All hail Queen Alyssa!
The 60th anniversary of Miss USA definitely called for an exceptional candidate to be crowned the winner and we certainly found one in Alyssa Campanella. Winning praise from pageant followers and casual watchers alike, Alyssa has shown the world that even in the most competitive of fields, if you truly are the shining star that it will happen for you. Every once in a while there is a woman who clearly has the indescribable winning quality and it is the same type of characteristic that allows me to predict Miss USA winners over the years like Lynnette Cole, Shandi Finnessey, Rachel Smith and Crystle Stewart. Alyssa Campanella now joins that elite list of remarkable women who topped my predictions lists over the years who ended up winning the actual Miss USA pageant itself. My track record at predicting Miss USA winners seems to be far better than any other pageant. And what an amazing story of triumph it was for Alyssa. The winning spirit of this astonishing dynamo was first recognized when she won Miss New Jersey Teen USA 2007 and went on to compete for the title of Miss Teen USA 2007 placing second only to Colorado's Hilary Cruz. Unstoppable Alyssa first attempted to win a Miss USA state crown when she competed for Miss New Jersey USA 2009 placing second only to Kaity Rodriguez who did not place at nationals. Then upon competing for the New Jersey USA 2010 title, Alyssa had to settle for a semifinalist position as Chenoa Greene went on to win the 2010 New Jersey title also going unplaced at the national level. Alyssa's inability to capture the New Jersey crown was disheartening to myself and pageant fans worldwide. It seemed like there were politics in the pageantry and I felt strongly at the time that Alyssa needed to state hop to avoid being treated the way she was. By chance, she was offered a modelling position in California and moved from Jersey Shore to become a California Gurl and met the residency requirement to compete at Miss California USA 2011 in the most competitive state pageant in California's history. 213 ladies vied for the coveted title and Alyssa would emerge triumphant and capture the title. Coming in second to Alyssa was none other than Miss Teen USA 2006 herself, Katie Blair, who has now inherited the crown of Miss California USA 2011. Alyssa Campanella is crowned Miss USA 2011At Katie Blair's official crowning as the new Miss California USA 2011.  Pictured are Nicole Johnson, Miss California USA 2010, Katie Blair, Miss California USA 2011 and Miss Teen USA 2006, pageant director Keith Lewis and Alexis Swanstrom, Miss California Teen USA 2011 The parallels between this California pageant and that of the 2009 year were uncanny. In 2009, I drew attention to the fact that up until the 2000s, California was the only state to have a Miss USA winner in each decade. California's Terry Lynn Huntingdon had the 50s in 1959, Maria Remenyi won in 1966, Summer Bartholomew won in 1975, Julie Hayek captured the crown in 1983 and Shannon Marketic won in 1992. 4 Californians would become 1st runner up to Miss USA following Marketic's win (Shauna Gambill in 1998, Brittany Hogan in 2005, Tamiko Nash in 2006 and finally Carrie Prejean in 2009). Carrie Prejean was my prediction to win the 2009 Miss USA crown with Kristen Dalton next in line in my predictions and that year my top two flip-flopped and Kristen Dalton won Miss USA and Prejean placed as 1st runner-up after revealing during the pageant that she did not support same-sex marriages which was the start of what would become a media firestorm. Prejean ended up being dethroned as Miss California USA after allegedly not fulfilling her duties as the California titleholder making her own appearances and then there were the notorious sex tapes that followed. Pageantry has seen its share of controversy but this whole episode definitely ranks near the top and once Prejean lost her title, her first runner up at the state level was Tami Farrell, Miss Teen USA 2003 who then stepped in and inherited the Miss California USA 2009 title. So in 2009, a former Miss Teen USA inherited the California crown for all the wrong reasons following a dethronement but in 2011, a former Miss Teen USA inherited the California crown for all the right reasons following a Miss USA win. Katie Blair is now the 3rd former Miss Teen USA to be named Miss California USA, following Tami Farrell who was Miss Teen USA 2003 and Miss California USA 2009 by inheritance and Shauna Gambill was Miss Teen USA 1994 (California's only Miss Teen USA so far) and she went on to win Miss California USA 1998 on her first try and placed first runner up at Miss USA 1998 and even went on later that year to become a semifinalist at Miss World 1998 as the U.S. representative. Alyssa has publicly stated that she is not opposed to same-sex marriage and believes in equal rights and it is just so refreshing to see California find a true jewel to be Miss USA handling the media like the total pro that Alyssa is. Controversy has followed California like no other state since 2008 when Cristina Silva was mistakenly crowned Miss California USA and then it was revealed that there was a tabulation error and that Silva had to surrender the crown to the actual winner, Raquel Beezley who went on to become a semifinalist at Miss USA 2008. This year, there were some interesting historical chains. As my friend Hernan pointed out, Mexico won Miss Universe 19 years apart (1991 and 2010) and now California also has won Miss USA 19 years apart (1992 and 2011) immediately succeeding Mexican Miss Universe wins! Also Venezuela had 4 1st runner ups between winning its 1996 and 2008 Miss Universe crowns (1997, 1998, 2000, 2003) just like California had 4 1st runner ups in between winning Miss USA 1992 and 2011 (1998, 2005, 2006 and 2009). Another interesting chain: In 2006 Virginia's Samantha Casey was 3rd runner up at Miss Teen USA 2006 then four years later at Miss USA 2010, she was 2nd runner up. She moved one position from 3rd runner up to 2nd runner up. Then in 2007, a year later after Samantha's placement, Alyssa became 1st runner up at Miss Teen USA 2007, then 4 years later, she moved ahead one place at Miss USA 2011 from 1st runner up to the winner position. And here's yet another interesting chain: California crowned Michigan at Miss USA 1993 and now Michigan crowned California in 2011! But the chain goes further! In 1994 and 2009 a Carolina won (South Carolina in 1994 and North Carolina in 2009) and Texas won in 1995 and 2008!! Could this chain continue meaning that the state that won in 1991 (Kansas) possibly win Miss USA 2012?? Send us a winner, Kansas!!

