But Kentucky was supposed to win last year! Those of you who read my commentary on last year's Miss USA pageant know how strongly I felt that last year's representative from Kentucky, Kristen Johnson should have taken the national crown. Coincidentally, both Kristen and Tara placed as second runner up at Miss Teen USA. Although Kristen replicated her placement at Miss USA, this paved the way for Tara to surpass her Miss Teen USA placement and became the first Miss USA from the bluegrass state. I also want to draw attention to the fact that California placed as first runner up for the second year in a row. Although Texas has won the most Miss USA crowns, California is the only state that has captured the Miss USA crown in every decade since its inception (Terry Huntingdon in 1959, Maria Remenyi in 1966, Summer Bartholomew in 1975, Julie Hayek in 1983 and Shannon Marketic in 1992). California still has 3 more years in this decade to continue their trend. So hear that, California?? Send us a winner! It was also interesting to note that Miss Teen USA 1999, Ashley Coleman competed for the Miss California USA title and placed 3rd runner up, making her the second Miss Teen USA in history to not win a Miss USA state title on her first try. Miss Teen USA 1996, Christie Woods of Texas also was 3rd runner up on her first attempt at taking the Miss Texas USA crown in 2002 but wasn't able to surpass this feat in her repeated attempts in 2003 and 2004, making Christie the first Miss Teen USA who didn't make it to Miss USA. Former Miss Teen USAs Kelly Hu, Brandi Sherwood, Jamie Solinger and Shauna Gambill were able to win their state titles on their first try. Of course, Brandi Sherwood inherited the 1997 Miss USA crown when Brook Lee won Miss Universe making Brandi the only woman in history to hold the Miss Teen USA and Miss USA titles. Shauna Gambill also held the title of Miss World USA in 1998 and is the only Miss Teen USA to compete on the international stage at Miss World. Jamie Solinger also recently competed for Mrs. America placing also 3rd runner up... Hmmm, I'm seeing a lot of 3rd runner up placements here. But I digress, just wanting to put everything in its historical context.
Tara Conner with her parents
For this year's pageant, I wasn't overwhelming keen on any of the delegates as I have been in past years so I was just happy to throw together a predictions list and let whatever would happen happen. None of the girls were quite "it" so to speak. Less time has been attributed to the choreography making it come across as uninspired but the "show" aspect of pageantry is something that should always be there. I liked the way the introductions were done this year with the close ups of the face. Nancy O'Dell and Drew Lachey did nice jobs of being hosts and as Carson Kressley said, 'Nancy, Drew, that's so mysterious.' Getting to Carson, it was interesting to see a male take the role of color commentator since that role hasn't been given to a male since the 1960s. But an entirely different type of male, mind you. At times, Carson sounded a little scripted in terms of reading off a prompter so I think Miss Universe 1995, Chelsi Smith should give him some lessons on how to speak naturally and make the most boring text book sound less read and more said. Reigning Miss USA, Chelsea Cooley assisted him in his commentary but I think they need a lot more time and they definitely were a far cry from Ali Landry and Julie Moran who were an even further cry from the likes of Leeza Gibbons, Angela Visser and Kelly Hu among others from the 90s because the 90s were when they had it right. Back to Chelsea Cooley telling us what the highlight of her year was and she said the skydiving...Anyone can do this regardless if they are Miss USA or not. She probably could have picked something else. Fadil Berisha also did a fantastic job glamming up the girls for their high fashion photo shoot. To borrow a line from Carson, they looked 'to die for in their Tadashis.' It was also a bit of a blooper when one of the judges Steve Madden was caught sitting in the wrong seat throwing the camera people off. It reminded me of Miss Universe 1991 when the camera was stuck on Janet Hubert-Whitten for a long time while other judges were being introduced. Another judge blooper included Miss Universe 1989 when judge Phil Richards was skipped entirely throwing off the order and after the judges were introduced, we cut to a demanding hand pointing to a card handed to host John Forsythe as he announces the name once again throwing the cameramen off. Ah, live television! And as for the music, East Village Opera Company, je ne t'aime pas...No, I kid. It kind of grew on me after a long while but I'm not really one for the Bohemian Rhapsody type of rock opera.

