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Miss USA Wins Miss Universe Pageant

May 13, 1995

WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) _ Miss USA Chelsi Smith, a 21-year-old student from Texas who wore a dress honoring the struggle by American women to win the right to vote, was chosen Miss Universe 1995 early Saturday.

Smith, of Deer Park, Texas, was picked over 81 other contestants in the first Miss Universe pageant held in Africa. It was broadcast to more than 600 million viewers worldwide.

Wearing a low-cut, scarlet ballroom gown, Miss Smith put her hands to her face and began crying when her victory was announced. First runner-up was Miss India, 21-year-old Manpreet Brar of New Delhi, and Miss Canada, 20-year-old Lana Buchburger of Calgary, Alberta, was second runner-up.

``I’m very pleased,″ Miss Smith, a sophomore at San Jacinto College, said at a post-pageant news conference. ``I feel I’m becoming a professional in the beauty pageant field.″

Noting that her father is African-American and her mother is white, she said she felt a special significance becoming the first Miss Universe chosen in Africa.

She said she would concentrate on working with children during her year as Miss Universe, particularly on racism and health issues. She also offered a message for African women to keep fighting for equal rights.

Miss Smith chose a 75-year-old angle-length, silk-trimmed cotton lace dress as her national costume to commemorate the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, passed in 1920.

She is the sixth United States winner in the 44 years of the Miss Universe pageant and the first since Shawn Weatherly in 1980.

Miss Smith received cash and prizes worth $220,000, including ownership of an African elephant to be named after her.

The pageant was an elaborate two-hour program featuring African imagery that included a concrete elephant, giraffes and a waterfall on stage with flashy dance numbers.

Namibian officials hoped it would bring global recognition and tourism worth much more than the millions of dollars it cost the cash-strapped nation to host the event.

Sweden’s Petra Hultgren was voted Miss Photogenic in preliminary judging Monday, while Maria Reyes of Spain won Best National Costume. Miss Nigeria, Toyin Enitan Raji, was chosen as Miss Congeniality.

Last-minute set construction brought complaints of excessive dust and noise from organizers and some of the contestants. At the preliminary judging, guests picked their way through construction rubble and sat on plastic chairs in front of the elaborate stage to be used for the television program.

Critics complained the $1.5 million the government paid to host the contest and the $1.6 million spent by the Namibian Broadcasting Corp. for television rights were wasted. The television’s employees union noted it has been told for years the station could not afford salary increases.

Since independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has been a relatively stable democracy in volatile southern Africa. But much of the population still lives in undeveloped rural areas.

Unlike the 1994 pageant, when protesters in the Philippines demonstrated against the pageant’s cost and complained it degraded women, there was no public discontent in Namibia.

Miss Universe Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Madison Square Garden, a Paramount Communications company, produces the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants. They are unconnected to the Miss World pageant held the past three years in neighboring South Africa.

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