On to the extremely competitive Miss USA 2011 competition which saw quite a few format changes for the 60th anniversary. It looks like these format changes certainly turned up excellent results because Miss USA 2011 won the television ratings for the night of June 19! Miss USA matched its highest rating since 2005. Dick Clark Productions took charge of this year's production and did a fine job of bringing the pageant into a modern era. The onstage hosts were Guiliana Rancic, who has also competed in pageants like Miss Maryland USA and served as a Miss USA judge previously and she hosted along with Andy Cohen. The color commentators were Kelly Osbourne and Miss USA 2003, Susie Castillo. To the sounds of Jennifer Lopez's hit "On The Floor", the delegates did live introductions instead of pretaped introductions which hasn't been done for years and is actually extremely rare since so much can go so wrong so fast but I'm impressed that the order wasn't lost as was done in some pageants like Miss Universe 1980 and 1982. I think Alabama's microphone wasn't on when she said her name, then it was turned up as she said her age '22'. Andy pointed out that there were 5 'Brittany's competing this year. Guiliana then said that it's a pretty girl's name. I think we may have a contender for most popular female baby name for this year! That is if it isn't Alyssa of course!!



Winner=California-Alyssa Campanella

Winner=California-Alyssa Campanella*

1st Runner Up=Tennessee-Ashley Durham

1st Runner Up=Indiana-Jillian Wunderlich*

2nd Runner Up=Alabama-Madeline Mitchell

2nd Runner Up=Arizona-Brittany Brannon*

3rd Runner Up=Texas-Ana Rodriguez

3rd Runner Up=Georgia-Kaylin Reque*

FINALISTS (alpha'l)


Hawaii-Angela Byrd

Alabama-Madeline Mitchell*

Maine-Ashley Marble

Kansas-Jaymie Stokes

Maryland-Allyn Rose

Florida-Lissette Garcia*

South Carolina-Courtney Turner

South Carolina-Courtney Turner*



Arizona-Brittany Brannon

Missouri-Hope Driskill*

Florida-Lissette Garcia

Tennessee-Ashley Durham*

Georgia-Kaylin Reque

Michigan-Channing Pierce

Indiana-Jillian Wunderlich

New York-Amber Collins*

Missouri-Hope Driskill

North Carolina-Brittany York

New Mexico-Brittany Toll

Illinois-Angela Sparrow

New York-Amber Collins

Hawaii-Angela Byrd*

Utah-Jamie Crandall

Maryland-Allyn Rose*


ALTERNATES:Nevada, Texas*, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine*


HONORABLE MENTIONS:Mississippi, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Virginia, Alaska


