TO COMPETE IN the Miss USA pageant, contestants must be at least 18 and under 28 years old in the year they are competing. The 2022 Miss USA winner, R’Bonney Gabriel, cut it close!
Gabriel grew up in Missouri City and graduated from Lawrence E. Elkins High School in 2012. She began competing in pageants at 26. Two years later, at 28, she won the Miss Texas title and captured international attention as the first Filipina-American to win the Miss USA crown.
“It’s an extremely big honor,” Gabriel says. “I'm so happy to be in this position and represent Filipino Americans and Asian Americans. Because as a child growing up, I didn't really see that many women in pageantry or in pop culture that looked like me.”
With October being Filipino American History Month, Gabriel says it’s important to bring diversity to the forefront. “It's amazing because I get messages from girls and mothers telling me they're so inspired by me, and I'm just so happy to set the example for Asian Americans to help them feel inspired and believe in themselves.” Gabriel will go on to represent the United States in the Miss Universe pageant in January.
The Neal Hamil model and sustainable-fashion designer received a bachelor’s degree in fashion design at the University of North Texas in 2018. For the past two years, she was the lead sewing instructor at Magpies and Peacocks, the nation’s only nonprofit design house focused on sustainable practices such as upcycling and using found objects, fabrics and textiles to create new collections.
“We work with women that have survived human trafficking and domestic to provide them with the tools to learn sewing,” Gabriel tells CityBook. “It also [offers] a sense of community and a pathway to success.”
Known to wear her own designs at the pageants, Gabriel enjoys creating awareness about sustainability. For the costume portion of the competition, she wore a Texas Bluebonnet costume, which garnered her major points. “It lit up,” she says enthusiastically. “It was so fun to wear [that] on the runway and represent my home state.”
We caught up with Miss USA, who was visiting Los Angeles at the time, and asked about her favorite fall traditions and memories.
What accomplishment are you most proud of? Winning Miss USA is a dream come true. I never thought I would be in this position. As a little girl, I was very shy and had weak communication skills, but through a lot of training and opening up and self-work, I'm just really honored to be in this position.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? In kindergarten, I remember writing on a piece of paper that I wanted to be a teacher. As I grew up, I kind of went the fashion designer route. It came full circle because I am a sewing instructor, so it's the best of both worlds!
What was your best — or worst — Halloween costume? Oh my gosh. Oh, my best one: I would have to say my penguin costume. I made it myself. And I put little buttons on as the nose. My worst was when I was a pirate about three years in a row because Halloween would come around the corner and I had nothing to wear. So I reused it three times.
Favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Sweet potato yams with roasted marshmallows on top, and sitting at the kid's table with all my cousins while the adults sit at the adult's table.
Pumpkin Spice Lattes: What do you really think? I'm here for it. I like pumpkin flavor, I like pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin pie. I just had a pumpkin spice smoothie this morning!
Name three things on your bucket list. Number one is what I'm really focused on right now, which is competing at Miss Universe. I can't believe I'm actually saying that — it's a dream come true. Two, I dream of having a design studio in a tree house overlooking the beach. And then three I would say designing and making a really amazing dress to wear and attend at the Met Gala.
What’s your most useless talent? Girl, I can juggle. I can juggle three balls and three oranges. I can juggle four balls and four lemons.
If you were arrested without explanation, what would your friends and family think you had done? It would definitely be me speeding and cutting somebody off, because you know I'm from Houston and we drive a little bit crazy.
What would you choose as your last meal? I would definitely make sure it’s a feast and eat until I’m absolutely full. I would have some salmon sinigang, it's a Filipino soup. I would have halo-halo, a Filipino dessert. And a really good pizza with pineapple on it. Oh, what else? Ube ice cream is another Filipino ice cream that’s so yummy. And cookie dough and cake batter that's uncooked.
What’s the closest thing in life to real magic? You know, I’d have to say when I'm working with the women at Magpies and Peacocks, and seeing them learn a new sewing skill and how that builds confidence in themselves, and they realize they have a new trajectory in life. They have a new skill they can learn, and they can go out into the world with newfound confidence. That to me is magic. Being able to use my passion to help these women.
What’s the worst movie you love? I’d have to say Princess Diaries. I've watched it probably 20 times. I think there are a lot of people that don’t want to watch it with me again.
A colorful moment at the pageant
Is there a charitable cause you support, and why that one? We can touch on Magpies and Peacocks because, you know, they're all about sustainability. And I'm a designer that always upcycles my pieces. And the Miss USA organization partners with Smile Train, which is an organization [that provides corrective surgery for children with cleft lips], and Best Buddies.
What’s something about you people would find surprising? I think people would find it surprising that I'm pretty clumsy. People see me as a model, and I can walk on stage and hit my turns and be all serious at photoshoots, but I'm super clumsy and drop things a lot. Sometimes I'll drink water and bring the cup up to my mouth and miss my mouth. I'm not as put-together as people think.
In five words or less, what’s your advice for living a happy life? I would say my favorite saying which is, “If not now, then when?” I have that [saying] that I put on T-shirts that I sell on my website. And to me that means when you have something that you want to do, whether that's going to eat at your favorite restaurant or going to take that vacation or applying for a new job, now is the time to do it instead of waiting on it.
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