Zuleyka Rivera: From being Miss Universe at the age of 18 to a successful businesswoman

25 Jul 2020 | Ana Walia

Zuleyka Rivera is a Puerto Rican actress, TV host, dancer, model, and a beauty queen who represent Puerto Rico at Miss Universe 2006 on 23 July 2006 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States and was crowned as the winner at the end of the event finale. She became the fifth Puerto Rican beauty queen to win the title. She recently completed 14 years of her crowning as Miss Universe 2006.

Zuleyka was born in Cayey, and raised in Salinas by her parents Jerry Rivera and Carmen Mendoza, and two brothers, Jerry, Jr., and Jose Rivera Mendoza. She always dreamt of being a beauty queen and participated in local beauty pageants in Salinas which she won. She also participated in Miss Puerto Rico Teen 2002 and was adjudged as the first runner-up at the end of the event finale.



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Later, she went onto represent her hometown; Salinas at Miss Puerto Rico Universe 2006 which was held on 10th November 2006. Miss Universe 2005 1st Runner-Up Cynthia Olavarría crowned Zuleyka as the new queen and official representative of Puerto Rico at Miss Universe 2006 at the end of the event finale. During her stint at Miss Universe 2006, she competed in swimsuit, evening gown and interview rounds after which she was crowned Miss Universe 2006 by outgoing titleholder Natalie Glebova of Canada. At the time she was the youngest Miss Universe winner since Amelia Vega in 2003 (until Stefanía Fernández in 2009).

Zuleyka made to the headlines not only because she was crowned Miss Universe 2006, but because she fainted at the press conference after the competition. She later clarified, "What happened was that it was hard to breathe and the dress was very tight and weighed a lot.” She wore a low-cut top, a high slit in the front, and dazzling beaded work gown at the finale of Miss Universe 2006. The dress is still considered as one of the most experimental and bold dress wore by a delegate on-stage of Miss Universe.

During her reign, Zuleyka traveled to Japan where she presented the Five Star Diamond Award to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo. She also participated in a photo shoot with Kurara Chibana in San Juan, Puerto Rico and in Tokyo, Japan, the girls who became close best friends and keep in touch. She also traveled to Indonesia where she attended the opening of a new spa, met with the Minister of Culture, and attended the Miss Indonesia Universe pageant where Agni Pratistha was crowned. She passed on her crown to Japan's Riyo Mori at the Miss Universe 2007 pageant, which was held in Mexico City, Mexico on 28th May 2007.



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Post her reign, the queen turned towards acting and debuted on television in 2007 with ‘Dame Chocolate’ with Carlos Ponce and Karla Monroig. Zuleyka has acted in multiple soap operas for the main Spanish leading channels Telemundo and Univision. The diva had the opportunity of hosting her own show called “La Revista de Zuleyka” (Zuleyka’s magazine) which gave her a versatile role in the entertainment industry. Rivera has also been the main image of a famous clothing store in her country for several years and is now a successful businesswoman launching her swimsuit brand and presenting it at the ‘Miami Swim Week’. She is also an ambassador of multiple charities and foundations such as Amigos for Kids, St. Jude Children’s hospital among others. She is currently doing the crossover to become a TV host in the American (English) market, a dream that she has been considering for a few years and that she’s finally fulfilling it.

Zuleyka was also seen in the video, ‘Despacito’ starring Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee and when she was asked about starring in a video she mentioned, "I feel very proud to be a representative not only of my island of Puerto Rico, but of all Latina women. Therefore, I am very demanding when it comes to choosing what I use in my work commitments and in my daily life”.

She was also chosen by a jewellery brand as the first ambassador for its exclusive line of diamonds in 2018. Asking about her choices when it comes to jewellery, she stated, "Representing the brand internationally is a commitment that flatters me and that I assume with the greatest pleasure, as each piece is a true work of art that any woman would like to take with her,"



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The queen gave birth to her son, Sebastián José Barea Rivera, whom she had with ex-boyfriend Dallas Mavericks point guard J. J. Barea in 2012. She explained, “I fall more in love with Sebastian Jose every day. It’s wonderful to be a mother.” Her social media is filled with sweet moments with her boy. From playing on the beach to cuddling in bed together, the two are inseparable.

In an interview, she was asked How are you in love? To which the diva answered, “With my 30 years I have decided to focus on me and whatever comes will come. The less focused I am on finding love, the better I do professionally. I am sure that soon I will reach a happy medium, and the right person will arrive to make an explosive combination and continue to devour the world.”

The diva completed 14 years of her crowning as Miss Universe 2006 and is still considered as one of the most successful queens in the history of Miss Universe. She has reached to a point where she considers herself as happy, successful, and assured. We wish she all the love and luck for future projects.