* = made actual top 16

So on to the top 16. Initially, I thought it would be a top 15 but this was absolutely the best year to have an extra semifinalist given how competitive this year was. I only learned that there would be a top 16 on June 17th just after I posted my predictions which allowed me update my predictions and move Maryland up a notch into my predictions list allowing me to get a whopping 12 out of 16 semifinalists correct plus 2 of my alternates (Texas and Maine) also placed so naturally I was very pleased with the selections this year and even more delighted that I correctly predicted the winner. There were so many delegates that could have made it this year for one reason or another. The two ladies that missed my list were Utah who I'm sure impressed in interview and the winner of the Internet vote, New Mexico. Before, the Internet vote winner was just given the Photogenic award but now that the Internet vote winner becomes an actual semifinalist, it has more value and will certainly drive interest and popularity to the Miss Universe family of pageants' websites. So what happened to the 4 ladies in my list that didn't place? First up was Kansas' Jaymie Stokes who was a semifinalist at Miss Teen USA 2007 and I was so impressed with her fun spirit and she looked incredible during preliminaries with the flowy brown gown to match her hair. Of the 4, she was the one I was most hoping to see up there. Next up was Michigan's Channing Pierce who was new to pageantry and to me, it showed. I only put her in my predictions list because other people felt so strongly about her but in earlier interviews, she came across to me as quite unpolished and reserved so I actually wasn't surprised to see her taken out of the running. North Carolina's Brittany York was such a sweet girl with a curvaceous figure. Perhaps she could have been a little stronger as in the preliminary gown competition, there were times were she looked a little unsure of her positioning. And finally, I thought Illinois' Angela Sparrow had an irresistible smile as demonstrated in her earlier headshot that you just couldn't say no to but apparently they could and I liked her gown too so maybe she just needed a stronger performance in terms of body and interview to make it in this competitive year. I loved how Kelly and Susie would inject interesting tidbits about each delegate as they were called into the top 16. Another new element was grouping the delegates by region and then saying something to the effect of our next delegate comes from the Southwest, Northeast, etc. It was a nice touch but perhaps not necessary but I guess this is one way to heighten suspense and anticipation of who it might be. Oddly enough, my brain was telling me it would be Tennessee and New York just before they were actually announced. It's odd how sometimes I have these little premonitions. At the end when they said the winner of the Internet vote and 16th semifinalist was from the Southwest, I'm sure that immediately dashed the hopes of the delegates from the other regions and their supporters. So maybe that was my small qualm with how this was done.

