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From Crystle to Kristen - Miss USA 2009

Pageantry magazine Premier Issue: Pageant '80

The race does not go to the swift, but to the one who endures.” That was the quote paraphrased by Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart as she introduced the 2009 Miss USA Pageant. Crystle is living proof of her words, having finally succeeded in her quest for the Miss Texas USA crown on her fifth attempt and following that with her goal of also owning the Miss USA title. As the 58th year of the Miss USA Pageant kicked off, the dreams of 51 hopefuls lay on the line to see who among them would not only be the strongest, but the one who endured above all the rest.

Miss USA competition returned for the second year to the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The pageant was at its glitziest best as the focus was placed upon the contestants, each of whom had won her right to stand on the stage representing her state. Host Billy Bush of Access Hollywood was joined by My Name is Earl star and co-host Nadine Velazquez, who also judged last years Miss Universe Pageant in Vietnam.

After the excited frenzy of the initial introductions, the diverse and well-heeled audience was reduced to a hush for the announcement of the Top 15.


Pageantry magazine Premier Issue: Pageant '80
The Hosts: The 2009 Miss USA Pageant in Las Vegas was hosted by Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush and actress Nadine Velazquez.

Months of preparation and hard work had gone into each girl’s presentation and now 36 of those young ladies would become part of the background, as the top 15 vote-getters from the preliminary swimsuit, evening gown and personal interview competitions heard their names called in random order. Stepping forward were Kentucky’s Maria Elizabeth Montgomery, Arkansas’ Chanley Painter, California’s Carrie Prejean and West Virginia’s Jessi Pierson. Joining the lineup were also Kristin Dalton (North Carolina), Monica Pietrzak (Connecticut), Kristin Motil (Tennessee), Melissa Weber (Idaho), Alicia-Monique Blanco (Arizona), Kimberly Gittings (Georgia), Laura Kirilova Chukanov (Utah), Erica Nego (Minnesota), Brooke Nicole Daniels (Texas), Stephanie Smith (South Carolina) and Maegan Phillips (Virginia).


Top 15 of the Miss USA 2009 competition

In the swimsuit competition, the 15 semifinalists showcased their dedication to personal fitness in embellished drawstring bikinis that made hiding any minor flaws significantly difficult. As recording artist Kevin Rudolf blasted “Let It Rock,” the celebrity judging panel had to cast a critical eye to determine their favorites in this portion of the competition.


Miss USA Pageant Top 10


The 10 who passed the swimsuit test now changed into their evening gowns for the next round of eliminations. Australian twins The Veronicas performed their song “Untouched” as the remaining contestants displayed their grace and elegance. Included in the illustrious Top 10 were the representatives from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. The first four who were presented all wore beautiful neutral or still-favored white gowns before Miss Utah stepped forth in an eye-popping canary yellow, followed by North Carolina’s seldom seen but dazzling turquoise and Arkansas’s red and pink selection. Texas’ Brooke Daniels, attempting to follow in Crystle Stewart’s footsteps, looked dazzling in a sheer platinum gown as did Kristin Motil, Tennessee’s beauty in a dramatic black beaded mermaid-style. The always-beautiful event would be the determining factor in naming the Top 5.

Kristen Dalton, a 22-year-old Psychology and Spanish major from Wilmington, North Carolina, was the first name announced and she was soon joined by Arizona’s Alicia-Monique Blanco, looking resplendent in a Swarovski Crystal-beaded gown. Utah’s Laura Kirilova Chukanov earned the next spot and California’s Carrie Prejean was the next announced name. The final opening went to the young Kentuckian Maria Elizabeth Montgomery, whose beautifully-designed gown once again demonstrated the likeability of white as a gown color. In a quest that started off months ago for thousands of eligible young ladies from across the nation, now only these five beauties remained standing as the crown became a closer possibility.


Miss USA Top 5

As each finalist stepped forth for the audience and the millions of television viewers to get to know them better, we got a glimpse of the rare personalities that rise to the lofty heights of USA pageantry. Dalton warmed the audience with her homespun sweetness, stating, “The women from North Carolina are all different kind of things. We’re the well-rounded woman. We’re strong, we’re driven but we’re also sweet and hospitable. We are totally ambitious. And we have a full appreciation of our femininity.” Arizona increased her chances with an explanation of her “Daddy Long-legs” nickname, while Utah earned points for her “Buddies Around” pen pal program. Miss California discussed her three-point-range basketball prowess and Kentucky got kudos for stating that the traits she looks for in a man are the ones she finds in her dad. In each of these fine young ladies one could find traits that would make anyone proud to have her as Miss USA.

But North Carolina’s Kristen Dalton seemed to shine when it came time for her to answer in the interview portion. Her question posed, “Do you believe taxpayers’ money should be used to bail out struggling U.S. companies? Why or why not?” Viewers could discern the consideration she gave the question as she paused before answering. “That’s a tough one,” she responded. “No, I don’t think that U.S. taxpayers’ money should be used to bail out companies. Taxpayers’ money should go towards bettering our education and our school systems and welfare and the healthcare system. That’s what our taxpayers’ money should go to—absolutely.” As the clear frontrunner in that night’s competition, Dalton had prevailed in both the swimsuit and evening gown competitions, but the question that remained—was her final answer enough to secure the title?