On to my predictions, so I got 9 of the 15 semifinalists plus 2 alternates and the 4 that weren't on my list were DC, Rhode Island, Maine and Nevada. DC's gut kept her out of my list, Rhode Island's gown kept her out of my list. Maine's gown was unique but I wouldn't have guessed her since Maine usually doesn't make it. Nevada had piercing eyes but that was really her only standoutish quality. What happened to my girls that didn't make it? Well, first we have Arkansas who had a stunning gown and a great leg-flexing stance in it but Arkansas seems to have returned to its constantly-being-overlooked status in spite of making top 15 last year. Mississippi's Kendra King sported that beautifully permed hair that you all know I'm a sucker for but I guess her presentation was a little too subtle perhaps. I was surprised North Carolina didn't make it as she seemed poised to take on the pressures of being the delegate from the state of the reigning Miss USA. Hawaii (a former Miss World contestant) had a great gown but thicker legs. Louisiana probably could have picked a better gown and she was notable because she narrowly defeated Nancy Randall (who was 2nd runner up at Miss World 2004) at Miss Louisiana USA and finally Minnesota who didn't make the semifinals but managed to snag Miss Congeniality.



Winner=Kentucky-Tara Elizabeth Conner

Winner=Illinois-Catherine Warren*

1st RU=California-Tamiko Nash

1st RU=South Carolina-Lacie Lyn Lybrand*

2nd RU=Georgia-Lisa Marie Wilson

2nd RU=Kentucky-Tara Elizabeth Conner*

3rd RU=Ohio-Stacy Nicole Offenberger

3rd RU=Tennessee-Lauren Grissom*

4th RU=Florida-Cristin Duren

4th RU=Texas-Lauren Lanning*



Alabama-Haleigh Stidham

Alabama-Haleigh Stidham*

District of Columbia-Candace Allen

Arkansas-Kimberly Forsyth

Rhode Island-Lee Ann Tingley

Georgia-Lisa Marie Wilson*

South Carolina-Lacie Lyn Lybrand

Mississippi-Kendra King

Texas-Lauren Lanning

North Carolina-Samantha Holvey



Arizona-Brenna Sakas

Arizona-Brenna Sakas*

Illinois-Catherine Warren

Florida-Cristen Duren*

Maine-Katee June Stearns

Hawaii-Radasha Ho'ohuli

Nevada-Lauren Scyphers

Louisiana-Christina Cuenca

Tennessee-Lauren Grissom

Minnesota-Dottie Cannon


ALTERNATES:California*, Ohio*, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia


HONORABLE MENTIONS:Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska

* = made actual top 15

So first up was swimsuit indicating a format change from previous years when the top 15 competed in gown and then were cut to ten. I still think more people would actually prefer the top 15 in gowns over swimsuits but I think it would be even better if we could see all 15 compete in both gown and swimsuit and then cut to top 5. First up was Kentucky, our eventual winner, who naturally has a nice figure but a smaller frame as she is 5'5" which gives the girl vs. woman frame. The last time the Miss USA winner was called first in semifinals was DC's Shauntay Hinton in 2002. Rhode Island is a pretty girl but those love handles. Texas looked surpremely toned with a great waist as is expected of the Texans. Alabama had classic pageant girl written all over her and she had a rockin' body as Chelsea Cooley said. DC had a bit of a gut issue that seemed to protrude in spite of being in good shape. Illinois was my winner and although something about her abs didn't quite look right to me, I was surprised to see my winner eliminated this early since she best exemplified the overall look. South Carolina also looked sensational and I liked her hair even though Carson said it looked very "done." Nevada was small bodied and this was definitely as far as she would go. Georgia flaunted that chest like nobody's business...well...somebody's "business." I'll let you think about that one. Maine looked about average but like Nevada, she would go no further. California looked just okay to me. Her body seemed held together nicely but somehow I expected a little more. Arizona was also a little small-bodied but I loved her gown so I would have liked to have seen her work the gown during the telecast. Ohio looked fair. Subtle wedgie control move, eh? Didn't past contestants teach us never to forget our firmgrip and glue your swimsuit in place? Tennessee looked very delicate and had a simple serenity, but perhaps it was too simple as she became forgotten. It was all about face with Florida. She has a wider frame but still looked toned. Interesting to note that Christen Duren set some records in this pageant, including the 9 year gap from competing at Miss Teen USA 1997 and Miss USA 2006 which is among the longest in history. And still she manages to set another record and become the only woman to win Miss Photogenic at Miss Teen USA and Miss USA, both of which were determined by Internet votes.