Throughout the telecast for the 60th anniversary, we were treated to some delightful clips from past pageants and for followers like me, it was a total dream come true. The first clip fittingly showed footage of Halle Berry when she competed for Miss USA 1986 where she placed as 1st runner up before she would become the household name and Oscar winning actress she is today with the familiar voice of Bob Barker announcing her before her interview that year when she said she was majoring in voice and theatre and one day would like to be an entertainer. Perfect clip. They also showed Utah's Peggy Moore winning Miss Unity in 1972 in a funny bee costume sneakily kissing Bob Barker. I actually wish they used the following year in 1973 when South Carolina's Kiki Kirkland won the Amity award dressed as a palmetto tree and one of the leaves on her head fell off and Bob Barker humorously called her "a loveable, little nut" but I don't know if comments like that would fly nowadays so maybe it's better that they didn't use that clip. The Michigan 3: Carole Gist, Miss USA 1990, Rima Fakih, Miss USA 2010 and Kenya Moore, Miss USA 1993 Later on, they showed Alabama's Pamela Rigas who was 3rd runner up at Miss USA 1980 and later 4th runner up at Miss America 1984 as Miss Ohio answering a closed-ended question asked by Bob Barker if there was a book, movie or TV show that influenced her to which she paused and simply said, 'No' which was a funny moment. But of course, she elaborated on her answer. There was a clip from 1998 showing Virginia's Meredith Blankenship saying she would like to invite Tiger Woods to her reunion which in hindsight was a hilarious answer given his recent extramarital affairs. It's a good thing they didn't use the clip where Kim Pressler, Miss USA 1999 said she most wanted to catch a pass from Tiger Woods knowing that she was in the audience. Then they showed the opening for Miss USA 2001, where a football coach gave one of those aggressive motivational pep-talks to the delegates who were mimicking athletes by doing spit-takes and pumping their fists and putting on the eye black (black paint) under the eyes. And of course the crème de la crème was the crowning moments video which was magical and spectacular even if it didn't include all the crowning moments. This is what it's all about, folks. You could even hear the voices of former hosts like Bob Barker, Dick Clark and Tim Vincent throughout the montage. This was followed by an amazing entrance by reigning Miss USA, Rima Fakih looking absolutely fabulous in a gorgeous white gown styled similarly to her Miss Universe preliminary gown with her hair done in that ball which reminded me of Apasra Hongsakula, Miss Universe 1965 or even bearing the look of Gul Panag, Miss India 1999. She gave a lovely speech about being able to shatter the stereotypes that face Muslim women and she was joined by her 'sisters', the wonderful and beautiful former Miss USAs. And then we were delighted to see a slow pan of so many former Miss USAs in attendance... sitting in the audience... Now, you know what I'm going to say here. Earlier this year, Miss America celebrated it's 90th anniversary and they actually NAMED the former Miss Americas in attendance during the telecast. It didn't take that long. I understand there are time constraints with live television and all but I still think they could have found the time to quickly run through the names because I truly believe the historical element captivates the audience in a way that nothing else can. I think non-pageant followers can also appreciate the rich history of a prestigious event and when you honor the formers, you also honor the fans. Still, I was appreciative to get this much because the 50th anniversary in 2001 just showed maybe a 5 second clip of a few formers who attended that pageant sitting in the audience. Some of whom didn't show up this time around. Have a look at this picture from my archives in 2001, 10 years ago at the 50th anniversary.
Back row - Marite Ozers (1963), Summer Bartholomew (1975), Charlotte Sheffield (1957), Terry Lynn Huntingdon (1959), Gretchen Polhemus (1989), Cheryl Ann Patton (1967).  Front row - Bobbi Johnson (1964), Mary Therese Friel (1979), Barbara Peterson (1976) and Kim Tomes (1977)
Here we see Summer Bartholomew (1975), Cheryl Patton (1967-inherited), Mary Therese Friel (1979) who were at Miss USA 2001 for the 50th anniversary but unfortunately didn't attend this year. In the audience, we saw: Kristen Dalton (2009), Rachel Smith (2007), Tara Conner (2006), Chelsea Cooley (2005), Shandi Finnessey (2004), Kandace Krueger (2001) who looked fantastic for just having had triplets!, Kim Pressler (1999), Shawnae Jebbia (1998), Brandi Sherwood (1997), Brook Lee (Universe 1997), Shanna Moakler (1995), Chelsi Smith (Universe 1995), Kenya Moore (1993), Shannon Marketic (1992), Carole Gist (1990). Then on the other side, we saw Gretchen Polhemus (1989), Julie Hayek (1983), Terri Utley (1982), Jineane Ford (1980), Judi Andersen (1978), Kim Tomes (1977), Barbara Peterson (1976), Karen Morrison (1974), Tanya Wilson (1972), Wendy Dascomb (1969) who I was shocked and delighted to see return. Wendy is known as one of the more feminist Miss USAs who dared to say in her farewell speech that most of her year was disappointing and some believe it wasn't just due to the turmoil in the world at the time. Then there was Sylvia Hitchcock (Universe 1967), Sue Ann Downey (1965), Bobbi Johnson (1964), Marite Ozers (1963), Terry Lynn Huntingdon (1959), Charlotte Sheffield (1957), Miriam Stevenson (Universe 54) and Myrna Hansen (1953). Amazing! And of course, Susie Castillo (2003) was serving as color commentator. Miriam Stevenson, Miss Universe 1954, Sue Downey, Miss USA 1965 and Bobbi Johnson, Miss USA 1964 But I can't help but wonder what happened to the formers that didn't attend. To my knowledge, the only deceased Miss USAs are Carlene King Johnson (1955) who died around 1968 and the dethroned Miss USA 1957, Leona Gage who died in 2010. It would have been nice to see the first Miss USA, Jackie Loughery (1952) who was also a redhead like Alyssa. The last I remember seeing her was in 1995 when she was a judge at Miss USA. It was great that 4 of the 7 Miss USAs who went on to win Miss Universe were there. The other 3: Carol Morris (1956), Linda Bement (1960) and Shawn Weatherly (1980) have been absent for a while from the pageant world. I have an interview on tape with Carol Morris and Linda Bement from 1996 and I think I saw Shawn Weatherly on a recent E! Behind the Scenes special of Baywatch since she was the original Baywatch babe but these 3 haven't been seen at either Miss Universe or Miss USA for at least 25 years. Sharon Brown (1961) and Macel Wilson (1962) are two huge mysteries as they don't seem to have ever returned since completing their reigns. Maria Remenyi (1966) has judged and Didi Anstett (1968) made a few appearances in the 70s. Deborah Shelton (1970) was a much loved Miss USA and she served as a commentator at Miss USA 1991 and 1992 and also Miss World pageants around that time but I wonder about her now. Michelle McDonald (1971) is another mystery. Amanda Jones (1973) was perhaps one of the most memorable Miss USAs but sadly, nobody expects to ever see her return to the world of pageantry ever again due to her feminist beliefs. One funny clip that probably could have been included is that shortly after Amanda was crowned, Bob Barker started asking her a number of questions and she got to a point where she said, "I think you better stop asking me questions because I'm about to have a coronary!" Kim Seelbrede (1981) also seems to be one that has separated herself from the world of pageantry. I heard Mai Shanley (1984) is still active in her native New Mexico pageants as she held the New Mexico title for Miss America the year before winning Miss New Mexico USA and then Miss USA. And then we come to the Texas 5 in a row winners but of those 5, only Gretchen Polhemus attended. Laura Martinez Herring (1985) has taken on several acting gigs, Christie Fitchner (1986) appeared in a reality show called 'Who Wants to Marry My Dad' a few years ago, Michelle Royer (1987) and Courtney Gibbs (1988) also haven't been seen for a while. Kelli McCarty (1991) recently made headlines for starring in hardcore porn films so it wasn't a surprise that she didn't attend. Lu Parker (1994) is a working journalist so perhaps had other duties to attend to because usually she attends events like these. Ali Landry (1996) is pregnant currently which was probably why she couldn't attend. Lynnette Cole (2000) who I spoke very highly of hasn't been seen at Miss USA pageants after concluding her reign although she does direct local pageants in Tennessee. Shauntay Hinton (2002) and Crystle Stewart (2008) were both probably busy with something but there's always the 70th anniversary!!

