the Miss Universe pageant, which she won in 2004. Taking the crown allowed her to become a prominent model as well as a television host. She got several endorsement deals after her reign, and landed a job in Australia’s Next Top Model, which she has been hosting for a few years.

Photo: Courtesy of Boredom Therapy

Hawkins also founded two very successful brands: Cozi by Jennifer Hawkins, a swimwear manufacturer, and Jbronze, a tanning line. On top of that, she manages a portfolio of properties and has become the face of the leading property developer Johnson Property Group in 2014. This successful business woman’s net worth is an estimated $25 million.

#21. Mona Grudt

Mona Grudt is Norway’s pride, as the only Miss Universe winner from the country. She was crowned in 1990 and was known as The Beauty Queen from Hell, given that she came from a city named Hell in Norway. This got her attention, and she became a favored contestant. “Hell” also means “luck” in Norwegian, and indeed she had plenty of it!

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As part of her reign, she was the last Miss Universe queen to accompany Bob Hope on his tour to entertain the troops. She also appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation as Ensign Graham in the episode Identity Crisis. She also came in second place in the Norwegian version of Dancing with the Stars. Now, Grudt is the editor of the Norwegian wedding magazine Ditt Bryllup (Your Wedding)

#20. Corinna Tsopei

Corinna Tsopei was crowned Miss Universe in 1964, after wooing the judges with the promise that she would use the platform to do charity work and help make the world a better place. She kept her promise and became a chairman for a foundation that helped children diagnosed with leukemia. She also pursued a career in Hollywood as an actress.

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The Greek beauty appeared in a few Hollywood movies and television series such as A Man Called Horse, Daniel Boone, Lost in Space, Valley of the Dolls and A Guide for the Married Man. Although she is not acting anymore, she is still working for the charity organization and living in Beverly Hills, California.

#19. Chelsi Smith

The breathtakingly beautiful Chelsi Smith was the first African-American to win the pageant. Born in Texas and raised by her great-grandparents, she started participating in beauty pageants in 1994 and became Miss Universe a year later. When she won Miss USA, she also won the Miss Congeniality award, because she was so well-liked by her peers.

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She went on to work as a model for Hawaiian Tropic, Jantzen, and Venus Swimwear, among others. She also made appearances on Martin, Due South and the TLC documentary The History of the Bathing Suit. She also recorded music and worked as a judge in several beauty pageants. Sadly, she passed away in September 2018.

#18. Gloria Diaz

Gloria Diaz became the first Filipino crowned Miss Universe in 1969. Thanks to her success, she was able to become an actress in the Philippines, and she is now regarded as one of the best Filipino actresses of all time. It took her six years, however, to land her first role, in a critically acclaimed film in 1975. She was then nominated for several awards for her performance.

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Her performance in the film was met with praise by film critics and was considered one of the most promising breakthroughs of any actress in Philippine cinema. Díaz continued acting in film for many years before trying out starring in television. Her first role on TV was in the series Anna Karenina, and she later appeared in sitcoms and in even more movies.

#17. Oxana Fedorova

Oxana Fedorova was the first Russian Miss Universe, and she was crowned in 2002. But before her career in pageantry, she enrolled in the police academy as a teenager and even played the saxophone in the academy’s brass band. After graduation, she worked as an inspector and investigator and later juggled her career with modeling.

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She started working professionally as a model in 1999 and was named Miss Saint Petersburg later that year. She was also studying law when she entered the Miss Universe pageant, and she relinquished her title a few months after winning in order to finish her degree. She also became a police major, a television host, and an actress. Impressive!

#16. Rina Mor-Goder

Rina Mor-Goder, then known as Rina Messinger, was the first Israeli Miss Universe winner in 1976. She made a memorable statement upon her proclamation as the winner, where she remarked:

“I’m no politician. I think my being Miss Universe will show people that Israel has another side, not only war.”

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After her reign, Rina moved to New York City and worked in public relations for the Jewish Agency and the Bonds. Four years after she returned to Israel and continued working in public relations for a private company. She later moved to The Netherlands with her family and studied law. Now, she gives advice in family law every week on Israeli TV.

#15. Kate Dianne Baldwin

Kate Dianne Baldwin made her native Canda proud when she became the first Canadian Miss Universe winner in 1982. She beat the United States, Guam, Italy, and Greece, which were the favored contestants, and took home the crown at the ceremony hosted in Lima, Peru. After the pageant, she worked in Canadian TV as the host of The New You, a fashion and lifestyle program.

