Venezuelan Stefania Fernandez won the 2009 Miss Universe pageant in the Bahamas on Sunday night and she and received the crown from last year's winner, Dayana Mendoza, of Venezuela.
Dressed in a flowing red gown, Fernandez embraced runner up Miss Dominican Republic as the announcement was made, and received the crown from Mendoza. The sparkling tiara fell to the floor at one point, as Fernandez and Mendoza danced in joy.
Venezuela, a beauty-obsessed South American country, has won the Miss Universe pageant six times.
During a question-and-answer segment with the five top finalists, Fernandez said she believed women have overcome obstacles such as hitting the proverbial glass ceiling.
"I feel we have reached the level that men are at," she said.
The other top-five finalists were runner-up Ada Aimee de la Cruz, followed by Miss Kosovo, Droga Ganusha; Miss Australia, Rachael Finch; and Miss Puerto Rico, Mayra Matos Perez.
The top 15 finalists appeared in bathing suits before the final 10 were chosen for the evening gown segment.
Pageant co-owner Donald Trump told reporters, "I think this is the most beautiful group of women I've ever seen."
The televised event includes musical performances by Flo Rida, Heidi Montag, David Guetta and Kelly Rowland.
Montag gave her first live performance, singing "Body Language" from her debut album.
Fans cheered on the blond star of MTV's "The Hills," although NBC, which is broadcasting the event in the Bahamas live, blocked out more than half of her performance as they introduced the 15 finalists.
"It's my first performance live and it's in front of a billion eyes. So I'm very excited to show everyone what I'm coming with," said Montag before her performance.
Hosts are Billy Bush, co-anchor of "Access Hollywood," and Claudia Jordan, a former Miss Rhode Island USA who has appeared on several TV shows. Judges include actor Dean Cain, stylist Colin Cowie and supermodel Valeria Mazza.
Miss China, Wang Jingyao, was named Miss Congeniality and Miss Thailand, Chutima Durongdej, won Miss Photogenic.
Many contestants have suffered from dehydration in recent weeks, and Jewel Selver, Miss Turks and Caicos, went home Saturday to recuperate, said Esther Swan, Miss Universe spokeswoman.
By DANICA COTO