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Miss Puerto Rico, Zuleyka Rivera, is crowned Miss Universe 2006

Written by Nelson Ortiz,

July 24, 2006 -- For the fifth time in the pageant's history, a young lady from Puerto Rico has won the prestigious crown of Miss Universe.

Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza, an 18-year old model from Salinas, Puerto Rico was chosen by a star-studded panel of judges and crowned as Miss Universe 2006 on Sunday night.

Rivera, who hopes to someday star in U.S. and Latin American films, beat 85 other contestants from around the world to be crowned at the fabled Shrine Auditorium near downtown Los Angeles.

"I always had faith and confidence in myself, but I never knew I was going to win," Rivera, speaking in Spanish from the stage, said in her first remarks as Miss Universe.

In her pageant biography, Rivera explained what made her different from the other contestants.

"Physically, I have been told by modeling agencies and friends that I represent the consummate Latino look,'' she said. "Everything in my face expresses our heritage, our music and the wonderful mixes of races that we are."

Miss Universe 2006 was chosen by an international judging panel which included NBC's Las Vegas star James Lesure; NBC's latest winner from The Apprentice, Sean Yazbeck; renowned fashion photographer Patrick McMullan; Project Runway's Santino Rice; NBC's Deal or No Deal briefcase model Claudia Jordan; Telemundo's Al Rojo Vivo anchor Maria Celeste Arraras; former Miss Universe Amelia Vega; television writer/creator Marc Cherry; former Miss Teen USA and actress, Bridgette Wilson Sampras; comedian Tom Green and former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith.

Last year's winner, Canadian Natalie Glebova, was on hand to place the $250,000 crown on Rivera's head.

Throughout the two-hour event, the delegates competed in three categories; swimsuit, evening gown and interview. During these competitions the "Top Five" finalists were selected before the crowning. Natalie Glebova, Miss Universe 2005, crowned her successor at the conclusion of the two-hour primetime telecast, before an estimated worldwide viewing audience of more than 600 hundred million in over 180 countries.

Rivera is the first winner from Puerto Rico since Denise Quinones won the crown in 2001.t as she heard her name called. She beamed as the crown was placed on her head.

Note: During a post-pageant news conference Rivera was rushed off stage when she fainted. ''She's OK. She's fine,'' said pageant representative Lark Anton. ''She got dizzy. Its very hot up here. Her dress is tight as you could see it was beaded and heavy. ... She passed out.'' Within a few minutes, Rivera was fine.



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