In December 2006, the world was on edge as the rumors started to circulate that the reigning Miss USA, Tara Conner might be dethroned and that runner-up California's Tamiko Nash may have had the opportunity to assume the title of Miss USA. broke the story and the world started to learn about Tara's secret life of alcoholism and drug use. Also caught up in the scandal was the reigning Miss Teen USA, Katie Blair. When the story first broke, more rumors were added to the fire to further juice up the scandal, including rumors that Tara was seen kissing Katie and that men were invited up to their Trump Tower Apartment. The controversy prompted Mothers Against Drunk Driving to break their ties with Katie Blair.

A day after Tara turned the legal age of 21, Donald Trump held a press conference declaring that Tara Conner would retain her title as Miss USA. I have to admit that after the rumors came out and because of all the articles in the media that I was expecting Tara to be dethroned and that Tamiko would be taking over the title. Oxana Fedorova, Miss Universe 2002 was fired so we have seen it happen before. I even wrote an article in preparation for Tara's dismissal but it turned out that Tamiko would not become California's Miss USA for this decade of the 2000s (California is the only state to have won Miss USA in every other decade and only has two years to retain that status). During the highly publicized press conference, Donald Trump stated that 'everyone deserves a second chance' and that Tara would get that second chance. After that announcement, Tara gave a tearful, emotional, heart-wrenching apology and thanked Donald Trump. 'Thank God, I have the chance to make it right' said Tara, choking in tears. 'I want to apologize to my family if I have any disgrace upon you.'

Of course what further escalated this drama was the public feud that followed between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump after Rosie mimicked both Donald and Tara on The View leading to a war of words between Donald and Rosie. Rosie flipped her hair over and jokingly imitated Donald's deep voice and said 'Everyone deserves a second chance and I'm going to give her a second chance.' Afterwards, Rosie mimicked Tara saying that Tara started to cry and in a shrieky voice said, 'I just want to thank Donald...' The first time I saw it, I didn't think it was going to explode into what it did but Donald was very quick to fire back calling Rosie every name in the book, including fat, disgusting slob. He pointed out some of Rosie's failures like her magazine and some plays that she produced and even said he knew some girls that Rosie's wife Kelli might be interested in. While this whole episode was taking place, I wondered why Rosie was singled out when several other late night talk show hosts do similar imitations of Donald but Entertainment Tonight pointed out that Rosie and Donald were friends at one time and that Rosie even attended Donald's wedding to Marla Maples so it's quite upsetting to see relationships shattering so explosively.

It was declared during the press conference that Tara was be entering rehab briefly but looking at some episode regarding other celebrities, you would think that rehab was the "in" place to be. Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are a few celebrities known for their partying ways and Britney's entrance into rehab after shaving her head following her ugly divorce from Kevin Federline was perhaps the most noted and we all know the media like to sensationalize and even published a crotch-exposing shot of Britney as she came out of a car.

Other state titleholders weren't as lucky as Tara. The original Miss Nevada USA 2007, Katie Rees, was dethroned when some photos taken of her partying with friends and exposing certain parts were leaked and Katie appeared on Dr. Phil discussing the issue and how she felt that she too deserved a second chance. Jay Leno joked about the matter and said that she was invited to host a female orgasm faking contest. Of course this paved the way for Helen Marie Salas to inherit the title and she ended up placing 4th-runner-up at Miss USA. The other dethroned contestant was Ashley Harder of New Jersey who had to give up the title due to her pregnancy.

What part do I play in this drama? Well, for those of you who read my 'original' Thoughts of Miss Universe 2006 commentary, you may remember that I wrote that I came out of the parking lot outside the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. at the same time as Tara Conner's supporters and I wrote something about a particular member of that group doing something that led me to believe that that person may have been intoxicated. I received an e-mail from Tara's mother indicating that that was not the case and she told me how alcoholism affected that individual personally. I respectfully deleted the statement knowing this year was an emotional roller-coaster ride for Tara's mother but I don't think either of us expected the roller-coaster to take a violent spin as alcoholism reared its ugly head in such a public way when Tara's controversy erupted. Tara even said in an interview to Mark Steines on Entertainment Tonight that even her mother knew nothing about Tara's secret life and that her mother was learning about it along with the rest of us. Tara confessed during her interview that she did indeed dabble in cocaine and that she had her first drink at age 14 and she remembered initially hating the disgusting taste but later found herself wanting more.

