International Brown Beauties: Miss Universe 2009

The most gorgeous women in the world have stormed the sunny island shores of the Bahamas to compete at the chance of being crowned Miss Universe 2009. ESSENCE.com headed to the Caribbean to give you the scoop on the international brown beauties vying for the coveted title.
ESSENCE.COM Aug, 19, 2009

1 of 26 Derek Smith

The most gorgeous women in the world have stormed the sunny island shores of the Bahamas to compete at the chance of being crowned Miss Universe 2009. ESSENCE.com headed to the Caribbean to give you the scoop on the international brown beauties vying for the coveted title. Grab your passport and get ready to experience global gorgeousness.

By Qianna Smith

2 of 26 Derek Smith/Miss Universe Organization

Nelsa Alves
Age: 22
Fluent in: Portuguese
“I am excited to represent my country at the Miss Universe. To be in the Bahamas is fantastic. I like this island so very much,” says Alves, who will dedicate her reign to the fight against AIDS, a serious issue in southern African countries.

3 of 26 Derek Smith

Kiara Sherman
Age: 21
Fluent in: English
“I have been talking with God a lot more to connect better with my spiritual side,” says the hometown favorite on how she has been preparing for the Miss Universe contest.

4 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Nicosia Lawson
Age: 26
Fluent in: English
“I started pageantry when I was 17, and entered the Miss Teen Cayman Island pageant because it was something I always wanted to do. After I graduated from college I decided to take a shot at Miss Cayman Islands and I won,” says Lawson, who is also an HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness advocate.

5 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Angenie Simon
Age: 24
Fluent in: English, Papiamento, Dutch, Spanish
Simon has a love for numbers and is an accounting student and financial assistant from Willemstad, Curacao.

6 of 26 bahamas.com

Famous for its white sandy beaches, the Bahamas is the smallest country to ever host the Miss Universe pageant.

7 of 26 Getty

Trinidad & Tobago’s Janelle Commissiong became the first woman of Black descent to be crowned Miss Universe in 1977 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

8 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Ada Aimee De la Cruz
Age: 23
Fluent in: Spanish, English
A top Miss Universe contender, De la Cruz is the second woman from the Dominican Republic beauty pageants to be of color and win the crown. Cruz has modeled in both Miami and New York Fashion Week.

Update: Miss Universe 2009 First Runner

9 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Melat Yante
Age: 19
Fluent in: Amharic, Italian, English
“I love fashion and my style is simple and elegant,” says Melat Yante, who attends the Italian School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “What something costs does not matter to me; as long as the clothes fit well, I’ll wear it. My national costume was designed by Mulu & Lidia.”

10 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Chloe Mortaud
Age: 19
Fluent in: French, English, German
“I’m really enjoying the Bahamas. I was the first contestant to arrive and I must say the Bahamas is cool,” says Mortaud, who is France’s first a binational and biracial crown winner. Her mother is African-American and her father is French.

Update: Made it to the top 15 contestants of Miss Universe 2009

11 of 26 Derek Smith

Jennifer Koranteng
Age: 23
Fluent in: English, Nzema, Twi, Fante
“I’m here to represent, because this crown has given me the chance to express myself in newfound ways and I hope to be a voice for women around the world,” says Jennifer Koranteng, who is a psychology major graduate of the University of Ghana.

12 of 26 Derek Smith

The 84 global beauties competing in the pageant will be judged in three categories: swimsuit, evening gown and interview. Here, Miss Cayman Island struts her stuff on the catwalk in the island of the Grand Bahama where the swimsuit presentation took place.

13 of 26 Derek Smith

Jenel Cox
Age: 19
Fluent in: English
At the Miss Universe Welcome Reception the contestants got dressed to impress and were escorted by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.

14 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Carolyn Yapp
Age: 25
Fluent in: English
“It has always been a dream of mine to be an ambassador for my country. If I win the Miss Universe title it will give me a chance to be a voice for something positive,” says Yapp, who is also an interior designer.

15 of 26 Getty

Before she ever envisioned winning an Oscar, Halle Berry won the Miss Teen Ohio Pageant when she was 18 and later was named Miss Teen All-American. Berry won the Miss Ohio title in 1986 and the first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant. She went on to become the first African-American to represent the United States in the Miss World pageant.

16 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Happie Ntelamo
Age: 20
Fluent in: English, Silozi
Proving that beauty and brains do go hand-in-hand, Ntelamo is a law student from the University of Namibia.

17 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Sandra Otohwo
Age: 20
Fluent in: English, Benin, Urhobo
“I will bring the promise of healing, harmony and hope if crowned Miss Universe. In my country, many people don’t have abundant opportunities, and I want to demonstrate that women can do great things,” says Otohwo, whose role model is media mogul Tyra Banks.

18 of 26 Derek Smith

Tatum Keshwar
Age: 25
Fluent in: English, Afrikaans
“It’s a dream come true to be an ambassador and icon within my country and leading my voice to raise awareness about global issues not only affecting the continent of Africa, but the world,” says Keshwar, who is a model and also holds a degree in psychology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Update: Made it to the top 10 contestants of Miss Universe 2009

19 of 26 AP

Only once have Black women won Miss Universe in succession. Wendy Fitzwilliam of Trinidad & Tobago won the title in 1998, followed by Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana in 1999.

20 of 26 Derek Smith/Miss Universe Organization

Illuminata Wize
Age: 24
Fluent in: Kiswahili, English, Sukuma
Wize from Mwanza, Tanzania, beat 19 other women to become the country’s representative in Miss Universe 2009.

21 of 26 Getty

Far from an “Ugly Betty,” Vanessa Williams was the first Black Miss America. After winning the title, Penthouse published graphic nude photos of Williams, which caused her to resign. “Success is the sweetest revenge,” says the Hollywood star 25 years after the scandal. She is still officially recognized as Miss America 1984. Her replacement, Suzette Charles, also a Black woman, is recorded as Miss America 1984b.

22 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Jewel Selver
Age: 23
Fluent in: English
A banker turned beauty queen, Selver started the production company Davae Productions, which caters in the areas of dancing, singing and modeling.

23 of 26 Miss Universe Organization

Andella Chileshe Matthews
Age: 21
Fluent in: Bemba, English
“Coming from a developing country, it’s important for women and our younger generation to be independent and take roles that will fuel our countries progress,” says Matthews. “In Zambia, I’m a spokesperson for HIV and AIDS awareness as well as the empowerment of women, which I’d love to do on an international level.”

24 of 26 Derek Smith

“Miss Universe is a woman who has that ‘it’ factor. When she walks into a room she captures everyone’s attention, and when she speaks she’s very articulate and polished,” says Paula M. Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization.

25 of 26 bahamas.com

“The people of the Bahamas are very proud and excited at the opportunity to host some of the most beautiful people in the universe in some of the most beautiful islands in the universe,” says the Bahamas’ minister of tourism & aviation, Senator Hon. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace.

26 of 26 Getty

Find out who’s crowned Miss Universe 2009 live from Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas, on Sunday, August 23, at 9 P.M. ET on NBC. The show will include guest performances from superstar artists including Kelly Rowland and Flo Rida. Tell us which brown beauty you think should take home the coveted title?

Update: Miss Venezuela, Stefania Fernandez, was crowned Miss Universe 2009

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