Denise Quiñones August: 1980—: Miss Universe Biography
"I feel like I am living a fantasy," Denise Quiñones August told People en Español. As the 50th Miss Universe, some would say she is. A rural girl from a mountain town, Quiñones had only been competing in pageants for three years before winning the title of Miss Universe. As the fourth Miss Universe to hail from this tiny Caribbean island of 3.9 million people, a U.S. territory, she is also living a fantasy for her people.
Denise Quiñones August (also known as Denise M. Quiñones ) was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and raised in Lares, a small town in the center of the island high in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Her father Hector Quiñones worked as an engineer while her mother Susanna August stayed home to care for Quiñones and her younger brother Hector. "I grew up around nature, nothing especially sophisticated," Quiñones told People en Español. Yet she found her own sophistication in performing. "Dance and song are my passions," she told People en Español. She was just eight years old when she enrolled in the dance school of Estela Velez. She hasn't stopped dancing or singing since. Quiñones first professional dance experience came while she was still a senior in high school. She was selected to dance on one of Puerto Rico's wildly popular variety shows, El Super Show. This led to her being selected to co-host another show Eso Vale.
When not on stage wowing audiences, Quiñones was in school wowing teachers. She graduated from her high school, Colegio Nuestra Señora del Carmen located in Hatillo, Puerto Rico, with honors and was named in the Who's Who Among American High School Students. She had been a straight-A student and a former president of the school's honor society. Though her first language was Spanish, she had mastered English early on, becoming fully bilingual. Following graduation she enrolled as a journalism student in the Communications School of the University of Puerto Rico.
Unlike many pageant contestants who begin grooming for national titles at a very young age, Quiñones was already entering college when she decided to run for the title of Miss Puerto Rico. It fell to Magali Febles, an image consultant who had coached Dayanara Torres, another Puerto Rican Miss Universe, to prepare Quiñones for pageantry. "When Denise came to me she was a diamond in the rough," he told People en Español. He taught her to walk the catwalk, control her movements, and play up her features. Though she was originally adamant about winning the crown as naturally as possible, Febles convinced Quiñones to lighten her hair and have plastic surgery on her nose.
After becoming Miss Puerto Rico, excitement begun to build as it became known that the 2001 Miss Universe pageant would be held in Bayamon, Puerto Rico not far from the island's capital. Quiñones would compete with a home grown advantage. She courted local adoration from the opening ceremony of the 50th Miss Universe Pageant in May of 2001 when she arrived in a be-feathered bathing suit with wings representing a fighting cock. Cockfighting, though considered distasteful and even cruel in American culture, is a popular sport in Puerto Rico and many other Latin American countries. Over the week of the pageant, Quiñones was mobbed like a superstar much to the consternation of the other 76 contestants. Her dazzling smile was plastered across front pages and on television.
However, Quiñones garnered more than just the attention of her countrymen. Pageant officials awarded her the Miss Photogenic title and she won both the Blue-point Swim Fitness Award and Clairol Herbal Essences Style Awards. Her ascension to the semi-finals seemed assured. However as hosts Naomi Campbell and Elle Macpherson read off the first nine names, Quiñones was not among them. "The crowd in Ruben Rodriguez Coliseum held their breath, fearing that perhaps Ms. Quiñones somehow had not made the cut. But then the tenth finalist was announced, and Ms. Quiñones traipsed down the grand staircase at the back of the set, beaming like the queen she would soon become.
Though all of the finalists were stunning, there was a star quality about Ms. Quiñones—buoyed as she was by the crowd's adoration—that set her apart from the rest," www.pageant.net noted.
During the pageant, Quiñones turned for inspiration to her grandmother who had died a few months before. She described to www.pageant.net how she spent a few moments speaking to her grandmother. "I was asking her to be with me in the competition, and I felt her in every part." This inspiration was with her when she was crowned Miss Universe. As her win was announced, the tiny island of Puerto Rico erupted in a cacophony of car horns, sirens, and cries of victory. Quiñones responded to her country's outpouring of joy, telling the assembled press after her victory, "I'm proud to have won this crown….I think I have left a great legacy for my beloved Puerto Rico."
Following her win, Quiñones relocated to New York City and a luxury apartment at Trump Tower which would become her home for the duration of her yearlong reign. The apartment, as well as $250,000 in prizes is part of her winnings. She is also allotted a clothing allowance. In return, Quiñones is expected to travel around the world as a representative of the Miss Universe organization, providing promotional support for pageant sponsors and charities. She has already taken up the struggle against AIDS and made a very public appearance at the AIDS Walk in New York. "By educating people about HIV/AIDS, I look forward to teaching tolerance of people with differences and doing my part to remove the stigma of HIV/AIDS," Quiñones was quoted on the UNAIDS website. "In my travels around the world, I've heard people speaking about AIDS in every language under the sun. If each one of us speaks out, we will overcome this epidemic together," she continued.
As her reign wound down in the earlier part of 2002, Quiñones began to long for her country. "Every day I awake and think of Puerto Rico, especially my family. I want to be with my people and spend time with my father, mother, and brother," she confessed to Revista Vea, a Puerto Rican magazine. When she does return she has great ambitions to pursue. "I would like to be a part of the entertainment and communication industry, becoming an acclaimed singer known worldwide and establishing my own television program. I plan to complete a Master's degree in communications and to continue training in the areas mentioned above," she was quoted on www.missuniverse.com.
During the Miss Universe pageant, Quiñones was asked what she thought the most important thing in life was. According to www.pageant.net she quickly answered, "to be the best I can be." Whether that is fighting AIDS, pursuing a career in showbiz, or inspiring a nation of young Puerto Ricans to love their country and reach for their dreams, there is no doubt Quiñones's best, will make a difference in many lives.
Latina, August 2001, p. 83.
People en Español, August 2001, p. 37.
The St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), May 12, 2001, p. 2B.
Revista Vea, www.veavea.com
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