Vive la France!

With style and grace, Miss France Iris Mittenaere begins her reign as Miss Universe 2017

Miss Universe 2017 brought the crown, sash, banner, bling, excitement, and home-country heroine Miss Universe 2017 Pia Wurtzbach to pageant crazed Philippines. The capitol, Manilla, rolled out the red carpet for the 65th universal extravaganza of beauty, poise, and empowered young women who would vie for the illustrious crown. In its entire glamorous global history, the Miss Universe crown has only been captured by thirty-three different countries.

Many countries are not as pageant savvy as the Philippines, and their knowledge and appreciation were self-evident throughout the telecast and taped vignettes showcasing the love exuded by its citizens. Hosted by the self-deprecating Steve Harvey, with continual references his gaffe during the previous Miss Universe pageant, and supermodel Ashly Graham, with performances by Flo Rida and Boyz II Men, this stage was set for a memorable night.

The three hour worldwide broadcast, following the eighty-six country introductions, quickly hit pageant gear with the announcement of the top twelve chosen by the judges and 1 voted in by the fans, who cast over 100 million votes in five days. The crescendo of applause gained momentum with each announcement: Miss Kenya Mary Were (this was the first time Kenya has made the finals), Miss Indonesia Kezia Warouw, Miss USA Deshauna Barber, Miss Mexico Kristal Silva, Miss Peru Valeria Piazza, Miss Panama Keity Drennan, Miss Philippines Maxine Medina, Miss Canada Siera Bearchell, Miss Brazil Raissa Santana, Miss France Iris Mittenaere, Miss Haiti Raquel Pelissier, and Miss Thailand Chalita Suansane. This was Miss Universe, and the diverse multicultural finalists proved that we truly are one voice who can change the world.

The first competition of the night, swimwear, featured the thirteen country delegates in the recently changed format of taking the stage in groups of three and two, rather than the historical solo presentations. Following personal vignettes of the finalists, the top 9 who would continue towards the crown of Miss Universe were brought to center stage: Miss USA, Miss Thailand, Miss France, Miss Mexico, Miss Kenya, Miss Colombia, Miss Canada, Miss Haiti, and Miss Philippines, which sent the live audience into a frenzy.

As the remaining young women prepared for the next phase of competition, fans of Miss Universe were treated to the unique presentation of the highly anticipated National Costume presentation. Demure to ostentatious, the highly individualized costumes represented each country and culture at its finest.

The Evening Gown competition graced the Mall of Asia Arena stage, and the crowd showed its appreciation of the beauty and elegance on display as each delegate presented her personal choice and individuality of gown. With the conclusion of Evening Gown, the top 6 of Miss France, Miss Kenya, Miss Colombia, Miss Philippines, Miss Thailand, and Miss Haiti would advance to impress upon the judges their ability to think quickly in the question phase.

The delegates were chosen randomly to answer questions, such as: What is the most significant change they had seen in the world within the last 10 years? What most excited them about the Presidency of Donald Trump? Name a current or past world leader they admire and explain why. Do countries have an obligation to accept refugees or a right to close their borders? What would they have marched for during the January worldwide Women’s March? These answers would bring us to the final three who would all answer the same final question, “Name something over the course of your life that you failed at, and what you learned from the experience.”

The decision was now in the hands of the judges. As a nervous Steve Harvey took center stage to announce the decision, Miss Universe 2016 Pia Wurtzbach graciously brought him a pair of reading glasses in another reference to the announcement faux pas of last year. The pronouncement was 2nd runner up, Miss Colombia. While the two remaining women stood center stage, it must have felt like an eternity as the crowd chanted their support. With the announcement of the winner, Miss Haiti became 1st runner up, and the former Miss France, Iris Mittenaere, would forever been known as Miss Universe 2017. Chants of “Vive la France” filled the universe.

Pageantry magazine: What was it like standing in front of millions of people, hoping to hear your name?
Iris Mittenaere: It was crazy because I didn’t expect th­­­­­at I would win Miss Universe. So, it was a very good day for me, but it was also a very big shock. I couldn’t believe it, but I was very happy.

PM: And, if I’m not mistaken, you’re only the second woman from France to capture the crown of Miss Universe. Is it real or is it still a dream?
IM: Oh no, I think it’s real for me. But it’s like a dream, because I get to travel all around the world. I work for an organization which I love, and it is like a dream. But I feel it’s real because I just did my homecoming and I saw all the people in the street saying thank you. I was like, “Okay, that’s fair. I’m Miss Universe. They’re here for me.” And I feel like Miss Universe now.

