Gabriel grew up in Missouri City in her middle and high school years and later attended Elkins High School in Fort Bend ISD. She has collected numerous titles since she began competing in pageants in 2020. During her recent homecoming tour March 18, Gabriel sat down with Community Impact to discuss her road to Miss Universe and what she plans to do with her title. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Miss Universe hasn’t been won by Miss USA in a decade. What does that mean to win that title?
For me, it was about time Miss USA won Miss Universe. It has been 10 years, so I think it’s a really momentous time to win after a decade. It’s not only a win for USA and our country, but my community, the Asian American community, Filipino American community, as well as my state and my hometown, Houston. When I won, it wasn’t just me; it was all my trainers and the people that have supported me and the places I’ve grown up.
What does training look like for these kind of major high-stakes pageants?
I trained every day for the last two and a half years, and it’s like a sport. It’s very demanding. It’s really intense, and it takes a lot of discipline if you want to go far—or for me, that was my formula. It was a lot of watching the news and just being up to date on current events. You need to speak about that to understand how you can make a difference in your community and understand what’s going on. I’m a designer, so I would be designing my pieces. I would always make outfits for the competition, and that took a long time. Outfit planning, hair lessons, makeup lessons. It all didn’t sound like a lot when I first started, and then I realized the dedication it really took and the team behind me and coaches that have really helped me get here.
Missouri City is a smaller town. How did that affect you growing up?
Missouri City is a suburb of Houston, so I feel like even though I grew up in Missouri City, it was very diverse, like how Houston is diverse. We had somebody from every culture in our class, and everybody hung out with everybody. I think that’s a reflection of Houston as well. We’re so diverse, and I think it really shaped me to be who I am. We have a lot of successful people from Houston, which is very inspiring.
The night of Miss Universe, what’s going through your mind before they announced you won?
It’s all happening so fast, right? Top three, and then one of the girls gets out. So then it’s top two, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I really made it here.’ I was so thankful to even just be in top five. It was the most euphoric feeling before they even called my name. I was so happy on stage, and then when they actually called my name, it was just complete shock. I feel like I blacked out.
What are your goals for this year as Miss Universe?
We’re focused on women empowerment, but I’ve always known that I want to use my passion for fashion design and how I’ve been sewing for years and use that for the greater good in this world. That looks like promoting sustainability, expanding on my sewing workshops and working with underserved communities to teach them sewing skills, because when you plant those seeds of education, that’s really unique, and it fosters growth.
Unlike some contestants, R’Bonney Gabriel only started competing in pageants during the last few years, starting in 2020 after a hairstylist on a photo shoot was convinced she would be great at them.
The road to Miss Universe
Miss Kemah 2020: Placed first runner up
Miss Houston 2021: Placed first runner up
Miss Texas USA 2021: Placed first runner up
Miss Texas USA 2022: Won
Miss USA 2022: Won
Miss Universe 2022: Won