On a night when Donald Trump said he was temporarily uprooting Miss USA from Las Vegas in favor of Miami, Miss Connecticut Erin Brady was crowned the 2013 Miss USA titlist before a full house at Planet Hollywood's PH Live. Brady clasped hands with first runner-up Miss Alabama Mary Margaret McCord, and both contestants nervously stared at each other for several seconds before the winner was announced.
The fifth runner-up was Miss South Carolina Megan Pinckney, fourth runner-up Miss Texas Ali Nugent, third runner-up Miss Utah Marissa Powell and second runner-up Miss Illinois Stacie Juris.
After the show, Trump's most significant formal announcement was that Miss Universe, which he owns along with Miss USA, would be moving from Planet Hollywood to Moscow in November. He said earlier in the night that he planned to move Miss USA to Miami for three years starting in 2014, but later, during the post-pageant news conference from the stage at PH Live, said there would be another announcement at the Miss Universe pageant about the future of Miss USA and did not specify a move to Miami.
Trump's comments about moving Miss USA to his Doral Golf Resort and Spa next year were in response to a question from Robin Leach about the future of the show (the exchange can be caught on the embedded video). He said, "Miss USA is moving to Miami next year and probably for a couple of years." He added that the show has had great success in Vegas and he planned to return it to the city after it plays at Doral, no matter how many years.
What follows is the live blog from tonight's show, with the newest info at the top:
Updated at 7:50: In response to the departure of pageants from Vegas, Las Vegas Visitor and Convention Authorities spokesman Vince Alberta said via text, "The pageants represent contestants from throughout the country and around the world so it's logical they rotate to various cities. It has been a pleasure to host the events and we wish them success in the future." He also said the tourism organization was committed to seeing this Miss USA show through to a successful conclusion and that there are no discussions ongoing about having the show here after this year.
Updated at 7:48: Nice performance by DJ Pauly D. Is there such a thing as spin-synching? I think he just performed that.
Updated at 7:36: Miss Utah is asked by judge NeNe Leaks about a recent report that shows 40 percent of women are the primary breadwinners in their families. The contestant stumbles badly, mumbling something about education and how men are wrongly perceived as the dominant figures in the house. Somewhere in there her syntax went adrift. She's out. Bad moment, the worst of the night. Miss Alabama says it is OK for the government to monitor phone records to make society safer. Miss Illinois pooh-poohs a report about underage drinking by saying an individual is likely to drink irresponsibly no matter what the legal drinking age, which draws some cheers from the crowd (either for underage drinking, or for her answer). Nobody hit a home run here, but Utah talked her way out of contention. Too bad. Miss Texas sort of looks like Elvis.
Updated at 7:26: High-profile footage of Taylor Hicks, Penn & Teller, Frank Marino of "Divas Las Vegas, Recycled Percussion and Linq exec Jon Gray in the requisite Vegas-is-great montage.
Updated at 7:25: Miss Connecticut would rather talk than text because she is "a people person -- what can I say?" Miss Texas said she said a prayer before she was announced as the saved-by-Twitter sixth finalist. Someone Up There must follow Twitter.
Updated at 7:20: The top 5: Miss Utah (ha-chacha!), Miss Alabama, Miss Illinois, Miss South Carolina, Miss Connecticut. Saved via a Twitter campaign rescuing one of the deposed top-15 finalists is Miss Texas.
Updated at 7:11: Two words: Miss. Utah.
Updated at 7:10 p.m.: Miss Connecticut is an accountant, a self-described "numbers cruncher." Maybe she can talk some sense into a certain Vegas hypnotist who is having trouble with his spreadsheets.
Updated at 7 p.m.: Brunettes abound as Miss Nevada is the only blonde left, pending a contest on Twitter that will "save" one of the top-15 finalists who reached the swimsuit competition.