Was it all a publicity stunt? Was Tara's problem really as bad as it was made out to be? I'm sure there are a lot of people who have it a lot worse and weren't necessarily able to afford rehab/treatment, etc. but Tara said during her interview with Mark that on the one hand, it wouldn't hurt her image but on the other hand, she said she really needed the help. So perhaps it was a little bit of both publicity and a legitimate situation but they say no publicity is no publicity. During the whole controversy, Tara suddenly became one of the most searched names on the Internet, possibility due to rumors about Tara getting a Playboy spread. Tara said she would never pose nude in Playboy but would consider it if she was covered and jokingly stated, 'If I get the catch phrase 'Sexy and Sober.'' I think this whole episode made Tara a little more favorable in the eyes of non-pageant followers because it showed that not all beauty queens are plastic, unattainable images but that they are real people with real problems just like the rest of us. Tara may go down in history as the most "human" Miss USA.

Another thing I also noted was the general public doesn't seem to know the difference between Miss USA and Miss America. I have heard Tara referred to with both titles on several media outlets showing they too don't really know the difference which is laughable but it also makes me realize how difficult it is to shake the Miss America title from the public's mentality since it is the older pageant and perhaps received more publicity earlier on thanks to the older Vanessa Williams scandal. If someone was to ask someone like me who follows pageants as intensely as I do, I would be quick to point out several differences, particularly including the fact Miss USA goes on to compete at Miss Universe and that heightens the excitement level. People often wonder how someone like me be so loyal to Miss USA and not really care about Miss America and the reason is simply that I have always felt that the Miss Universe family of pageants including Miss USA and Miss Teen USA have traditionally been the better produced, more entertaining pageants. Miss America was dropped by ABC a few years ago and then picked up by CMT and currently Miss America has been dropped again and is having to fight once again to stay on the air. NBC recently renewed their contract to air Miss USA and Miss Universe but rumor has it that Miss Teen USA may been dropped from NBC after the 2007 pageant. I really hope this will not mean the near demise of Miss Teen USA like it has happened to some other teen pageants.

The show 'Dancing with the Stars', featured two former Miss USAs recently, Shanna Moakler (1995) and Shandi Finnessey (2004) and even though both ladies looked absolutely stunning on the show, coincidentally both ladies were the second to be voted off the show probably due to jealous women making up the prominent voting public or the fact that they may not have as close a following as some of the other older celebrities. Okay, so now let's get to this year's actual pageant, shall we???

It all began with some clips highlighting Tara's controversy and then cut to Tara stating that she was back and better than ever. Some people didn't really like the bangs in her face look seemingly made popular by Nelly Furtado recently but I didn't mind it so much. Usually, I would say something like, 'bangs in your face make you look like you have something to hide' but Tara exposed more than enough of herself this year. The delegates 'showed us what they got' runway style to the cool hip hop groove from Kanye West. The hosts, a very pregnant Nancy O'Dell and Tim Vincent did a fine job. I think this is the first time an on stage host was pregnant but Julie Moran and Leeza Gibbons both did background commentating while pregnant in previous pageants. Tim Vincent co-hosted the Miss World pageant last year as well.

