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2016 Miss USA preview: It’s down to the wire for 52 pageant contestants

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Tom Donoghue / DonoghuePhotography.com

The 2016 Miss USA Pageant preliminary competition Wednesday, June 1, 2016, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. 2015 Miss USA Olivia Jordan of Oklahoma is wearing the pink gown and laughing.

2016 Miss USA Pageant: Prelims

The 2016 Miss USA Pageant preliminary competition Wednesday, June 1, 2016, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

2016 Miss USA Pageant: Events

2016 Miss USA Pageant contestants attend Blue Man Group at the Luxor. Launch slideshow »

2016 Miss USA Pageant

The clock is ticking down its final moments! The 52 Miss USA Pageant contestants are in the throes of finishing their hair and makeup and zipping up their gowns for the 65th annual pageant set to start at 4 p.m. PT today at T-Mobile Arena for the Fox telecast that airs live on the East Coast but is tape delayed locally.

Is TV personality Steve Harvey, who blundered the winner announcement at the 2015 Miss Universe Pageant here at Planet Hollywood in December, making a surprise appearance?

I know that Miss USA co-hosts Julianne Hough and Terrence “J” Jenkins have cooked up a surprise that will shock, stun or cause more confusion once the Final 15 glamour girls have been announced.

Says Julianne: “I’m very passionate about the self-esteem and confidence of young women, and the show is celebrating all the qualities a woman is today. I wanted to add my input to these young women to be active, healthy, compassionate and kind to others.”

Since it’s a live telecast, producers will be dancing on their feet for any last-minute, unplanned and unrehearsed bloopers. This year, it’s an even more daring production because for the first time home viewers and fans will be voting alongside judges Nigel Barker, Ali Landry, Crystle Stewart, Joe Zee and Laura Brown. And those viewer votes count in the accountants’ tabulations.

2015 Miss USA Olivia Jordan of Oklahoma, who placed second runner-up in the Miss Universe Pageant, ends her reign and turns over her crown to the new Miss USA today. Miss USA music performances are country star Chris Young and boyband The Backstreet Boys, who are using the pageant to kick off their national tour.

Miss Universe Organization CEO Paula Shugart summed up the quality of the contestants after Wednesday’s preliminary pageant: “I’m glad that I don’t have to judge. It’s an almost impossible task.”

However, experts who follow pageants are closely watching the progress of the princesses from Virginia, California, Hawaii, Montana, New York, Michigan and Texas. Other girls tipped to be in the Final 15 include the Internet Miss 52 USA choice, Oklahoma’s Alexandra Miller, and the interesting look of Megan Wise from Ohio. I’m going to keep my eyes on Army officer Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber, who we profiled here at Vegas DeLuxe on Thursday.

Also watch for Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Miss Oklahoma Taylor Gorton, who could pull off the other part of the repeat! How dramatic it would be if she found herself in the finals opposite Alex, her best friend from the same state. Or will it be a battle to the wire between rivals Louisiana and Tennessee?

Fans are encouraged to vote through the new Miss USA mobile app Miss U to have a say in which girl will be the next Miss USA. The app is on the heels of the nationwide search for a 52nd contestant and is another exciting opportunity for fans to be a part of this year’s telecast.

Additionally during the pageant, fans will have a virtual seat on the panel as a real-time judge and will be able to vote during the swimsuit, evening gown and final question rounds, as well as right down to the Top Three contestants.

2016 Miss USA contestants

2016 Miss USA fashion show

The Miss U app will offer trivia, poll questioning, live streaming and behind-the-scenes content from the competition. The app was developed for the Miss Universe Organization by HEED, the event platform-based joint venture between pageant owners WME (William Morris Endeavor) and IMG (International Management Group) and entertainment, technology solutions and analytics leader AGT International. The app is available for download here.

The three-hour telecast is under the control of the late Dick Clark’s son, R.A. Clark. In a preview interview, he told me what we can expect this year: “The excitement will start right from the top. The moment we’ve introduced all 52 contestants, we have the first elimination and get right to the Final 15, who were chosen by the judges from the preliminary.

Our thanks to Tom Donoghue for his preliminary pageant photos and to Richard Corey for his YouTube video coverage of the preliminary pageant.

“Normally, only 51 girls would be competing, so the new surprise coming to the show is Miss 52 USA, who wouldn’t normally be part of the pageant. She’s the home viewers’ first pick from the Internet competition, but until the broadcast starts, we don’t know if she goes on any further.

“It’s going to feel far more like a glamorous fashion show with the swimsuits and the gowns because our runway goes right into the audience. We started that with Miss Universe last December at Planet Hollywood, but here we are in an arena so we can enhance that.”

Backstage, 12 makeup artists and 19 hairstylists will be at work on the hopefuls before they strut their sass onstage. Plus-size model and body activist Ashley Graham will serve as backstage host ensuring that lipstick and mascara is perfect, eyelashes are safely on, and there are no wardrobe malfunctions.

“I think having me host backstage has opened up the door for a diversity of body shape, size, ethnicity and age. I’m ready for all the different looks — what is stopping us from having a very curvaceous woman win Miss USA or even be a contestant? I’m really excited that they’re so open to the inclusion of so many different types of beauty. There is more feeling of diversity of beauty,” said the first size-16 model to be on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover.

RAC continued: “We have a lot of very interesting and remarkable women: Doctors, lawyers and those serving in the military. We will highlight the woman and not just her beauty because in addition to that external beauty, there is an internal beauty.

“We will have video packages of each on their road to Las Vegas. You will see a lot of Las Vegas in the show. Your city is a wonderful backdrop for a pageant like this.

“I am excited about bringing our two hosts — Julianne and Terrence — together. They have a good vibe and great chemistry. Julianne is vivacious and well spoken and embodies the philosophies of Miss USA and Miss Universe.”

I asked RAC, who has produced numerous award shows, how Miss USA is different. “Very different,” he said. “With 52 girls, we have a lot more moving pieces.

“This is about pageantry, a true variety show whereas with gameshows and award shows, you know exactly you’re getting 23 winning acts, and it’s simply a case of juggling them in the right order and have everybody moved onstage and offstage in time for the next. Here you don’t even know who will be next!

“Until now, it’s all been fun and good times, but here is when the rubber hits the road.”

How could I ignore the blunder that Steve made naming Miss Colombia the winner of Miss Universe instead of Miss Philippines, who was crowned with the diamond tiara after he rectified his mistake. I asked RAC how he will ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

“The card with the winner’s name has been redesigned. We’re making sure it can’t happen again. There is no margin for that mistake again. But the error did make for wonderful worldwide headlines, so we just may have a moment with Steve on this broadcast.

“Julianne and Terrence had an idea to get him to do something with us tonight. That’s the beauty of live because if it happens, we’ll jump right on it. Steve is busy, but you just never know what the three of them have cooked up to keep me on my toes.

“Stay tuned — it’s something you won’t want to miss!”

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and 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.

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