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S African model crowned 2019 Miss Universe

Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa (centre) is flanked by Sofia Aragon of Mexico (left) and Puerto Rico's Madison Anderson.

Paweensuda Drouin of Thailand, competes in the evening gown portion of the Miss Universe pageant. One of the hot favourites before the start of the competition, she was shut out of the top three.

Atlanta, Georgia

A 26-year-old model from South Africa was crowned the new Miss Universe on Sunday night (Monday morning, Singapore time) at the end of a lavish ceremony filled with glitter and heartfelt speeches about female empowerment.

Zozibini Tunzi finished first ahead of Miss Puerto Rico (Madison Anderson Berrios) and Miss Mexico (Sofia Aragon) in a flashy televised event, hosted once again by American comedian and Steve Harvey.

The 2018 Miss Universe, the Philippines' Catriona Gray, presented Ms Tunzi with a crown by Mouawad Jewelry that is estimated to be worth US$5 million.

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Ms Tunzi earned cheers during her closing speech, a new segment of the competition, in which she talked about wanting to empower young women to feel confident.

"I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful," she said.

"I think that it is time that that stops today," she said to thunderous applause.

Ms Tunzi - the third woman from South Africa to win the world's most prestigious beauty pageant - beat 89 other contestants from around the globe in the 68th instalment of Miss Universe, which was held in Atlanta's Tyler Perry Studios.

Ms Tunzi follows in the footsteps of her countrywomen Margaret Gardiner, who was crowned Miss Universe in 1978, and Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters in 2017.

Rounding up this year's top 10 were contestants from Colombia, France, Iceland, Indonesia, Peru, Thailand and the host country, the United States.

The two hot favourites before the start of the competition - Paweensuda Drouin of Thailand and Gazini Ganados of the Philippines - did not make the final three.

Ms Drouin, a 26-year-old Thai-Canadian, reached the top five, while 23-year-old Ms Ganados only made it to the top 20. Another contestant from South-east Asia, Miss Indonesia, Frederika Alexis Cull, reached the top 10.

Singapore's representative this year was Mohana Prabha, a 24-year-old student. She was eliminated in the first round.

Another contestant who did not make it past the opening round was Miss Myanmar Swe Zin Htet, but she made waves last week when she came out as the competition's first openly gay contestant.

"I have that platform that, if I say that I am a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma," she told People magazine, using her country's historic name.

Homosexuality is illegal in Myanmar and is punishable by up to life in prison.

In 2018, the competition also featured Miss Spain Angela Ponce, who blazed a trail as Miss Universe's first transgender contestant. AFP