Miss Universe reflects on her reign ending

The reigning Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela, is ready to see what the next chapter brings. Her successor will be crowned at the end of the Miss Universe pageant, set to air beginning at 8 p.m. today on NBC.

MIAMI — When Gabriela Isler wakes up today, it will mark the 441st and final time that she will begin a day while wearing the title of Miss Universe.

Then, as she put it, she becomes “just Gabby” again.

Isler’s reign is in its final hours, with the next woman to wear the crown to be selected tonight in Miami. The classic tiara, the one that slipped off her head on the night she was crowned, soon will be placed atop someone else and after touring the world almost nonstop, Isler is ready to see what the next chapter brings.

“Before all this, I was just a simple girl, no makeup, no hair, no heels, just a normal girl finishing my education,” Isler said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This just changed my life. This made me feel confidently beautiful. ... Now I’m happy with myself every day. I learned to be happy. I grew up in every way, as a daughter, as a sister, as a girlfriend, as a friend. It transformed my life.”

The 5-foot-10 Venezuelan carries her country’s flag with intense pride, even as her nation continues to battle over economics and politics. Being an example for women in her country was a priority during her time as Miss Universe, and once it ends, Isler plans to step up her efforts by combating a massive problem with teen pregnancy in her homeland.

“During my reign, I discovered myself,” Isler said. “I want to continue doing a lot of things related to humanitarian efforts, so one of my new chapters will be maybe becoming a spokesperson for different organizations, but my first one is my baby: starting my own foundation in Venezuela that can help create awareness and bring education and family values to young girls and young women.”

Choking levels of inflation and shortages of basic goods are part of the norm in Venezuela, where beauty pageants are big business and a source of national pride.

“With all that’s happening in Venezuela, to have a chance to be a good-news person for my country I feel so satisfied,” Isler said. “I did as much as I can, not just to represent the Miss Universe organization but also my country.”

There is symmetry to her reign ending South Florida, which has a massive Latin population and is the place that Isler says will be her second home.

When asked if one day stood out among all others during her reign, Isler didn’t hesitate. She quickly chose Sept. 3, the day she went to the Vatican, heard Pope Francis speak about the role of women in the church and received a blessing from the pontiff.

Isler expects to shed tears on pageant night, not because her time as Miss Universe will be over but out of both fear and excitement for whatever will happen next.

She won’t sit idle for long.

Her first meeting is already scheduled — for Jan. 26.