While Paulina Vega began her first day as Miss Universe with an interview on Univision’s Despierta America after only an hour of sleep, her native Colombia celebrated Vega’s victory with a national holiday Monday — closing businesses and taking to the streets, dancing to traditional Cumbia music.
The partying began shortly after Vega, who hails from the port city of Barranquilla on Colombia’s Gulf Coast, was crowned Miss Universe on Florida International University’s stage Sunday night.
“They are going crazy,” Vega said to throngs of international media Sunday after taking the $300,000 topaz- and sapphire-studded crown. Outside the Trump National Doral dozens gathered, holding flags, chanting and banging and blowing into noise makers to the early morning hours.
“For Colombian residents of South Florida, the election of Miss Colombia as the new Miss Universe is the confirmation of our people's talent and beauty,’’ said Colombian consul Marta Jaramillo. “The Colombian community is happy and grateful to Paulina.”
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On Monday, Vega’s smiling face was splashed on the covers of Colombian newspapers thoughout the country.
“Miss Universe is from Barranquilla!” was the headline in her hometown newspaper La Libertad.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who is in France this week, told the Associated Press that “this demonstrates that in Colombia we have women who are intelligent, hard-working and perseverant in the face of obstacles.”
“They’re also very pretty,” he said.
While Vega’s win is big news in Colombia — which has not won a Miss Universe since 1958 — local officials say having the pageant at FIU and the contestants staying in Doral was a win for the city and surrounding areas.
“I think that if you're going to put a dollar amount on the attention the city was given, and all the positive publicity, you just can't calculate it,” said Doral Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez. “It was phenomenal. Priceless.”
In a press conference late Sunday night, Donald Trump, co-owner with NBC Universal of the Miss Universe pageant, touted Doral and the Miami area as a host and said it was a contender for next year’s extravaganza.
"We have about 18 places that want it,” said Trump, saying Beijing, China, could be the next host.
For more than three weeks, the pageant’s 88 contestants called Trump National Doral home, as they explored local attractions, appeared in parades and competed for the 63rd annual Miss Universe title.
Throughout the three-hour long show Sunday, which was aired on NBC and Telemundo51, snippets from their stay and information about Doral flashed on the screen giving publicity to the city just west of Miami International Airport.
“I don't even think we were prepared for a windfall of people wanting to learn about our city,” said Rodriguez, who attended the event. “The telecast made everybody feel like: ‘Where's Doral? Where is this place? How do I get there?’ And that was our initial desire; it was to bring positive exposure to our city. It was phenomenal.”
In the U.S. alone, 7.6 million viewers tuned in, up 102 percent over last year, according to the Nielsen overnight ratings. It was the most-watched Miss Universe since 2006 and was the most-watched program Sunday night for adults between 18-49, the coveted advertising group. Trump announced Sunday night the pageant will now be aired for at least five years on Univision instead of Telemundo.
At the press conference after the broadcast, Trump focused on Vega, calling her a “star.”
“She is an amazing beauty,” he said.
In an interview with Colombia’s Caracol Radio, Vega’s father, Rodolfo Vega, said he hoped his daughter would be able to visit Colombia soon to celebrate her triumph.
“I’m very happy to give this gift to Barranquilla and Colombia,” he said. “Let the Colombians enjoy it – her family is very happy. I’m very proud.”
While it’s not clear what Vega — who as the winner receives an undisclosed salary, an apartment in New York, a wardrobe and beauty products, among other prizes — will be tasked with during her year as Miss Universe, Trump had some words of advice: “She has to remain grounded.”
Miami Herald staff writers Madeleine Marr, Monique O. Madan, Howard Cohen and Jim Wyss, from Colombia; el Nuevo Herald reporter Sergio N. Candido and the Associated Press contributed to this report.