Darren Decker / Miss Universe Organization
Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 | 6:56 p.m.
Thirty glamorous girls will compete this weekend for the 2016 Miss Nevada USA Pageant tiara and title. Another 20 will take part in the teen category.
“We’ve got real contenders. It’s going to be another awesome year for Nevada,” said pageant director and 1995 Miss USA Shanna Moakler. “It’s going to be super tough for the judges because Nevada has done so well attracting really great, quality girls.
“We may not have the numbers that California sees, but we definitely have the quality.”
The 50 contestants will arrive in Las Vegas on Friday and meet the judges for all-day interview sessions Saturday. The finals of the two pageants take place Sunday at Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall at UNLV.
2015 titleholders Miss Nevada USA Brittany McGowan and Miss Nevada Teen USA Geovanna Hilton will crown the two new winners.
2011 Miss USA Alyssa Campanella of California will host the show, and 2014 Miss USA Nia Sanchez of Nevada, our state’s first Miss USA, will lead the panel of judges.
My pal celebrity hair guru colorist Michael Boychuck will judge alongside Susan Pinsky, wife of “Celebrity Rehab” star Dr. Drew Pinsky; dance champion Ross Walters; Double Zero USA designer Jason Hee Chul Kim; Nick Roses; and Helen Salas. Singers Brett Young and Tahj Mowry will entertain during the three areas of competition: interview, swimsuit and evening gown.
In a Q+A, Shanna told me:
“Each contestant will be assessed on her character, poise, confidence and personality. This is my fifth year in Nevada. I think pageantry is becoming something that’s more relevant in Nevada. I think it’s not as taboo as it used to be for Nevada contestants.
“People are really seeing that girls of Nevada have a chance at nationals now, and they’re seeing Nevada titleholders be successful at Miss USA and Miss Teen USA that they think, ‘Well, maybe I can do this, too.’ There is this newfound confidence with the young women of Nevada.
Nia came so close to being Miss Universe. She placed first runner-up. What is it about that final question that throws everybody?
People don’t realize that these girls work all year with the state pageant, then they work so hard six months leading up to a national pageant. And when they’re at the national pageant, it’s three weeks of filming, taping, rehearsals and schedules.
Then it’s the big pageant, and there are fitting calls, then the 15 and Top 10 and Top Five. I think that their nerves are just shot, and the adrenaline is running and it’s really difficult to answer any question. It’s difficult to answer what your own name is when you’re under that sort of pressure, so I think this is why the girls struggle when they get to that point.
You’ll have one girl go from the Las Vegas event to the national event next year, the 65th pageant and broadcast live on Fox. How do you teach them to overcome that?
Every girl is different. What I usually do is I have mock interviews with them. Some girls want to do them, some girls don’t, but I find the ones who are more successful are when we do mock interviews. We get them dressed up like they would be on that night in that position in front of the judges, and I bring in strangers to drill them with questions.
We don’t want them to know the answers so that they can know what that feeling is like being put on the spot and not having the answer so that they learn how to recover. Some girls do really well with that training.
Let’s talk about the girls who you have for this year, the quantity and quality. Do you have more girls competing than you’ve ever had before?
Yeah, we are at one of our highest contestant numbers. There are 50 girls. We have 30 Miss Nevada and 20 Nevada Teens. When Nia won, I think a lot of girls didn’t want to compete because they felt that Nevada couldn’t have back-to-back winners.
There’s never really been a back-to-back state winner in Miss USA while Donald Trump owned it, at least. So that hurt numbers, but this year they’re back up. Even with the whole Donald Trump situation.
So already this year it is very exciting, and I think we really do have great contenders. We have girls who’ve competed before; we have new faces, which is exciting. It’s going to be a great night. I definitely think both categories have serious contenders for the national title.
Is there still a stigma against Nevada glamour girls?
I don’t think so anymore. Nevada’s had a really good track record since I took over. We’ve had Jade Kelsall, who was third runner-up. We had Chelsea Caswell, who was Top 10. We had Nia Sanchez, who won. We had Brittany McGowan, who was third runner-up at Miss USA. I think we’ve been doing really, really well in showing the world that we’re a state to be reckoned with.
When you start the audition process locally, what are you looking for?
I want ambitious girls who want to take their careers to the next level. I want girls who want to change and better their lives. Girls who want to serve their community and just be different.
It’s a job when you get this title because you are going out to events, you’re getting to hang out with important people, celebrities in Las Vegas and work with charities and politicians. I want people who can take constructive criticism and grow with it.
Is beauty the first thing you look for, or do you look for that winning spirit in the eyes?
I look for personality. Someone who just has a love for life and will grow her confidence, who is very natural and conversational. I think those are the biggest things. Miss Universe’s logo is “Confidently Beautiful.” I’m always looking for a girl who exudes really healthy confidence.
What’s the weekend schedule?
This year we’re doing a two-day pageant. Saturday is the first day of registration and rehearsal. That’s also the day the girls will do their interviews with the judges. Sunday at 2 p.m., we’ll have our preliminary competition.
Tickets are on sale for that on our website right now at MissNevadaUSA.com. Then 7 p.m. will be the finals where we will be crowning our two new titleholders with Alyssa Campanella hosting again. It’s going to be really exciting.
Is it going to be extra tough for the judges this year?
I think it’s going to be super tough because Nevada has done so well in attracting really great, quality girls. We may not have the numbers that California sees, but we definitely have the quality.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years 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 Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.