Carrying a bold message of inclusion, transgender rights and a sharp rebuke to stereotype, Miss Spain's Angela Ponce is blazing a trail as the first transgender contestant in Miss Universe's 66-year history. The willowy beauty is making history since the pageant reversed a longstanding policy in 2012 that participants must be "naturally born" women.
Explaining her broad appeal the plain-speaking 27-year-old says "who hasn't suffered from prejudice? Who hasn't had to deal with bullying?"
Outside the walls of Miss Universe - the transgender community continues to be marginalised and misunderstood. She took the issue with the classification of transgenders by large sections of society based on prejudice and narrow assessments of gender.
"Outsiders say what I can and cannot do, what I am and what I am not,'" Ponce said in an interview.
"No, I'm sorry. To be a woman is your identity".
Ponce, who works with a foundation in Spain helping children struggling with stigma linked to being trans, is aware of the visibility she brings to the Miss Universe platform.
Her performance has so far drawn praise, from her portrayal of a flamenco dancer during the national costume portion of the competition to her strut down the runway in a shimmery mermaid-like gown in the evening dress category.
"You can empower yourself like I have and turn something negative into your biggest strength," she said.
"Children are born without prejudices and I think that if we talk to them about diversity from a young age ... we can create a new generation of human beings who are raised a lot better, more tolerant and respectful."
Five-time Emmy Award winner and television entertainer, Steve Harvey, is set to host. Model, entrepreneur and body activist Ashley Graham returns as backstage host to take viewers behind the scenes. Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and record producer NE-YO will perform. TV personality and style guru Carson Kressley and supermodel and pageant expert Lu Sierra team up once again as competition insiders to provide analysis and commentary throughout the live telecast. The 2018 MISS UNIVERSE selection committee is the first-ever all-women panel made up of entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry experts, some of whom are former Miss Universe titleholders.
This year marks the first time in more than twenty years the same group of individuals will oversee both the preliminary and final rounds, ultimately crowning the new Miss Universe. Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters from South Africa will crown her successor at the conclusion of the three-hour special programming event.