Rhode Island captures Miss USA crown; Nevada finishes fourth

Not everyone can pull off purple.

But Olivia Culpo certainly can, and in both an evening gown and (in more of a lilac shade) a bikini too. And that’s at least two-thirds of the reason why Culpo, 20, took home the Miss USA 2012 crown Sunday during the nationally televised competition from Planet Hollywood Resort.

Culpo, who began the evening as Miss Rhode Island USA, succeeds Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella and will represent the United States later this year in the 2012 Miss Universe competition.

Rounding out the roster of finalists Sunday were Miss Maryland USA Nana Meriwether as first runner-up, Miss Ohio USA Audrey Bolte as second runner-up, Miss Nevada USA Jade Kelsall as third runner-up and Miss Georgia USA Jasmyn “Jazz” Wilkins as fourth runner-up.

Kelsall, 26, of Las Vegas, becomes Nevada’s highest-placing Miss USA contestant since 2001, when Gina Giacinto also was chosen third runner-up. Nevada’s highest finish in a Miss USA pageant came in 1977, when Mary O’Neal Contino was named first runner-up. Sunday’s competition was the 61st annual Miss USA pageant. Fifty-one women competed in swimsuit and evening gown events.

According to her bio, Culpo, from Cranston, R.I., is a sophomore at Boston University. She began studying the cello in second grade and has performed with a number of ensembles.

During a post-pageant news conference, Culpo said she wished she “could have split (the title) 51 ways.”

In addition to competing in swimsuit and evening gown events, the five finalists answered questions from celebrity judges and, in a new twist this year, a question suggested via Twitter.

That question, it turned out, went to Culpo: Would it be fair for a transgender woman to win Miss USA over a “natural-born woman”?

Culpo said she understands that “people would be a little apprehensive to take that road” given the Miss USA competition’s “tradition.”

But, she said in an answer that drew audience applause, with so many women seeking change to have “a happier life, I do accept that because I believe it’s a free country.”

Other interview questions this year involved the kiddie pageant TV show “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the depiction of women in movies, the banning of oversized sugary soft drinks in New York City and why some Miss USA contestants could not name the U.S. vice president during interview sessions last week.

That last question went to Kelsall, who chalked it up to a very long and tiring day for contestants.

As always, the Miss USA audience was packed with other sash-adorned beauty queens, many of them teenage counterparts to their states’ Miss USA contestants.

Also in the audience were fans who came by to cheer on their favorites.

Among those fans were members of the Long family, who came from Texas to show their support of Miss Texas USA Brittany Booker.

The motivation wasn’t just Lone Star loyalty. Rather, dad Steve Long said, “she’s friends with my daughter.”

“We’ve been friends since I was about 3,” Brittany Long said. “I’m a year older than her. She’s 21 and I’m 22.”

The Longs arrived in Las Vegas on Friday and plan to stay until Tuesday with, they had hoped, a new celebrity family friend to brag about.

“So, hopefully, you’ll be putting Brittany’s picture” – Brittany the Miss USA contestant, not Brittany the daughter – “all over your front-page tomorrow,” mom Holly Long said.

(By the way: Miss Texas USA Brittany made it into the top 10, so at least her name is in the paper, right?)

In other awards, Miss Iowa USA Rebecca Hodge was named Miss Congeniality USA and Miss Oregon USA Alaina Bergsma was named Miss Photogenic USA.

Contact reporter John Przybys at
jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280

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