Miss USA Contestants Vie For Crown In Las Vegas

By: KATHLEEN HENNESSEY AP Writer
By: KATHLEEN HENNESSEY AP Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A throng of beauty queens prepared to vie for
the Miss USA title on Friday, capping a comparatively scandal-free
year for the headline-grabbing pageant.

Miss USA Rachel Smith will relinquish the crown and the posh New
York apartment that comes with it in a show aired live by NBC from
the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The
network co-owns the contest with Donald Trump.

Donny and Marie Osmond will host the telecast of the 57th annual
pageant.

Contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia have been in Las Vegas for nearly three weeks, rehearsing and hyping the event. After stints in Baltimore and Los Angeles, organizers billed the new venue as a city beloved by the pageant's international audience.

Trump took advantage of the cross-marketing opportunities. Contestants, civic officials and Miss Universe Riyo Mori were expected to be on hand Friday at the grand opening of his latest hotel-condominium tower, 64-story gold-plated high-rise on the Las Vegas Strip.

The woman who takes the tiara goes on to compete in the Miss
Universe pageant in Vietnam later this year. She also becomes a
spokeswoman for breast and ovarian cancer awareness and other
causes, while traveling to promote the organization.

Contestants are scored in three categories: swimsuit, evening gown and interview.

Unlike rival Miss America, Miss USA contestants are not asked to
perform a talent. One woman will take home the title "Miss Photogenic USA" based on voting at the organization's Web site.

Smith's year on the throne has been marked by fewer racy headlines than her 2006 predecessor, Tara Conner. Conner's underage drinking landed her in rehab and sparked a media circus documenting her fall from grace.

Smith's low point was a fall onstage during the evening gown competition of the Miss Universe pageant in Mexico City. She was
booed by the crowd. Miss Japan won the title.

A bigger blunder this year belonged to Miss California USA organizers. The judges crowned the wrong queen in their November contest and reversed it days later, saying Miss Barstow Raquel Beezley was the victim of a vote tabulation error. Dethroned Miss Los Angeles Christina Silva, a Hispanic woman, has filed a lawsuit alleging racial bias.

Judges for Friday's pageant include 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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On the Net:
Miss USA 2008: http://www.missusa.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-04-11-08 1141EDT


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