Updated at 6:55: In the top 10: Miss Nevada -- is Conspiracy Johnny right? -- tops our list. Others: Miss Louisiana, Miss Connecticut, Miss South Carolina, Miss Ohio, Miss Texas, Miss Illinois, Miss Utah, Miss Alabama, and Miss North Carolina.
Updated at 6:50: at Miss Utah -- no surprise -- wins the Miss Photogenic Award. But wouldn't winning Miss USA sort of imply that you are, in fact, the most photogenic candidate?
Updated at 6:45: You know who has a real shot here? Miss Utah Marissa Powell. If the judging panel favors brunettes, she is tough to beat. A stunning woman. If she can handle the withering question-and-answer session, she's going to be tough.
Updated at 6:40: Great piece of choreography in the swimsuit competition is the contestants shedding their summer skirts, or sarongs, or whatever they're called, before they walk the stage. And the camera pans each woman at close range, top to bottom. The production is way more focused -- literally -- on the physical form than Miss America. These women are really strutting it.
Updated at 6:35: Performing now are the Jonas Brothers, or the fifth-best lounge band in Vegas ...
Updated at 6:20: New prediction: Miss Nevada Chelsea Caswell is my favorite to win. She has made the top 15. This ascent, coupled with the news that Trump is moving the show out of Vegas for three years, leads Cynical Johnny to think Miss Nevada will win the award just to quell angst in city about losing the show. Or am I being too conspiratorial? The rest of the field: Miss Texas Ali Nugent, Miss Ohio Kristin Smith (a very strong contestant), Miss Louisiana Kristen Girault, Miss South Carolina Megan Pinckney, Miss Pennsylvania Jessica Billings, Miss Alabama Mary Margaret McCord, Miss Massachusetts Sarah Kidd, Miss California (of course!) Mabelynn Capeluj, Miss North Carolina Ashley Love-Mills, Miss West Virginia Chelsea Welch, Miss Maryland Kasey Staniszewski, Miss Illinois Stacie Juris, Miss Connecticut Erin Brady, and Miss Utah Marissa Powell.
Updated at 6:15: Earlier, judge Mo Rocca said what he was looking for in a Miss USA titlist "who can bring this nation together. We don't need more division right now." He somberly noted that this year is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and he would like to crown a winner "with the character of Lincoln, but without the beard." Rocca also said he'd like to see a contest between Miss America and Miss USA winners each year. "It would be incredible, like two protons colliding ... what happens? Nuclear fusion? It would be crazy, though I don't know anything about physics."
Updated at 6:10: Sounds like Trump's is the voice used as the formal announcer of the NBC telecast. Huge cheer for the announcement that DJ Pauly D is to perform tonight.
Updated at 5:40: Tweets by my colleague who is around here somewhere and everywhere, Robin Leach, confirm earlier speculation that Donald Trump is moving the Miss USA show out of Vegas and to Miami at his Doral Golf Resort and Spa at least for the 2014 pageant. Also, Trump said he is lifting Miss Universe to Moscow in November. If the move to Miami does happen, and with Miss America's return to Atlantic City beginning with the 2014 show, Vegas will be without any major pageant for the first time since 2005. According to Robin's reporting, Trump plans to bring the show back to Vegas after the three-year run in Florida.
The pageant is an hour away, but the pageantry is running rampant at Planet Hollywood. It's like the hotel's mezzanine level has been sprayed with a fire hose filled with sequins. A big to-do was made when the Jonas Brothers approached the carpet. They are to perform tonight, and Nick Jonas is hosting alongside "E! News" anchor Guiliana Rancic.
Some of talk around the red carpet was about who would win this competition, which is only natural. One school of thought is that no contestant from the Northeast will win because reigning title-holder Nana Meriwether was a Miss Maryland contestant, thus tilting the voting bias out of that region. That could be a crock, of course. It probably is a crock, but my early favorite is Miss Tennessee Brenna Mader. I actually know a former Miss Tennessee, and I now enough about the pageant process to know Tennessee has a super-strong organization. Throwing a dart at the board, I'm taking Mader.