Rachel Smith, a journalism graduate from Tennessee, was crowned Miss USA on Friday. Smith, 21, edged out 50 other contestants in their bid to replace last year’s Miss USA whose reign was nearly ended by scandal.
The 5-foot, 11 inch brunette and Clarksville, Tenn. native is a graduate of Belmont University in Tennessee. She is also a former intern for the company that produces “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
“I’m speechless at this point, I really am,” Smith said after the pageant.
Contestants from the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia participated in the contest to succeed Miss USA Tara Conner. Conner entered rehab after accounts were made public that suggested she was boozing at New York clubs. The Kentucky native almost lost her crown, but Donald Trump, co-owner of the Miss USA pageant with NBC, gave her a second chance.
The Miss USA telecast opened with news from the Tara Conner controversy and showed interview clips which chronicled Conner’s woes. The 21-year-old Conner came onstage wearing a strapless, ruffled gown.
“It has been the most unforgettable year of my life and I’m back, and better than ever,” Conner said to wild applause from the audience at the Kodak Theatre.
Smith edged out finalists Meagan Yvonne Tandy of California, Cara Renee Gorges of Kansas, Helen Salas of Nevada, and Danielle Lacourse of Rhode Island. Lacourse was named the first runner-up.
Smith admitted that it would be a challenge to take over for Conner but said she was ready for it.
“I’m excited to see what this year will hold,” she said.
Smith also indicated that Conner did a good job as Miss USA and praised her handling of the challenges she faced.
“I definitely learned a lot,” Smith said of Conner’s tenure.
Smith said that she would be honest and open during her time as Miss USA.
The Miss USA pageant was hosting by Tim Vincent and Nancy O’Dell of “Access Hollywood. The pageant was returned to Hollywood after two years in Baltimore.
During an onstage interview during the pageant, Conner indicated that she plans on writing a book and doing some acting.
Unlike Conner, other contestants whose behavior didn’t meet pageant standards were not as fortunate. Miss New Jersey USA Ashley Harder resigned when she got pregnant, and Miss Nevada USA Katie Rees lost her title after racy photos of her were released on the internet. Miss USA rules stipulate that contestants must not have ever been married or given birth.
The Miss USA pageant began in 1952 as a swimwear promotion in Long Beach, Calif.