What I was extremely delighted to see was that the formers had a photoshoot as a feature for TIME Magazine which can be seen by clicking here. Formers missing from this photoshoot who were at the pageant were Charlotte Sheffield (1957), Shawnae Jebbia (1998), Susie Castillo (2003) and Tara Conner (2006).

On to the swimsuit competition, which was introduced by a fabulous swimsuit montage. I loved the Candy Wrappers swimsuits. They were probably the best in Miss USA history as they were shiny and had a very flattering cut. And rather than showing the judges' scores this year, we saw a meter go up and down reflecting the online live fan vote. I will admit when the meter was on the screen, my eyes were drawn to it more so than the delegate on stage at times so it was a tad distracting. To the sounds of Ke$ha's "Blow", we saw each of the delegates work it starting with Georgia. It was interesting to me that she was the first to be called of the semifinalists since earlier on, I pointed out that Kaylin demonstrated tremendous leadership qualities so it was only natural that she lead the pack. Also, her sex appeal would immediately garner the attention of the straight male demographic and she was hot and she just had the style that was all her own. Arizona followed looking gorgeous with her Beyoncé-like look and flowing hair. Some say she walked a little fast but I think she did just fine. I think Georgia and Arizona suffered because they went first. Maine was one that impressed me during the preliminaries because she does have a great build. I think it was the hairstyle that made me question her because it seemed more Miss America than Miss USA but it did make her standout. Maine has done well 2 years in a row now so it appears that they are coming on strong recently. As pointed out earlier, Ashley now holds the record for the longest gap between competing at Miss Teen USA and Miss USA. She was Miss Maine Teen USA 2000 and 11 years later, she is Miss Maine USA 2011. This distinction previously belonged to Aureana Tseu who competed 10 years apart as Miss Hawaii Teen USA 1999 and Miss Hawaii USA 2009. Ashley Marble actually inherited the title of Miss Maine USA when Emily Johnson (the actual winner) resigned so that she could attend her sister's wedding being held around the same time as Miss USA. Utah followed and was a very sweet girl with nice hair but it was clear that she would be eliminated here. I think the 'no texting while driving' law she helped implement in her state probably helped her win favor during interviews. Tennessee followed and looking at her now, I'm amazed that she didn't place at Miss Teen USA 2006 because she's a doll with those dimples. Looking back at my predictions from Miss Teen USA 2006, I actually had her as 4th runner up then. Indiana followed and I absolutely adored Jillian and her Kate Middleton-ish look. I wanted to see some of those wild facial expressions that Susie and Kelly were talking about. Jillian loves sketch comedy just like me but unfortunately we didn't really get a chance to see that side of her. Texas' Ana Rodriguez was a runner-up at Miss Texas USA for several years until she finally won this year's title and it showed that she worked hard for that body of hers. South Carolina sent us such a gorgeous girl and she was looking phenomenal. Alabama had a remarkable story about suffering in a car accident to the point where she had to learn how to walk again and it showed here that she learned well. She worked out that great body of hers and this one was another one I pointed out had a bit of a Kate Middleton look to her. New York's Amber Collins looked really refreshing. The straight blonde hair and her great body really helped her get noticed. Recently, the New York and New Hampshire franchises were acquired by Shanna Moakler and Keith Lewis who currently direct California and they definitely helped Amber along. She looked really together and fit and she really impressed a lot of people having a look reminiscent of an 80s model. When she was first crowned Miss New York USA, I didn't quite see it but she benefited from the new state directorship. Hawaii's Angela Byrd won praise for being the stunning, exotic beauty and I actually thought she would get cut at the swimsuit stage but she would not be denied and moved ahead to a top 8 position so that was really impressive. Florida's Lissette Garcia followed with a walk that was clearly inspired by Miss Venezuela contestants because she really worked it. Initially, I didn't understand what people liked so much about her but when I saw her work it during the preliminaries, I immediately had to put her in my predictions list. I guess if they were going to cut her that this was the stage to do it because her gown probably could have propelled her into the top 4. Missouri's Hope Driskill was another beauty but in this competitive year I think she just needed to give it a little extra but she did look great. Naturally, California's Alyssa Campanella emanated that winning aura and it was surprising to learn that she is allergic to prolonged exposure to sunlight because that's a beach body right there and she impressed as anticipated. Ashley Marble, Miss Maine USA 2011 and Kylie Minogue Your loss, New Jersey. Your loss. And of course, they had to save Maryland for the end. This year, it was hard to narrow it down to 15 semifinalists when making predictions but I was elated to learn there was a top 16 and Maryland almost escaped my list due to her gown but she looked gorgeous. Finally, New Mexico, the winner of the Internet vote clearly topped the online vote during the competition as well. Brittany with her sweet demeanor obviously has her fans and it was mentioned that her blog gets a lot of visitors and she worked it as best she could and she should be proud. It was interesting how Kelly and Susie would present the fan votes as if they actually meant something and I'm glad they don't actually count but getting people involved in some way should trigger interest.

