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Puerto Rico Profile: Miss Universe

May 25, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

This year’s 50th Anniversary Miss Universe pageant, held on the night of May 11, was a special event for Puerto Rico. The international beauty contest took place in the San Juan suburb of Bayamón, drawing thousands of tourists and a worldwide television audience topping 1 billion in 130 countries. It also featured Puerto Rico’s crown prince, pop star Ricky Martin, performing several songs with his trademark gusto.

By the end of the evening, however, both the tropical beauty of Puerto Rico and the hip-shaking antics of Ricky Martin were overshadowed by the celebration of the pageant’s result. For the fourth time in the half-century history of the event, a Miss Puerto Rico emerged victorious. 20-year-old Denise Quiñones August, a native of Lares, Puerto Rico, was crowned Miss Universe 2001.

Among five finalists, who included representatives from the United States, Venezuela, India, and Greece, Ms. Quiñones emerged as a clear favorite of the judges as well as of the audience. Some prognosticators expected her hometown status, as well as the fact that she had won the Miss Photogenic award earlier in the week, to be an impediment in the final competition. However, her poise, grace, and perhaps most importantly, her fluency and eloquence in both Spanish and English, tipped the scales in her favor.

"Quiñones fulfilled all the qualities we were told to look for," said Puerto Rican singer and actor Marc Anthony, who was one of the eight judges.

"I’m proud to have won this crown," said Ms. Quiñones. The honor includes $250,000 in prizes, a year living rent-free in a luxury apartment in New York City, and a stipend and clothing allowance. "I always dreamed about and visualized winning," said Ms. Quiñones after the ceremony. "Thank God it happened. I was very confident in myself."

Many Puerto Ricans found their own confidence boosted by the crowning of the local favorite. Hundreds took to the streets the night of the pageant, honking horns, shouting, and waving flags. A week later, during an appearance on the Today show in New York, Ricky Martin called Quiñones’ win — and the victory by boxing champ "Tito" Trinidad the following night — "shots of self-esteem" for the people of Puerto Rico.

Ms. Quiñones told reporters after winning the Miss Universe title that she had been inspired by her grandmother, who recently passed away. As for the rest of her family, they were pleased to find their biased opinions about Denise confirmed by the pageant’s judges. "Even though we were sure of what would happen," said her father, Hector Quiñones, "to have the judges think the same is something else."

Denise Quiñones was born in the banana and coffee producing town of Lares, in the mountainous interior of Puerto Rico. She began studying dance when she was eight years old, and she has also taken classes in modeling and singing. She lists as one of her greatest accomplishments a singing appearance at the prestigious Bellas Artes Performing Arts Center.

Ms. Quiñones excelled in school and graduated near the top of her high school class. She is currently a third-year communications major at the University of Puerto Rico, and she has expressed her plans to pursue a masters degree in communications after graduation.

For the next year, however, Ms. Quiñones will have to forgo her studies as she fulfills her considerable duties as Miss Universe. Despite numerous modeling opportunities, she will act as a spokeswoman for programs such as an HIV prevention and education project organized by the United Nations and Harvard University.

After crowning the next Miss Universe in 2002, Ms. Quiñones hopes to launch a career as a singer and television personality. She is understandably optimistic about her future. "Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to dream big," she offered as advice to young people. "That’s what I have done as Miss Puerto Rico and that’s what I intend to do as Miss Universe."

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