BATON ROUGE, La. » Olivia Jordan of Oklahoma was crowned Miss USA on Sunday, beating out 50 other contestants and overcoming weeks of controversy generated by pageant co-owner Donald Trump to win the 64th annual pageant.
The 26-year-old winner was followed by first runner-up Yliana Guerra, 22, of Texas, and second runnerup Anea Garcia, 20, of Rhode Island. They were followed by 25-year-old Miss Nevada Brittany McGown, 25, third runner-up and then Miss Maryland Mame Adjei, 23, to round out the top five.
Miss Hawaii, Emma Wo, made the top 11, but didn’t advance to the finals.
Trump, the pageant co-owner and real estate mogul, slammed Mexican immigrants in comments during his announcement that he was running for president. That led to widespread fallout against his business dealings, including the pageant. He wasn’t present Sunday.
Singers Travis Garland and former American Idol finalist Stefano Langone started off the show with three songs “Born on the Bayou,” “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” and “American Woman” as the contestants strutted onto the stage and introduced themselves and their states.
In video segments played along with the show, the women described their lives back home and the causes they hope to promote if named Miss USA.
Anea Garcia from Rhode Island told viewers how she was homeless at times while growing up after her grandmother — who had raised her — lost her job.
Pageant organizers also showed a video segment of various contestants discussing their immigrant ties including a contestant whose parents emigrated from Vietnam.
Trump’s comments critical of Mexican immigrants during his presidential campaign announcement sparked a backlash against the business tycoon’s empire, including the Miss Universe organization that includes the Miss USA pageant.
In his June announcement, Trump said that some Mexican immigrants to the U.S. bring drugs and crime, and that some are rapists.
Broadcasters, including NBC and Univision, dropped the pageant and a slew of celebrities lined up to perform, judge and host dropped out just as the pageant was kicking into high gear in Baton Rouge.
Pageant organizers rushed to fill the gap so the show could go on. Satellite and cable channel Reelz television stepped in to air the show, while assuring people that Trump would not benefit financially. And former Miss USA and Miss Universe winners were recruited as judges.
Reelz television stepped in to air the contest, saying that the pageant and the women who compete in it “are an integral part of American tradition.” The station also said Trump would not profit from the deal.
The pageant featured an evening wear and swimsuit competition as well as a personality interview. The preliminary contest was held earlier this week and then the number of women remaining was progressively narrowed during the course of Sunday evening’s telecast.
The final five women hailed from Oklahoma, Texas, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Nevada.
Jordan, of Tulsa, Oklahoma is a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. She attended Boston University, where she earned a B.S. in Health Science. She has appeared in several national and international commercials and feature films, most recently, Hot Tub Time Machine 2.
Paula Shugart, who heads the Miss Universe Organization, thanked the CEO of Reelz and the returning pageant winners for stepping in to help during a news conference Sunday.
“I love you all. You are the only reason we exist,” she said to the women during a news conference Sunday.
Shugart said the challenges of the past few weeks will make for great practice for whichever woman is crowned Miss USA, teaching them how to stay focused: “You have to forget everything going on around you.”
When asked if the relationship between the pageant and Reelz would last beyond Sunday night, Stan Hubbard said the agreement was for one night only.
The judges talked about their love of the organization and said they know first-hand what the women are feeling.
“I feel pressure,” said Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih. She said she considers it a very important job to pick the next woman who will “carry the torch.”
Contestants are judged in three categories: evening gown, swimsuit and a personality interview.
The 51 women represent every state and the District of Columbia.
Natasha Martinez who represents California said during an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week that she didn’t think Trump’s comments have overshadowed the contest but it has provided an opportunity for her and others to show what they’re doing.
“You know, this isn’t about how big your hair is on stage or how good you look in a bikini. It’s an opportunity for these girls to be advocates for what they’re passionate about,” said Martinez, who does breast cancer advocacy.