After swimsuits, we got to see the new method of revealing the eliminations by incorporating elements of American Idol and other reality show style competitions. I actually found this more suspenseful and nerve wracking. In group 1, we had GA, AZ, UT and IN. Group 2 had ME, TN, TX, SC and group 2 was the one to advance but honestly of these two groups, it was quite possible for either one to advance. Then it was down to groups 3 and 4. Group 3 had NY, FL, MO and NM and Group 4 had AL, HI, CA and MD. Obviously, I was rooting for group 4 only because California was in it and naturally, they advanced. Then we saw the top 8's trip takes. Maine was first and I actually loved her glam Fadil shot because she reminded me of Kylie Minogue in that picture. I should actually point out that I went to Kylie Minogue's concert in Toronto in 2009 and I brought the same Canadian flag that I had with me when I was in the audience for Miss Universe 2006 in Los Angeles. A friend of mine threw my Canadian flag on stage to Kylie when she performed her song 'Two Hearts' during the concert and she showed it off on stage. The Canadian crowd erupted in cheers and I couldn't believe that Kylie was holding MY flag and it's now in her possession! Tennessee's Fadil shot also looked fantastic. She talked about how she is no longer a shy child. Texas talked about her persistence and winning Miss Texas USA on her 5th try. South Carolina talked about how a compliment she gave someone really made her day and I thought it was a nice message to spread. Alabama talked about wanting most to have lunch with Helen Keller who said no was not an option and then discussed overcoming her condition and being able to walk after being in a car accident. Hawaii talked about being an army child and moving around making her more universal. California talked about actually being a natural blonde and dyed her hair red for a part in a play and felt it brought out her character and stuck with it ever since. She has Danish, German and Italian roots. Maryland spoke about losing her mother to breast cancer when she was a teenager. Kelly Osbourne then spoke about being impressed and seeing and hearing the delegates changed her perspective on pageants.

