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Photos: 2014 Miss USA Pageant begins for Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez

2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez: Glamour Photos

Oscar Picazo

2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez.

2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez: Glamour Photos

2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez. Launch slideshow »

2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez

Miss South Las Vegas USA Nia Sanchez is crowned 2014 Miss Nevada USA during the 2014 Miss Nevada USA Pageant on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, at UNLV. Launch slideshow »

Two busy weeks of last-minute packing, fittings, charity events, meetings and prepping come to an end with tonight’s send-off for gorgeous 2014 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez. After the Deuce Lounge party in Aria, she flies out this Memorial Day Weekend for Donald Trump’s Miss USA Pageant on June 8 and airing on NBC from Baton Rouge, La.

Nia will compete against 50 other young women after 10 days of rehearsals and filming on the Mississippi River and at southeast Louisiana landmarks before reigning Miss USA Erin Brady turns over her crown to the new winner.

Pageant experts have already predicted that Nia will make the Top 10 and could go into the Final Five. If Nia wins, she would then represent the USA in the Miss Universe Pageant. Our thanks to Georgina Vaughan, Fadil Berisha, Oscar Picazo and the Miss Universe Organization for their stunning photographs of Nia.

After several years of the pageant being hosted here at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, our sponsor hotels and convention authority decided to pull its financial support. It had been expected that The Donald would pick Miami Beach as the host city, but he selected Baton Rouge, the first time it has hosted Miss USA.

It’s believed from reports that Baton Rouge and Louisiana kicked in $350,000 to host the telecast in addition to waiving the arena rental and its costs.

The Donald’s president, Paula Shugart, said that Baton Rouge was the site of the 2005 Miss Teen USA Pageant but that devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina later that year prevented the organization from returning. “The hospitality shown to us while we were there was second to none,” Paula said. “The sense of community that Baton Rouge has is incredibly inspiring.”

Nia faces the swimsuit, evening gown and dreaded interview and live question segments of the contest. About 100 million people are expected to watch via the internationally televised competition and simultaneously online.

My earlier stories about Nia in January and March this year told of her work with our Shade Tree charity here. When Nia was just 6 years old, she spent time in a women’s shelter with her mother when her parents were divorcing.

I talked with Nia as she started getting ready for her flight and pageant check-in this weekend. She’s spent this final week working with our state pageant director, Shanna Moakler, who was 1995 Miss USA.

Just days to go now. Emotionally, how do you feel at this moment?

I feel good! I’m ready! I feel like I’m really good at being this emotionally ready for something and then all the fine tuning and details I’m working with Shanna, where everything I need for interview prep and everything I need to learn how to pose when I’m with all the other contestants. I feel good emotionally.

I’m just ready and excited. I know who I am, so I don’t have to pretend to be anyone else; I just get to be me. She’s been great working with me, so I am 100 percent prepared on the interview and feeling comfortable with the walking and posing in every detail.

Have you been following national and global events and doing extra studying in case you get a dreaded question?

Oh, that’s all I do. I watch CNN and MSNBC all day every day. If I’m at home, that’s what’s on TV. You have to be prepared for anything. I have become a news junkie. When you watch it, then you have to sit there and think, “Well, what’s my opinion on this subject?” It’s not just learning about it, but also then figuring out your opinion about it.

You can only go with one suitcase, and it has to last you a year in case you win because if you get the crown, the very next morning you are off to New York for 12 months, and you don’t get home to Las Vegas for a year.

Right — that’s so true. You have to pack because you’re possibly leaving for an entire year. One suitcase has to last you one year in the event you win.

And you have to be prepared. So it means the phone has to be taken care of, the electricity has to be taken care of before you leave. Are you beginning to take care of all of those things before you go?

I am. I’m getting everything in order just in case I happen to be living in New York. I have a roommate here, we live in a house together, so I told her that I’ll pay another month’s rent and then I’ll have somebody come out and pack everything up to put in storage for me, so I’m prepared.

How does a young lady, without getting too personal, pack a year of her life into one suitcase?

I don’t have that many physical things that are really important to me, so I would pack photos of my family and some of my essential outfits and shoes. I feel like everything else I can get by — I’ll get it later.

2014 Miss Nevada Pageant

2013 Miss Nevada USA Nia Sanchez

How do you prepare to do all this? Do you write down a list or do you sit at the computer and work out 52 weeks?

