In meeting with the 2012 Miss USA Pageant contestants this past week, I’ve learned some of their fascinating, emotional and inspirational stories (the 51 pageant princesses compete for the title Sunday, June 3, at Planet Hollywood):
*Miss Delaware USA Krista Clausen has lost 55 pounds and dropped 10 sizes and now dreams of becoming a trainer on the NBC hit “The Biggest Loser.” Watch out, Jillian Michaels!
*Miss Minnesota USA Nitaya Panemalaythong was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, moved to Laos and is now the first Asian American to become Miss Minnesota USA and the first Lao American to compete in Miss USA. Miraculously, she also supports her 10-member household.
*Miss Mississippi USA Myverick Rashae Garcia grew up traveling in a tractor-trailer with her brother and grandmother and because of her impoverished background was frequently bullied, yet won a full scholarship to junior college and now attends the University of Southern Mississippi, where she will be the first member of her family to graduate college.
*Miss Alabama USA Katherine Webb, one of the stunning 6-footers, has overcome many challenges with her health and body image. She is diagnosed with the skin disease Vitiligo, the same skin disease Michael Jackson battled.
*Miss California USA Natalie Pack, another of the knockout 6-footers, was one of the six final contestants on Cycle 12 of “America’s Next Top Model” with Tyra Banks.
*Miss Maryland USA Nana Meriwether attended Duke, where she was a member of the Division I NCAA women’s volleyball team. Her father was the first African American to be admitted and graduate from Duke. She transferred to UCLA, where she broke three NCAA volleyball records before training to play in the 2008 Olympics. Inspired by the eight years of pro-bono work her mother and father did in Africa, Nana founded her international nonprofit Meriwether Foundation to sustain and support AIDS/HIV orphanages, schools, rural clinics and community projects.
*Miss Illinois USA Ashlee Hooks’ cousin is the late Honorable Benjamin Hooks, 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom winner. He was the second-longest-tenured executive director of the NAACP and strategized with Thurgood Marshall in “Brown v. Board,” the case that paved the way for equality in education. Her father is a Cook County Circuit Court judge and a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
*On her “Road to the Crown” video, Miss Nevada USA Jade Kelsall tells the amazing story of her heart problems that necessitated surgery three weeks before she entered the Miss Nevada USA Pageant -- and won the title.
*Miss North Dakota Jaci Stofferahn took her 75-year-old grandmother sky-diving; Miss Missouri USA Katie Kearney is the daughter of former NFL linebacker Matt Kearney; Miss Idaho USA Erna Palic was born in Bosnia, moved to America when she was 12 and now speaks four languages; and Miss Alaska USA Jessica Kasmierczak competed in the Junior Olympics for skiing.
The Miss USA producers also have filmed two-minute Q&A sessions with every contestant. Here is Jade’s, along with the hopefuls from Arizona, California and Utah.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.
Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.