Texan Takes Miss USA Crown in Las Vegas

The five finalists, from left, were Leah Laviano of Mississippi, Tiffany Andrade of New Jersey, Lindsey Jo Harrington of Oklahoma, Stewart, and LauRen Merola of Pennsylvania. Laviano was first runner-up, followed by Andrade.
The five finalists, from left, were Leah Laviano of Mississippi, Tiffany Andrade of New Jersey, Lindsey Jo Harrington of Oklahoma, Stewart, and LauRen Merola of Pennsylvania. Laviano was first runner-up, followed by Andrade. (By Darren Decker -- Associated Press)
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Associated Press
Saturday, April 12, 2008

LAS VEGAS, April 11 -- Crystle Stewart of Texas was crowned Miss USA 2008 Friday night in a pageant televised live from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

Stewart, 26, runs a party-planning and motivational speaking company, as well as modeling professionally. She says she wants to dedicate her life to international philanthropy.

The entrepreneur edged out first runner-up Leah Laviano of Mississippi and Tiffany Andrade of New Jersey.

Miss USA 2007 Rachel Smith relinquished the crown -- and the posh New York apartment that comes with it -- in a show aired by NBC with hosts Donny and Marie Osmond. The network co-owns the parent Miss Universe Organization with Donald Trump.

Smith, a former Miss Tennessee USA, said she was headed to Hollywood.

The pageant tried to show off its edge, and featured a grinding live rock performance by the band Finger Eleven, music from Rihanna and contestants in barely-there black bikinis and faux-fur coats.

The Osmonds kept up a steady stream of sibling banter even while swiftly whittling the field. Donny Osmond told the losers to "put on a poker face" as he sent them home.

"Or use Botox; then it won't move," Marie quipped.

After stints in Baltimore and Los Angeles, the pageant moved to what organizers billed as a city beloved by the event's international audience.

Trump characteristically took advantage of the cross-marketing opportunities. Miss Universe Riyo Mori attended Friday's grand opening of his latest hotel-condominium tower, a 64-story gold-plated high-rise on the Las Vegas Strip.

The new Miss USA will go on to the Miss Universe pageant in Vietnam this year. She also becomes a spokeswoman for breast and ovarian cancer awareness and other causes, while traveling to promote the organization.

The panel of judges for Friday's pageant included model and former Mrs. Paul McCartney Heather Mills, comedian Rob Schneider, Olympic gold-medal swimmer Amanda Beard and Christian Siriano, winner of Bravo's fashion reality series "Project Runway."


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