My predictions were on in some ways but somewhat off in others yet the choices just made it that much easier for Rachel Smith to ease her way to the crown. 7 of my 15 plus 1 alternate and 1 honorable mention made the final cut while the other 6 surprises were: Rhode Island, Hawaii, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. I did have an inkling about Hawaii and North Carolina but the other 4 were the total shots in the dark to me. Of course, there are surprises all the time. This year's delegation has the most former contestants from former Miss Teen USA pageants than any other year which means many familiar faces and I have to admit that the increased familiarity heavily influenced my list this year. As for my picks that didn't make it. Most surprising would have to be Florida's Jenna Edwards. When I first watched a special documentary from TLC called "The Secret World of Beauty Pageants" that was when I first laid eyes on Jenna. While competing for Miss Mississippi Teen USA 1998, Jenna was asked a question which was, "What is a typical pageant girl and are you one?" After which they showed a clip of her response in which she said, "I know what one is...because I used to be one." It was all in the way she said it. So original, so incredibly well-spoken and so mesmerizing. Then I watched her close-up and her answers were by far the most interesting, elaborate, and demonstrated a level or articulation that has been missing from our pageants for years. This is the type of pageant pro that today's pageants so desperately need. Jenna has also won the titles of Miss Oktoberfest and Miss Teen All American--A title also won by such pageant goddesses as Lynnette Cole (Miss USA 2000), Shanna Moakler (Miss USA 1995), Bridgett Jordan (1st runner up-Miss Teen USA 1998), Erin Nance (1st runner up-Miss USA 1993), Corinna Clark (preliminary winner-Miss Teen USA 1995), Alita Dawson (4th runner up-Miss USA 2002) of course the one and only pageant girl turned Oscar winning actress, Halle Berry (1st runner up-Miss USA 1986). But instead of joining the likes of these ladies, Jenna was passed over just like Paulette Schier was at Miss USA 1995 and Melissa Quesada was at Miss USA 1999. I thought Iowa was going to be the surprise spoiler but I guess that didn't happen now, did it? Oregon's Sharitha McKenzie had a great face and really built body but perhaps interview wasn't up to par. Georgia's Brittany Swann had a nice overall look but her gown did somehow make her look shorter. Illinois probably could have done with a better gown. The same goes for New York. Gloria Sophia Almonte may have been 1st runner up at Miss Teen USA 2001 but didn't make it this time around. The same thing happens to Meredith Young who was 1st runner up at Miss Teen USA 1991 but didn't make it at Miss USA 1999. Minnesota was a pageant girl and performed well overall but I guess it wasn't enough and the same goes for Indiana, even though both were also semifinalists in their respective Miss Teen USA pageants.



Winner=Tennessee-Rachel Renee Smith

Winner=Tennessee-Rachel Renee Smith*

1st RU=Rhode Island-Danielle Lacourse

1st RU=Florida-Jenna Edwards

2nd RU=Kansas-Cara Renee Gorges

2nd RU=Virginia-Lauren Barnette*

3rd RU=California-Meagan Tandy

3rd RU=Iowa-Dani Reeves

4th RU=Nevada-Helen Marie Salas

4th RU=California-Meagan Tandy*



6. Utah-Heather Nicole Anderson

South Carolina-Ashley Zais*

7. Virginia-Lauren Barnette

Nevada-Helen Salas*

8. Texas-Magen Ellis

Missouri-Amber Seyer*

9. Hawaii-Chanel Wise

Oregon-Sharitha McKenzie

10. Missouri-Amber Seyer

Georgia-Brittany Swann



11. South Carolina-Ashley Zais

Illinois-Mia Heaston

12. Louisiana-Elizabeth Bienvenu McNulty

New York-Gloria Sophia Almonte

13. Wisconsin-Caitlin Morrall

Minnesota-Alla Ilushka

14. Michigan-Kelly Best

Indiana-Jami Stallings

15. North Carolina-Erin O'Kelley

Texas-Magen Ellis*


ALTERNATES:Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah*


HONORABLE MENTIONS:Kentucky, Colorado, Louisiana*, Arizona, Maryland

* = made actual top 15


Of course, we were overjoyed with the return of the composite scores being shown on screen returning this year for the first time since Miss Teen USA 2002, which interestingly enough was the year that both Tara Conner and Rachel Smith competed. The music took on a cool hip-hop flavor this year. For swimsuits, we had Rihanna's "SOS (Rescue Me)" for which the background track comes from Soft Cell's 80s classic "Tainted Love." The funniest line from before swimsuit began came from Tara's mouth encouraging the delegates from backstage, 'If you get a wedgie, don't pull it, just enjoy it.' Words to live by! First up was Virginia who looked absolutely gorgeous with flowy hair and bubble busts but I was definitely expecting a much higher score for her. Rhode Island was the biggest surprise for me this year and although she is a decent looking girl, to me, she was scored too highly. She just didn't make sense to me. South Carolina looked stunning bearing a striking resemblance to Natasha Borger, Miss Germany 2002, but like Natasha, Ashley was also underscored, so much so that she was eliminated from the top 10, just like that, which was a shame because Ashley was favored by many people. She should have advanced. Utah looked decent with her long legs. Hawaii was really sexing it up with a great presentation. Texas was so carefree and had a fun style about her. Her hair looked great. Kansas must have filled in the girl-next-door quota because she has that look but not necessarily the best body. Missouri looked lovely particularly those nice, tight abs. California looked a bit wider both in the midsection and in the face but presented well. Nevada certainly was the fresh face of this pageant. A lovely girl who almost didn't compete at this Miss USA pageant and I'm also so glad she changed her hair color because it was blondish when she competed at Miss Nevada USA but the darker hair color definitely suits her better. Michigan looked okay but wasn't really a standout to me. Louisiana had the feel of a pageant contestant from the 90s. I liked her hair. North Carolina also falls into the wide category and didn't look as good in the midsection so she understandably received the lowest score but her face reminds me a bit of Rosanna Davison, Miss World 2003. Tennessee comfortably walked away with this entire competition and deservedly so. She was the only one to score in the 9s for swimsuit and her presence was so ethereal and regal. Like I said before, this girl has the x-factor and true star quality. Finally, Wisconsin was a bit of a surprise to me. She looked a bit pale but had an okay body.