It’s funny that you asked that. I have pages and pages and pages of lists of things to do, things to pack, things to watch and learn about, everything. Then pages and pages of appointments and meetings with my sponsor; I’m a list girl. I have it all written down.

So who is your shoulder in this? Do you have a shoulder?

I have three shoulders, actually. I have Shanna, and she’s amazing because I can call her for anything and she’s always available to answer any questions. And my boyfriend and my mom. I talk to my mom every single day; we’re talking about pageant stuff. She’s actually coming out today so she can help me get packed and get everything organized ahead of time before I leave.

My boyfriend is always there for emotional support. If I’m having a day where there is so much going on and I just need someone to talk to, he’s always there for me. I have three shoulders. Plus, my own two! I’m just really lucky to have people around me who are so supportive right now. I’m so lucky to have Shanna, who’s able to focus her attention on me and get me 100 percent ready. She’s the best.

Nia, how has your life changed since January when you won Miss Nevada?

It’s changed 100 percent. I feel like I’ve been really blessed with all of my sponsors, and I feel like I’ve become even more of a well-rounded person. I thought I was at 100 percent when I was at Miss Nevada, but with my sponsors and Shanna, I’ve been able to really focus in on who I am and who I want to be when I go to Miss USA. It’s been a great journey so far.

Now you’ve told me before that you were racked with nerves just thinking about getting ready for the Miss Nevada interview. Do you think you’ve overcome those fears now going into the Miss USA Pageant?

When it came to it, I was actually very calm and at peace. I had a lot of friends and family sending lots of positive text messages and praying for me, and it just put me at ease. Even going into the interview, which for me is one of the most nerve-wracking things at times, I felt really, really calm and comfortable, and I want to carry that on to Miss USA.

I want to be just calm, comfortable and have a good time. That’s what it’s really about. If you have a good time and you are who you are, that’s who wins. The girl that’s just being herself. That’s what I want to do; try not to be nervous.

When you’re in a very quiet frame of mind by yourself, do you think back to where your life began in terms of running away to Japan and Disney World and here you are now, representing our Silver State, going to the Miss USA Pageant? Go beyond just pinching yourself? How does it all feel at 24 years of age?

I feel like everything happens for a reason because I started competing in pageants when I was 19. I feel like I would have had a completely different experience if I had won a state title at 19 or 20 or 21. I feel like my travels and life experiences, even being in a really unhealthy relationship and having the strength to get out of that, have made me more prepared to handle anything that comes my way.

I feel like winning at an older age, for the pageant world I’m a bit older, I feel like you appreciate the experience so much more because I’m mature enough to handle it.

How do you deal with the … stress is not quite the right word … how do you deal with the nervousness of being cut down from 51 to 15 right out of the box, and then 10 and then five? I’ve already seen pageant blogging putting you in the Top 10. When you stand there on that stage and they’re calling out names and states, do the knees knocks? Does the heart jump? Do butterflies get in your stomach? How do you avoid that natural nervousness?

I mean that certainly happens. It’s part of the excitement. Everybody is going to be a little bit nervous. I go into it mentally thinking whatever is supposed to happen is supposed to happen. If I’m going to win, I’m going to win, and there’s nothing that anyone else can do to prepare differently.

But if I’m not supposed to win, then I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be. I feel like having that mental thought process going into it puts me a little bit more at ease, but I'm always going to be a little bit nervous up there.

Is there one secret that you’re taking to the pageant with you? One beauty queen secret other than butt glue for the swimsuit?

That’s a good one! I have a lot of friends, four of whom won Miss California and one who went on to USA, and I’ve been asking them for their advice. Their secret primarily is just going into it with the right mentality. Envisioning your self winning, envisioning yourself having fun, because if you envision somebody else winning, then somebody else is going to win. You just have to go into it with the right mentality.

I also received really great advice from my friend Raquel, who was a Miss California, and she said just to bring lots of pictures of family, make it feel like home. She said bring pictures of your family, bring a candle and just always love on your family and communicate with them because it can get really hectic and overwhelm you.

Well just know all of Las Vegas will be rooting for you.

Please invite everybody to my send-off party at Aria on Friday night! That’ll get me all fired up to bring home the title and the crown. Since the pageant began in 1952, nobody from Nevada has ever won it. I’ll do my best to be the first!

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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