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Photos: ‘Short, chubby nerd’ Olivia Culpo, 20, is the new Miss USA


Tom Donoghue/

The 2012 Miss USA Pageant red carpet and telecast at Planet Hollywood on Sunday, June 3, 2012. 2012 Miss Rhode Island USA Olivia Culpo, 20, was crowned the 2012 Miss USA.

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2012 Miss USA Pageant: Red Carpet and Telecast

The 2012 Miss USA Pageant red carpet and telecast at Planet Hollywood on Sunday, June 3, 2012. 2012 Miss Rhode Island USA Olivia Culpo, 20, was crowned the 2012 Miss USA. Launch slideshow »

2012 Miss USA Pageant at Planet Hollywood

2012 Miss Rhode Island USA Olivia Culpo is crowned by 2011 Miss USA Alyssa Campanella during the 2012 Miss USA Pageant at Planet Hollywood on Sunday, June 3, 2012. Launch slideshow »

2012 Miss Rhode Island USA Olivia Culpo

Olivia Culpo

2012 Miss USA Pageant and Carly Rae Jepsen

2012 Miss USA press conference

She has described herself as being “short, chubby and a nerd who played the cello.” Today, Olivia Culpo, a graduate of an all-girls Catholic school, is on top of the world, and she left Las Vegas on an 8 a.m. flight for New York City and the start of her yearlong reign as the 2012 Miss USA.

Olivia, the 2012 Miss Rhode Island USA, tells of her journey to the crown:

The 20-year-old brunette with an infectious smile was crowned the winner Sunday night at the end of a two-hour NBC show that not only was a ratings smash, but also grabbed the #1 top trending spot on Twitter.

And incredibly for the second consecutive year, Johnny Avello, Wynn’s director of race and sports operations, proved correct with his winning choice when last week he picked her with 9-to-1 odds to grab the crown. (He was on target with 2011 Miss USA Alyssa Campanella the previous year.)

On Tuesday, Olivia gets her first national talk-show spotlight on “Live with Kelly” when Bryant Gumbel guest hosts with Kelly Ripa.

Early overnight statistics from key NBC affiliate cities indicated that the pageant had some 6 million viewers, putting The Peacock Network on top for the night in the key 18-to-49 demographic. The show gave Las Vegas huge exposure throughout the broadcast, and our 2012 Miss Nevada USA Jade Kelsall of Las Vegas was third runner-up in the final five.

All indications are that the pageant will return here next year with a new multi-year deal. Top officials from the Miss USA Organization and Planet Hollywood told me they have agreed and now await our Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to wrap it up.

The music and high-fashion show featured Cobra Starship during the swimsuit competition and Akon during the evening gown segment, themed after the Grecian goddess photo shoot by Fadil Berisha of the contestants at Garden of the Gods at Caesars Palace. Even Donald Trump joined co-hosts Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic to sing along to Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit “Call Me Maybe.”

Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his photo gallery from the pageant. Our live blog was posted Sunday before the show, and our Las Vegas Sun colleague Steve Marcus provided a photo gallery. On Tuesday, we’ll have the inside gossip from the celebrity judges and The Donald himself.

Here’s Richard Corey’s YouTube video of Olivia’s first press conference moments after she won the pageant. Olivia was introduced by Miss USA chief Paula Shugart, who said Olivia’s music career and sophomore studies at Boston University will go on hold now for a year.

Commenting about the make-or-break interview, Paula told me: “We were overwhelmed with a number of questions on Twitter, and by far the question about transgenders entering pageants was the #1 topic. We wanted to be very topical and knew it was a tough question.

“I think Olivia’s answer certainly helped the judges’ decision, but in the end, it was her entire overall performance throughout the evening. All five finalists gave great answers.” In the first-time social media interaction in a live pageant, judge Rob Kardashian read the tweet.

When I noted to Paula that eight of her contestants were 6-foot-plus and Olivia was petite and thus a surprising winner, she laughed: “There’s nothing wrong in being shorter. I’m petite myself.”

Olivia told us: “I was so shocked and surprised to be there in the Final Two. To win is a special honor. Now I know the transgenders question was controversial, but the moment it was asked, it wasn’t difficult for me to answer. It’s simple: We live in a free country.”

She sang the Audrey Hepburn song “Funny Face” to us as her favorite because, like her, it’s a story of the geek who became a model. And just like her favorite actress who starred in “Breakfast at Tiffany,” Olivia hopes by living just a block away in Trump Tower that she’ll be able to re-create the iconic scene when she walks by it for the first time this week.

Two other facts about the new Miss USA: She can tie a cherry stem with her tongue, and having played at Carnegie Hall in New York and Boston Symphony Hall, it’s no surprise that she loves the symphonies of Gustav Mahler.

Olivia summed up best: “Beauty is found in the way you treat others.”

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.

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