I think this is the first time that the top 10 was actually announced in their swimsuits. In previous years, the semifinalists may have been announced in their swimsuits but they were wearing a sarong. For whatever reason, it felt a little wrong to me, even if it was just the lack of a sarong but I guess why throw in an inconvenient change? For evening gowns, we had the sounds of Fergie, originally of the Black Eyed Peas fame singing the suitably titled 'Glamorous.' Can someone please tell me what's up with the spelling in both this song and 'Fergalicious??' Great songs, nonetheless and an extremely significant improvement from last year's music. First up was Virginia and with all that cleavage, it was kind of difficult to focus on anything else really but overall, Lauren looked stunning. Hawaii's gown was really nice. This gown really made me regret not putting her in my original list. Missouri's light blue gown was really sensational with the lower open back but the fabric covering her stomach looked too loose and I found it distracting. Texas' alternating white and nude fabric number was a nice choice. Better than her preliminary gown, I thought. Tennessee's sleek, sexy, lady-in-red number was vivacious and as expected, Rachel comfortably cleaned up here. Nevada...why this pink ruffly thing instead of that gorgeous white gown in the preliminaries?? To make matters worse, she walked off too soon so we missed her score. But with that face, she probably could get away with wearing just about anything. The fabric on California's gown was a little stiff but again she presented well. She has a very child-like face but a very womanly body. This gown had a bit of an Elvira feel to it. Kansas was the unconventional pageant contestant in this brownish gown with scarves wrapped around it. It was unique. I think a lot of people thought Utah's white feathery gown may have been inspired by the infamous swan gown worn by Bjork at the Oscars a few years ago. I still remember Steve Martin joking right after Bjork's performance, 'I was gonna wear my swan, but to me, they're so last year.' Rhode Island's milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. I could teach you but I'd have to charge. That gown color just has a milkshake feel to it.

Afterwards the top 5 were announced. Nevada, Tennessee and California were expected but Rhode Island and Kansas took many people by surprise. Then we chatted with top 5 starting with Nevada talking about her experience on the coldest night of the year in Minnesota. And reminiscent of her little slips of the tongue from Miss Teen USA 2004, some of those were replicated here. She said coming from Las Vegas where it's very hot, Helen and her friends were going "down" to Minnesota (note that Minnesota is "north" of Nevada), and she didn't have the proper attire and her friends had an idea to go to the winter carnival ice castle and it's about 25 below zero with a 50 below "windshield" (she meant 'wind-chill') and she absolutely froze. They saw her crown and sash and they let her sit on the throne of ice and she felt like a queen but a frozen queen she added humorously. Tennessee pretty much had this in the bag but when she told us about the volunteer work she did in South Africa, the deal was pretty much sealed. In January 2007, Rachel had the opportunity to volunteer at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa for girls. Rachel reminisced about how they speak 11 languages in South Africa and many of the 151 girls at the academy speak 4 or 5 of these African languages and it was amazing and really sparked her interest in helping impoverished individuals especially children so hopefully someday she'll get to go back. Kansas was asked about her volunteer work as well. 'All of it?' she joked saying she was a talker so it might be a really long story. Most of the volunteer work was with her Catholic youth organization. She worked with abortion centers and medical centers. They adopted a family and worked with a Venezuelan mission group and she uses these opportunities to put our love out there for everybody. 'Glad you had time to fit us in.' joked Tim Vincent. Rhode Island enjoys reading and creative writing. Being a little girl, her mother instilled in her the importance of learning and education so it gave her the opportunity to release her feelings and it was kind of a therapeutic experience and she keeps a journal. Decent answer but the entire night, I just wasn't really 'getting' why she was advanced as much as she did but I guess there's a genuineness to her. California spoke about her recent sleepwalking incident but she probably should have kept it quiet. She said unfortunately, she didn't get much sleep for her state pageant and she woke up in the middle of the night and shook her roommate awake and felt bad because she was trying to get her sleep and she was really exhausted. Tim Vincent said, 'Hope you got sleep last night.' To which Meagan responded, 'Not really. I'm probably sleepwalking right now.' Miss USA shares an apartment with Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA so I don't really think they would want someone shaking them awake at night!