And now, the gowns. Starting with California, it wasn't my favorite style of gown but the purple color looked great on her skin tone. South Carolina looked really stunning in this white gown. Her overall look was stellar. Ohio's gown drew mixed reactions. I didn't think it flattered her chest but the black color was nice. Kentucky's flowy gown was beautiful with a great slit for the legs and it most certainly helped her win. Florida's gown wasn't really the best for her figure, the low belt looked wrong somehow. Texas looked nice in a simple poppy red color. Alabama looked great and very pageanty in this gown that complemented her hair and skin tone nicely. DC became the girl of many gowns in this pageant. Her gold number was pretty nice but it didn't help her advance. Georgia's gown had a sky feel to it...and it wasn't just the color of the gown. Finally, Rhode Island's gown had an unusual structure but the color looked okay on her.

The little touristy segments of Maryland with Carson and Chelsea had potential to be more fun had they been given a lot of more ad lib time. They seemed carefully edited and constricted. Also, don't forget to get your copy of "Universal Beauty" as it is a very nice book for us Miss Universe fans. There was a launch party for the book just prior to the Miss USA pageant featuring several former Miss Universes.

Now on to the top 5 where I found the choices to be a tad off but anyway, Ohio was announced first and then she revealed to us that the night before her grandmother died, her grandmother supposedly dreamed that Stacey would be crowned Miss USA. What an awkward position to put the judges in...Either make her Miss USA or crush her deceased grandmother's dream. I don't exactly call that fair play but the judges did not succumb to such an ultimatum. Kentucky told us how shocked she was to see a 12-foot poster of herself while modelling for Body Glove since she's from a small town. She was shocked even! California told us that her grandmother passed away right before she competed in Miss California USA and then she almost didn't do it. She praised her grandmother for instilling so much in her and said it was as much of an experience for her grandmother as for Tamiko. Very unique name for Tamiko since it looks more Japanese and when she was first crowned Miss California USA, I saw many misspellings of her name (i.e. Tamika, Tomika, etc.). Interesting to note that California and Ohio were my 2 alternates that ended up making top 5 and both of them spoke of their deceased grandmothers. Georgia talked of her trip to Mexico swinging from tree tops like a monkey. And finally, Florida, spoke of her crazy experience on a Halloween in New Orleans at a voodoo music festival featuring a scary mosh pit.

After the casual intro, we were reintroduced to the judge's questions as the final question versus having the delegates write their own questions to be answered by another. Ohio picked Jillian Barberie who asked her if she could tell her younger self something, what would it be? Ohio said to breathe. Life isn't as complicated as it seems and to live each moment for what it's worth. Kentucky chose Nicole Linkletter who asked if pop stars are good role models. She was given much flack for using the phrase "too much edgy" to describe pop stars including on the Jimmy Kimmel show. She went on to describe them as a bit too risqué, some are a positive light but others are a bit too much and need to tone it down so, yeah. Note to other pageant contestants, even though it worked for Tara, never ever end an answer with "so, yeah." Next up California was asked by James Hynd how to keep families from growing apart. Tamiko said that regardless of the size of the family, time is what keeps families together. Probably the best delivered final answer of the final 5. Georgia was asked by Hynes Ward the inevitable "What can men learn from women" question which was tackled in a fun loosen-up-the-moment attituded manner that women are strong, we've been walking in high heels, we are strong, empowered, and believe in yourself...I appreciated how she tried to take the seriousness out of the moment but just once I'd like to hear something nobody would expect like women can teach men how to breastfeed. I mean Georgia could have done something to draw more attention to her chest, right?? Or how about men and women are equal so neither gender can really teach the other anything?...Just throwing ideas out there, people. Finally, Florida gets the toughy from Donald Trump Jr. asking if we are getting too politically correct as a society. A hard question to answer in 20 seconds on the spot but Cristen said that particularly in the area of religion this may be so since religious terms have been taken out of schools so (uncomfortable pause) we are becoming too conscious of being politically correct. I'm sure she wanted to mention other things too (like saying Holiday Tree instead of Christmas Tree). She tried but Cristen was left with a 4th runner up placement, Ohio was announced as 3rd runner up which resulted in boos from the audience, obviously from people who wanted her grandmother's prophecy to come true. 2nd runner up went to Georgia and finally a teary-eyed California was named 1st runner up to the new Miss USA, Tara Elizabeth Conner of Kentucky! Now Tara becomes the 6th woman to compete in the triple crown of beauty (Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe) following in the footsteps of Ali, Kimberly, Lynnette, Susie and Chelsea, and of course, Lynnette Cole is the only woman to make top 5 in all three pageants, so can Tara match this? We'll find out July 23 in Hollywood. Until then!