Kentucky won the congeniality award which wasn't really a surprise because she was oozing with personality and Arizona won the photogenic award. Then the top 8 competed in the gown competition to a live performance of "Written in the Stars" by Tinie Tempah featuring Eric Turner. Maine was up first in a gown that was reminiscent of Michelle Arnette (Alabama 2003)'s gown but I can see what Kelly was saying thinking her look was a little dated. Tennessee looked very nice with her sheer gown where you could see her legs similar to Kandace Krueger's gown at Miss Universe 2001 but with bigger mirror-bit sparkles. Texas' gown reminded me a lot of Miss Colombia 1998, Silvia Fernanda Ortiz' gown worn at Miss Universe that year with subtle differences. The material underneath was sheer and feathery and really showed off her legs. South Carolina was next and I was really hoping she wouldn't wear this gown because I knew it would do her in. She wore this gown for her Fadil shoot but this should not have been chosen as a competition gown. It felt like she was sabotaged similarly to Miss Puerto Rico 2010 at Miss Universe last year. Even Kelly Osbourne asked Susie if someone was trying to jack her style even though the gown Susie was wearing was also red and ruffly. I loved South Carolina's pose at the beginning with the hand in the air like the Miss Universe logo. Alabama had a decent red gown with her body that could do no wrong. It had some sexy cuts and Kelly thought the slit at the legs needed to be higher. Hawaii's gown was really nice and I was quite pleased with it but I felt in terms of body that this was as far as she would go. California followed in a fashion-forward green gown that perfectly complemented her red hair. Initially, this gown drew mixed reactions but Alyssa worked it like no one else could. Finally, Maryland followed in that notorious Golden Girls gown that almost kept her out of my list. Upon looking at it again, it actually had a similar style to California's gown but it just wasn't the best choice. She had another gown that was black and feathery and I would have preferred it if she wore that one.

The next little segment paying tribute to the USO turning 70 was great showing past clips with appearances of former Miss USAs including Carol Morris, Marite Ozers, Michelle Royer and Julie Hayek who hilariously responded to Bob Hope's statement that he met the first Miss USA to which she asked, "How many states were there in those days?"
Alyssa Campanella and Ashley Durham hug as the last two standingThen it was the cut to the top 4 which was done a little differently this time. In group 1, we had ME, AL, TX and TN where all but Maine advanced. Then in group 2, we had HI, CA, MD and SC and California was the only one from that group to advance. So we had our top 4 of Alabama, Texas, Tennessee and California and yes, I noticed that Texas and Alabama were standing out of order at first. For the casual, get-to-know-you segment, Alabama was called out first and since she's majoring in elementary education, she was asked how she hopes to inspire America's youth being a future educator. She said she hopes to inspire hopefulness in youth, encourage everyone to fulfill their dreams and believe in 'theirselves' (shudder). And she's majoring in education (double shudder). She hopes to be one of the best educators she can be and as Miss USA, she said she would be a great Miss USA as well. Earlier, I also sensed that Alabama, although she had a great look and body wouldn't do as well in the questions. Texas was asked about falling down a flight of stairs during one of her first pageants. She elaborated saying that they were getting dressed on the second floor, the choreographer screamed at them to come down and Ana said she was literally the first one down. But she ended up winning that pageant so there were no hard feelings. No hard fallings either, right? Tennessee spent a summer living in Paris and was asked to give the 'deets'. She said she figured what she wanted to study which was fashion journalism and photography and got it approved at the University of Memphis. 'Go Tigers!' She sent in the application and called her mom to see if it was okay and it was a life changing experience. Finally, California was called up at which point Guiliana and Andy called her 'Poison Ivy' because her look with the red hair and green outfit was similar to that of the notorious Batman villainness but what I loved was Alyssa played along! She blew a kiss to the audience in the same way that Poison Ivy does in the Batman movies. She was asked about her collection of history books. Alyssa said she was obsessed with the Tudor and Stuart era. Whenever she's at Barnes and Noble, she goes into the history section. She watches 'Game of Thrones' and 'Camelot' and was quick to point out that those are fantasies. She said she also watches 'The Tudors' and is a self-professed history geek. In addition to her excellent public speaking skills, Alyssa immediately set herself apart as the smart one similarly to how Amanda Jones, Miss USA 1973 when asked if she could live in a different era said she would have like to have lived during the Renaissance whereas others would simply say the present or future.

