AFP - Mexico's Jimena Navarrete was crowned Miss Universe Monday night in an upset victory that stunned a pageant world which had predicted a winner to emerge from Ireland, Venezuela or the United States.
The 22-year-old from Guadalajara, resplendent in a flowing ruby-red evening gown, has been modeling since she was 15, but nothing could quite prepare her for her moment of glory.
"I did feel surprised, I just went blank," the brunette beauty said of her crowning achievement.
"There was nothing going through my mind. I was in a state of shock."
Beyond the diamond-encrusted tiara affixed to her head when the announcers declared she had triumphed over runner-up Miss Jamaica, Yendi Phillipps, Navarrete receives a one-year scholarship to the New York Film Academy, and a year's supply of shoes, dresses and hair products.
Her coronation -- which earned her a congratulatory message on Twitter from Mexican President Felipe Calderon -- ends the reign of outgoing Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez of Venezuela.
Had this year's Miss Venezuela Marelisa Gibson, 21, taken the title, it would have been a three-year sweep for the South American nation.
But Gibson was ousted in the early going -- along with Miss USA Rima Fakih, 24, as the field of 83 was pared down to 15.
The two-hour finale was devoid of the political drama that has erupted in past years at this event, although there had been potential for controversy when Fakih, the first American Muslim to become Miss USA, disappointed many Islamic leaders on Saturday by saying she opposes construction of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York city.
"I totally agree with President (Barack) Obama with the statement on constitutional rights of freedom of religion," she told Inside Edition, the US tabloid TV show.
"I also agree that it shouldn't be so close to the World Trade Center (site). We should be more concerned with the tragedy than religion."
The plans for an Islamic community center, which includes a mosque, about two blocks from the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks has stirred passions and controversy less than three months before key US elections.
Real estate titan Donald Trump, owner of the Miss Universe Organization, has come out against the mosque plans.
The finalists were largely able to steer clear of controversy in the competition's Q & A.
Judge Evan Lysacek, an Olympic gold medalist skater, asked Navarrete for her views on what to do about the problem of children using the Internet without proper supervision.
She responded vaguely but, evidently, adequately. "I do believe that the Internet is an indispensable, necessary tool for the present time," said Navarrete, the first Mexican winner of the contest since 1991.
"We must be sure to teach them the values that we learned as a family."
Miss Ukraine Anna Poslavska, 23, said she favors full-body scanners in airports "if that helps to save the lives of people," while 19-year-old Miss Australia Jesinta Campbell believes governments have no place in telling citizens whether to wear religious garb.
Phillipps said she opposes the death penalty, drawing scattered boos in the Events Center at the Mandalay Bay Hotel-Casino.
"We have no right to control the destiny of another person," Miss Jamaica said. "Only one person can do that, and that's God."
After Miss USA and Miss Venezuela stumbled, 20-year-old Miss Ireland Rozanna Purcell became a favorite, but she too failed to advance to the final five after a swimsuit and evening wear parade.
Navarrete, who says she plans to study nutritional science, is expected to spend her year as Miss Universe drawing attention to the plight of people with HIV/AIDS and breast cancer.