PM: You did get to meet French President Francois Hollande. What’s it like meeting the president of your country?
IM: It was a very big honor for me, because it’s the president of my country. He said, “You did a great job, and France is proud of you.” So, it was a very magical moment, and the Palais de l’Èlysèe, where the president lives, is a very beautiful place and it’s a big honor to be there because not just anyone can go. It was a very good day, and I felt like, “Oh no. This is the world.”

PM: Now, you’ve spent a little time in New York. What has surprised you the most about New York City?
IM: I think it’s Central Park, because it is a very big, big park and I didn’t expect a park like this in the city. I knew that Central Park is a park with trees. I can see Central Park from my window, and it’s so big. It’s so beautiful, and it was a very big surprise for me. I was expecting yellow cabs and hot dogs in the street because I saw that in movies, and I love it, but I didn’t expect a big place like Central Park, and I think it’s very, very peaceful. I really love this place, and it’s very close to my apartment, so I really love New York. I love the feeling. I love the energy of this city, really.

PM: You also got to experience New York Fashion Week, yes?
IM: Yes, yes. It was my first walk for a big brand like Sherri Hill, and it was a very good experience for me. I know Fashion Week in Paris, but I didn’t know it in New York, so it was exciting to see the difference. And I like both, because in New York, the designers really try hard to do decorations. Is that the word? The decorations for the fashion show and we see they are doing a lot of things for the fashion show.

PM: Excellent. And, of course, you’re in New York City, where the greatest gift to the American people is from France, the Statue of Liberty. Have you had a chance to go by there?
IM: Yes. I saw the Statue of Liberty, I think the first week, because it was the first thing I wanted to see in New York. I said like, “Oh my gosh. She’s French. She has a crown. I’m French. I have a crown. I live in New York!” I felt like she’s my sister, my French sister here in New York. She’s taller than me, okay, but she’s French and she has a crown. It’s a very beautiful symbol of the friendship between France and the United States. It was a very beautiful symbol, I think, and I was happy to see her.

PM: Tell us a little bit about Bali.
IM: Yes. I did a commercial. It was my first commercial for You-C1000 Vitamin Drink, and it was a very good experience because it was my first commercial, and I really loved this, and Bali is beautiful. I think it’s one of my favorite places in the world, because it was so beautiful. I saw a wedding in Bali, and the clothes are very beautiful, and the sea. The people are so kind. I mean, it was a very, very good trip for me. Really, I think Bali is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

PM: We know you love to cook. What do you enjoy most about the experience?
IM: I love cooking because it was the family thing. My mom taught me how to cook when I was child, and I love it because it’s a sharing moment between you and your family or your friend. I love cooking because I love to eat, right? I think it’s a good moment. I don’t create new things, I just follow recipes, but I like French food, French recipes. Sometimes, I like try to do Thai food or something like that, but my friends love when I cook, and my family, too. It is a very beautiful moment.

PM: You want to become a dentist, and, of course, Smile Train is an organization that you’ve already met with. How important to you is Smile Train and the good work that they do?
IM: Smile Train is a very important organization for me because I’m going to be a dentist, and it’s my passion. I think that all people deserve a smile, especially children, so it’s very important. I’m very sensitive about children. For me, it’s like, they are innocent, and they deserve to have a beautiful life because they are just starting their life. And that’s why it’s so important. I’m very happy to work with this association. I feel very excited. I’m preparing my trip for Smile Train, I’m very happy, and I can’t wait to go.

PM: Wonderful. What has been your biggest surprise as Miss Universe thus far?
IM: My biggest surprise is the people in the organization because they are very kind and very attentive. All the time, they are asking me if I’m good, if I need something, and if I need to rest, if I need to eat. They are like my dad, and it’s a very good thing because I feel good all the time because of them. It’s a surprise because Miss Universe is a title, but it’s also a job. I didn’t expect people asking me all the time if I’m good, if I want to do something or another thing, if I feel comfortable. So, I think it’s a very good thing for me because I know I can trust them all the time, and I think I will have a very beautiful year because of them.

PM: What are you looking forward to most?
IM: I really want to do the most I can do for Smile Train because it’s very important, and I think it’s important for my job in dentistry. It’s important for me because it’s my passion. I want to feel things, and I think when I do things for Smile Train, I’m going to have some real emotions, and I’m looking forward to those emotions. During my year of Miss Universe, I want to remember all I did, and I want to hold things in my heart. I think with this organization, I really want to change lives helping children.

PM: Is there anything that you would like to say to your fans?
IM: Yes. I want to say thank you so much. Thank you for sending me messages all the time, and thank you for supporting me, and I really love you. I hope I can see you this year in your country, and I hope you are going to France because this is a very beautiful country, and I want to meet you in my country.”