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She later moved to the United States and was featured in the comedy movie Who’s That Girl starring Madonna and Griffin Dunne as Heather, one of the kidnapped bridesmaids. She also appeared in other movies, such as Spellbinder, Night Eyes, Last Call, T-Force and Sudden Death. Now, she works as a realtor for Baldwin Scott Thomas Team in Calabasas, California.

#14. Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach

Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach is a Filipino-German beauty queen who was crowned Miss Universe in 2015, and her coronation remains in history as one of the most awkward moments in television. Host Steve Harvey announced Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutiérrez as the winner, but after Gutiérrez’s crowning, he returned to the stage and stated that he had misread the results and that Wurtzbach was really Miss Universe 2015.

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Sadly for Gutierrez, the crown was removed from her head an placed on Pia’s. She pursued an acting career in the Philippines and did a lot of work as a model, endorsing various products. She has also served as a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for Asia & the Pacific since 2016 and is currently working in the film industry.

#13. Paulina Vega

The gorgeous Paulina Vega was crowned Miss Colombia in 2013 and later Miss Universe in 2014, becoming the second Colombian winner in history. After winning, she worked to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS, and in 2015, she became the godmother for the Latino Commission on AIDS. She was also appointed as the ambassador to fight against child malnutrition in Colombia.

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During her reign as Miss Universe, Vega traveled to The Bahamas, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Kazakhstan, and many other places. The young beauty worked as a model in Colombia after her reign and continued to do activism. Vega also volunteered at Gay Men’s Health Crisis serving meals to men and women living with HIV and AIDS.

#12. Riyo Mori

Riyo Mori s a Japanese actress, dancer, model, and the second Japanese Miss Universe winner in history. She began dancing at the age of 4 and studied at Quinte Ballet School of Canada. When she competed in the pageant, she expressed her aims to use her success and popularity as a springboard into humanitarian causes.

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After her reign, she starred in Donald Trump‘s Pageant Place, and also Jessica Simpson‘s The Price of Beauty to showcase the standards of beauty in her home country. Sometime later, her lifelong dream became true, and she opened a multicultural dance school. She still works as a model but dedicates most of her time to her school.

#11. Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters

Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters was crowned Miss Universe in 2017, when she became the second title winner from South Africa, following the 1978 winner Margaret Gardiner. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management and entrepreneurship, she worked as a part-time model in Cape Town, and she actually graduated a few days before winning the pageant. 2017 was definitely the year of her life!

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She used her reign to stand up to women’s rights, pointing out unequal pay, and stating that she wants to use her self-defense workshops to help as many women as she can. After being crowned, she began dating former professional American footballer and current professional baseball player Tim Tebow, and the two got engaged in January 2019.

#10. Catriona Gray

The beautiful Catriona Gray was crowned Miss Universe in 2018, becoming the fourth Filipino to win the pageant. But her pageant career began when she won Little Miss Philippines in Sydney at the age of five. She also works as a model and has taken the opportunity to launch her music career after the competition. She released her first single We’re in This Together in 2018.

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She has expressed that participating in pageants changed her perception of beauty. In an interview, she said:

There’s beauty in character. It’s a cliché thing, but that’s the beauty that won’t fade, and that’s the beauty that sets you apart. I really believe it is how you make your impact. It’s what people remember. They remember how you make them feel, not how you look.”

#9. Apasra Hongsakula

Apasra Hongsakula was the first woman from Thailand to ever win the Miss Universe crown. She became Miss Thailand in 1964, and compeated and won the Miss Universe title in 1965. During her reign, she was appointed Cultural Ambassador by the Secretary of Tourism of Thailand. Nowadays, she works as a judge of the Miss Thailand pageant.

Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia

After the competition, she went on to work as a model, and later became the president of Raymond Weil Watches. She also founded Apasra Beauty Slimming Spa, of which she is also the president. She is still in the public eye and was recently part of a viral internet story, that claimed that the ex-beauty queen was incapable of aging thanks to her good looks.

#8. Shawn Weatherly

The adorable Shawn Weatherly became Miss Universe in 1980 after winning all rounds of the competition. She was the only woman to score above 9.0 in the preliminary rounds and in the swimsuit and evening gown competitions, and she was a clear winner right from the beginning. After the pageant, she pursued a career in Hollywood.

Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest

The gorgeous South Carolina native is best known for her work as Jill Riley on the television show Baywatch and for the early reality show Oceanquest, which had her swimming with sharks. She appeared on various other shows, including a small part on a Dukes of Hazzard episode. She also had a main role in the 1986 comedy film Police Academy 3: Back in Training.

