Rhode Island cellist edges out African American finalists to win Miss USA crown

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LAS VEGAS (AP)—The nation’s newest Miss USA winner is a Rhode Island cellist who describes herself as a nerd and aspires to be more like Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn.

Olivia Culpo shares Hepburn’s European heritage and dark brown hair and soon they will share something else. Culpo said after winning her crown Sunday night that she plans to go to Tiffany & Co. in New York and recreate Hepburn’s iconic opening scene from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

TopFive
TOP FIVE—The five top five finalists, from left, Miss Ohio, Miss Maryland, Miss Rhode Island, Miss Nevada and Miss Georgia stand together during the 2012 Miss USA pageant, June 3, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Rounding out the top five contestants, which included two African-Americans, were first runner-up Nana Meriwether of Maryland, second runner-up Audrey Bolte of Ohio, third runner-up Jade Kelsall of Nevada and fourth runner-up Jasmyn Wilkins of Georgia.

Culpo, a Boston University sophomore, will take a year off from her studies to tackle her duties as Miss USA and represent the nation in the 61st Miss Universe contest in December. The 20-year-old said she wished she could have shared her crown with her 50 competitors during the pageant at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

First-runner up Meriwether attended Duke, where she was a member of the Division I NCAA women’s volleyball team. Her father was the first African-American to be admitted and graduate from Duke. She transferred to UCLA, where she broke three NCAA volleyball records before training to play in the 2008 Olympics.

She is a pre-med student at the University of Southern California where she previously earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. She cofounded a nonprofit, The Meriwether Foundation, that operates in five countries in southern Africa.

Wilkins is the daughter of UT-Chattanooga and NBA basketball great Gerald Wilkins. Due to her father’s busy career as an NBA player, Jazz lived in several different states throughout her childhood. She attended high school at Wesleyan School in Norcross, Georgia and was a member of her school’s symphonic orchestra and marching band. Jazz also served as a student mentor in an enrichment program called “Peer Leadership.” She played basketball and lacrosse, ran cross-country, and was captain of the varsity track and field team. She graduated high school with academic honors and attended Clemson University in South Carolina. Jazz now attends Georgia State University in Atlanta, where she is majoring in nursing.

The pageant had three competitions: swimsuit, evening gowns and interview question. The contestants were whittled to 16 after the show’s opening fashion show number. The contestants were later narrowed down to a field of 10 and then five.

Pop band Cobra Starship performed as the beauty queens modeled their string bikinis. Singer Akon danced with the top five during the evening gown competition.

The judge’s panel included Chef Cat Cora, TV personality Arsenio Hall and singer Joe Jonas. Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic stepped in to host.

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