Alyssa Campanella reacts to winning Miss USAAlyssa Campanella crowned Miss USAThen it all came down to the final question where they reversed the order of the delegates and this time California had to go first. Alyssa selected a fellow Jersey girl, Caroline Manzo who posed her question. "Many have argued that marijuana should be legalized and taxed to boost the economy and alleviate drug wars. Do you believe in legalized marijuana? Why or why not?" Alyssa answered, "Well, I understand why that question would be asked especially with today's economy but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help with those who need it medically. I'm not sure if it should be legalized if it would really affect, you know with the drug wars. I mean, it's abused today unfortunately so that's the only reason I would kind of be a little bit against it but medically it would be okay so that's my answer." Alyssa absolutely aced it and it's so refreshing to see a delegate as articulate as Alyssa in recent pageant years because she is just a God-send. Also, did you notice that Brook Lee was also asked about medicinal marijuana at Miss USA only a few months before winning Miss Universe?? Could this be... a prophecy??? Tennessee followed getting the 'heavy' question as Rocco DiSpirito called it. "Recently a contoversial pastor in the United States burned the Koran. Should burning of any religious article be protected by the first amendment the same way that burning the American flag is protected?" "Absolutely not. I know that some people view it as a freedom of speech however, burning the American flag is not patriotic at all. No American citizen should do that. And you should also respect other religions and I'm a Christian. I'm a faithful person. I would personally not appreciate someone burning the Bible and that's just a line you do not cross." You could hear Ashley getting a little choked up or emotional when delivering her answer. I'm not sure that she fully heard the question when she said "Absolutely not" because that wasn't reflective of the rest of her answer but most people recognized that she meant that burning any religious material was not acceptable when the question was if burning religious materials should be protected the same way burning the American flag is. Next up was Texas who picked Mariel Hemingway's question. "So recently the personal indiscretions of men in positions of power have exposed their family's private lives. What advice would you have for a woman whose spouse put her in a position of public humiliation." Ana replied, "It's very heartbreaking to hear stories like that and I think that I would just say, you know, for the men, be more respectful and for the women, press on if a man does do that to you, I think that you should move forward and stay positive because you should find somebody that really truly loves you." "Texas weighs in on Weinergate!", declared Andy. I also felt this question touched on other politicians, i.e. Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc. and not just Weiner. I think Ana handled this question very well and gave one of the stronger answers of the group while sounding sincere and natural. Finally, Alabama selected Tyson Chandler's question, "There have been recent deaths of students who have been bullied on the Internet. If a victim commits suicide, should the bully be prosecuted? Why or why not?" Madeline's answer was, "I DEFUNULLY think the bully should be prosecuted. Me being a future educator it's very important and bullying is a huge issue in schools these days and I really feel like that they should be prosecuted because that is a horrible issue and it needs to be... come to a conclusion. Thank you." I think this question was probably easier than the others but the delivery of the response needed to be a lot stronger. I appreciated Susie Castillo's honesty after this round of questions saying that she felt she bombed her final question at Miss USA 2003 but she still won. On the questions themselves, naturally we expect them to touch on current events and in recent years, it seems like politics and religion are fair game.

Alyssa CampanellaAlyssa Campanella Rima Fakih did a nice farewell and alluded to her participation in WWE's Tough Enough this year and reminded us that she was the first Muslim and Arab-American Miss USA. As a final nice new touch, I loved how they raised the beaded curtain to reveal each member of the top 4, although Tennessee's curtain looked like it was stuck temporarily but they got it up just in time. It was a new aspect that I appreciated. The moment that probably made us laugh out loud the most was when Andy Cohen butchered Miss Universe, Ximena Navarrete's name announcing her as "Eczema Navartay". Ximena laughed about it but you could tell everyone including Giuliana knew that Andy was way off on that one right after he said it. But they didn't announce Kamie, Miss Teen USA who was standing next to Ximena. So the 4th runner up was Texas and I think a lot of people expected her to rank higher due to her final answer but the judge's were likely reminded to base their final scores on their overall impression throughout the night and not just the final answers. In fact, the way the judges ranked the final 4 would have matched my ranking as well. There needed to be a separation between California and Texas. Alabama was declared 2nd runner up and in a new twist for Miss USA, the winner was announced first before the 1st runner up as is done in shows like American Idol. Guiliana said, "Miss USA 2011 is... CALIFORNIA!!! Which means the 1st runner up is Tennessee." And of course, I was overjoyed that Alyssa was proclaimed Miss USA. It was such a magical moment. Every once in a while, you come across a woman who possesses that magic, the x-factor and who is truly it. Although, her road to Miss USA was not an easy one, Alyssa remained consistent, perseverant and dedicated and in the end was recognized for the great woman she is. And this is only the beginning for her. Obviously she has a great future ahead of her and I wish her all the best. All hail Queen Alyssa!!!





Some photos courtesy Miss Universe L.P., LLLP