#7. Amelia Vega

Amelia Vega became Miss Universe in 2003 at the age of 18 and was the youngest winner since 1994. She is also the tallest Miss Universe on record, standing at 6 feet 2 inches. She moved to New York from her native Dominican Republic after visiting over 30 countries as the winning contestant. Despite her moving, she appeared on several magazine covers in her country.

Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest

She also appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan, InStyleGlamour and Harper’s Bazaar. She has also been the lead image for campaigns made by the beauty cosmetics company Cover Girl for the past 4 years. In addition, she is also pursuing a singing career. Vega also appeared on a few films, such as The Lost City, directed by Andy Garcia. Is there anything she can’t do?

#6. Gabriela Isler

Gabriela Isler represented Venezuela at the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 and took home the crown. At age 14, she started modeling as a way to cheer her mother and grandmother up after her aunt died, and found her calling. She continued to work as a model and got many endorsement deals after the competition, but dedicates most of her time to her foundation.

Photo: Courtesy of Tommy Beauty Pro

She is the CEO of the Universe of Blessings Fund, an organization which seeks to empower young women and girls and decrease the rates of adolescent pregnancy and maternal mortality, which is an increasing problem in Venezuela. Isler is also an ambassador for the Scalabrini International Migration Network, fighting human sex trafficking and trying to revert its devastating impact.

#5. Martha Vasconcellos

Martha Vasconcellos became the second Brazilian Miss Universe winner after Ieda María Vargas, in 1968. Born in the state of Bahía, Martha moved to New York and pursued her dream of becoming a model. After beating 64 other contestants, she received numerous offers to do endorsements, public appearances, and even movies and television shows.

Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest

But the very first morning after winning the pageant, Martha was already feeling homesick and called her mother on the phone to express her feelings. She couldn’t stand to be away from her friends and family in Brazil, so she decided to go back home. She led a quiet life after that and practically disappeared from the public eye. It was just too much for her!

#4. Christiane Martel

Christiane Martel became the second Miss Universe winner in 1953 and was the only Frenchwoman to hold the title until Iris Mittenaere did so in 2016. She won several beauty pageants in France, such as Miss Châtellerault in 1952, before she competed for the Miss Universe title. After her reign, she was briefly married to Ronnie Marengo, who introduced her to Hollywood.

Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest

She then embarked on a very successful movie career, appearing in films such as Yankee Pasha, So This Is Paris, Abajo el Telón, and more. Her last movie was Leoni al Sole in 1961. She appeared in a total of 32 Mexican films as well and is considered as part of the golden age of Mexican cinema. She also served as a Miss Universe judge on two occasions.

#3. Olivia Culpo

After winning the Miss Rhode Island USA competition, the first pageant she entered, Olivia Culpo went on to be crowned Miss USA and Miss Universe in 2012. In fact, she is the last American winner to this day. She also met singer Nick Jonas at the ceremony, who she dated for three years. After winning, she visited Indonesia for three weeks, and many other countries as well.

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In August 2013, her name was added to Albert Avenue in Cranston, Rhode Island. She also appeared in the 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and modeled for L’Oréal and Kipling. She is currently pursuing a career in the film industry, and she has already appeared in a few films, such as American Satan, Tired Lungs, I Feel Pretty, and The Other Woman.

#2. Amparo Muñoz

The beautiful Amparo Muñoz won Miss Universe in 1974 and is the first and only Spaniard titleholder in this line of pageants. She didn’t hold the title for long, as she surrendered both the title and crown after six months due to the refusal to follow organizational regulations, and the position was vacant until the next pageant. Something of the sort had never happened in the history of the competition and never happened again either.

Photo: Courtesy of RTV

She became a popular actress and starred in several comedies, including Mama Turns 100, and The Other Bedroom. She also appeared in Spanish movies, and later started working in drama. After her career on the big screen, she started doing television in Spanish, which she did until 2011, when she tragically passed away under unknown circumstances.

#1.Wendy Fitzwilliam

Born in 1972 in Trinidad and Tobago, the gorgeous Wendy Fitzwilliam won the Miss Universe pageant in 1998. She was also honored by the United Nations with the title of UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador because of her dedication to fighting HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease. But she’s remembered for another interesting fact.

Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest

She was the first contestant to wear a two-piece bathing suit on stage, which was previously frowned upon. Nowadays, she works as a lawyer, and she founded the Hibiscus Foundation, which was established to heighten AIDS awareness in Trinidad and Tobago and to give assistance, financial and otherwise, to children’s homes in the country. What a lady!

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