It was now time for the final question. Nevada picked Jonathan Antin's question inquiring who her hero was and why. Immediately, Helen boasted again about her brother in the air force and she has always looked up to him and is proud to have him. You couldn't help but notice this "deer-caught-in-headlights" look she sported on occasion. Tennessee picked Vince Young's question asking if she could be a famous man for one day, who would she choose. Rachel chose Will Smith because she loves his humor, character, integrity, the roles he takes on, and his acting experience. She thinks he's a great family man and she strives to also be a great family 'woman,' that is, she ended humorously with. But was there ever any question about it? Rachel's win was a done deal. But then Kansas came forward and chose Vanessa Minnillo's potstirring question relating to the Tara Conner controversy inquiring if everyone deserves s second chance no matter what they have done. Kansas said not everyone does deserve a second chance and that second chances are very situational. Sometimes they are deserved and sometimes they are not. If someone can change their attitude, if a second chance is going to improve this person's life then it should be granted but in situations such as murder, second chances should not be granted. Vanessa looked on and appeared impressed by Cara's gutsiness. It was a well thought out answer and obviously she was prepared for a question like this. Rhode Island was asked Jerry Springer's question at which Tim Vincent confessed to being a little worried humorously. Jerry's question was if you had the power to ban the use of something, what would it be and why? She said banning the use of cellphones while driving since it's a problem in Rhode Island and they just implemented the rule in New York where sometimes people run people off the road while driving and sometimes she sees people shaving in the car. Tim Vincent pulled another funny by saying that he has to stop shaving his legs in the car. Rhode Island's answer was okay but I think most people thought Kansas should have ranked ahead of her. California picked Giuliana de Pandi's answer asking if it is ever fair for a woman to use her beauty to get ahead. Meagan said it was appropriate in some cases. She thinks it's very important that we are not only beautiful on the outside but on the inside. It doesn't matter if you're beautiful as long as you're pretty on the inside. It was another push for internal beauty, echoed often in previous pageants but always needs to be brought to the forefront time and time again.

The night culminated with a dream finale succeeding Tara Conner's final walk when Nevada was declared 4th runner up, California 3rd runner up, Kansas 2nd runner up and Rhode Island 1st runner up as Tennessee captured its second Miss USA crown thanks to Rachel Renee Smith. What a glorious win it was. The Miss Teen USA class of 2002 can now boast about the fact that it has two Miss USAs (Tara Conner and Rachel Smith) which is more than any other year. In addition to the class of 2002, Kimberly Harlan represented the United States at Miss World 2003. The other Miss Teen USA classes that boast a Miss USA winner are 1990 (Ali Landry in 1996), 1994 (Kimberly Pressler in 1999), 1995 (Lynnette Cole in 2000), 1998 (Susie Castillo in 2003), 2000 (Chelsea Cooley in 2005) and two inherited crowns are from the classes of 1992 (Shanna Moakler in 1995) and 1989 (Brandi Sherwood in 1997). Rachel has been very high profile already during her reign and of course, Oprah Winfrey welcomed Rachel on her show to congratulate her since Rachel was an intern with Harpo Productions and rose in the ranks to become Miss USA and Oprah caught herself calling Rachel Miss Universe at one point during the interview. Hmmm... Dare we defy the omnipotent Oprah's prophecy or even Rachel's own prophecy during her close-up interview of being a has-been Miss Universe in 5 years? Well, we'll see what happens when Rachel competes in Mexico City for the title.