Current Miss Teen USA Stevi Perry and Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza were interrupted from Tweeting about the night’s results to present the special awards. Stevi presented the “Congeniality Award” to an unsuspecting and teary-eyed Cynthia Pate of Wyoming. Dayana, the latest in a string of goddess-like beauties from Venezuela, presented the “Photogenic” prize to a surprised Jessi Pierson of West Virginia.

Miss USA 2009 Miss Congeniality and Miss Photogenic awards

As Crystle Stewart’s reign neared its end, she reminded everyone of the many positives that come with the opportunity of serving a year as Miss USA. As Crystle reflected upon her fall at last year’s Miss Universe Pageant, she lifted everyone’s spirits by stating, “One thing I learned as being an American is that it’s not about the positive things that happen to your life all the time, what about the negative and how you pick yourself up afterward? I think it was true testament to my character when I fell, actually.” The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Crystle took her final bow, and the five finalists faced the inevitable. Miss Kentucky heard her name announced as the fourth runner-up, followed by Utah and Arizona. Misses California and North Carolina clasped hands and exchanged heartfelt appreciation for being the final two standing from the thousands who had dreamed of that moment becoming a reality. The true reality set in for Kristin Dalton as Miss California was announced as first runner-up, and she accepted the beautiful new Diamond Nexus Labs crown that carries a value of over $200,000, with 51 special jewels in the centerpiece, symbols of the 51 contestants.

And for that moment on that night, it was the jewel wearing the crown that shined the brightest.


Crowning moments of Miss USA 2009 Kristen Dalton

Pageantry magazine: Your mother (Jeannie Boger, Miss North Carolina USA 1982) and younger sister, Julia (Miss North Carolina Teen USA 2008), are both pageant girls with state titles. Have you been doing any bragging since you were crowned Miss USA?
Kristen Dalton:
I tend to talk about their success more because I am very proud of them. When Julia won Miss North Carolina Teen USA, I think I told everyone that I came in contact with. It was really funny because I competed, our other sister, Kenzie, competed, and then Julia competed and we had all finished first runner-up. But then Julia competed again and finally won. It was a huge deal at our house that we had finally won.

PM: What kind of advice did your mom offer you when you were preparing for your run at Miss USA?
My mom didn’t really get into the advice, she was just more of a supportive role. She was always there as a shoulder to lean on, but she’s not really a pageant mom. She stayed out of it and let me do my own thing.

PM: How intense does your schedule become once you’ve been crowned Miss USA? Are you thrown on a plane and whisked away to New York City and have you had any time to just sort of catch your breath?
It’s so amazing and I was so ready for it. It’s so crazy, I woke up this morning and I looked at my Miss USA sash and it just still hasn’t hit me that I’m Miss USA. It’s still very surreal sometimes. It has been crazy, but I absolutely love it. The Miss Universe Organization is so organized and on top of things, so I have someone who creates my itinerary everyday. It’s very detailed and I’m always taken care of.

PM: You returned home to North Carolina and made the rounds, speaking at local crowds, seeing your friends and family and making so many appearances. How strong was the reception and how did it make you feel?
The people of Wilmington are so spirited and so kind. Everywhere I went was jam-packed. I got to speak in schools and attend the state senate and the House of Representatives. I formed a partnership with a pharmaceutical development company for my platform of breast and ovarian cancer awareness. It was a very dynamic and proactive homecoming for me.

PM: The Wilmington Sharks invited you to throw out the first pitch at their home opener, along with the city’s mayor, Bill Saffo. Who threw the better first pitch? What’s going through your head when you’re in front of that crowd and have that baseball in hand?
I really think that I did, but we both threw a pretty decent pitch. I was just proud of myself because I was so nervous. I was more nervous about throwing out the first pitch than I would be about singing the National Anthem. It’s just not something I do, so I was so nervous I was going to throw it way out in right field. I was happy that the ball went where it was supposed to go. But of course the mayor did pretty well, too. He has a pretty good arm on him.

PM: Of course the most notable aspect of being Miss USA is the move to New York City. How has the transition been from Wilmington to the Big Apple?
It’s been a pretty good transition, but I’m still getting used to certain things like hailing a taxi or taking the subway. The city is pretty big, and definitely a cultural difference from Wilmington. One thing that is really cool is that I don’t have to go grocery shopping here like I do in North Carolina. I just write out my order and submit it to Fresh Direct and they deliver it to my door.

PM: And, of course, there are the roommates. How is it living with your Universe and Teen USA counterparts?
I love Stevi Perry, we’ve been best friends just getting along so great. It’s funny because she is the girl who beat my sister, since Julia was runner-up to her. When I won, Stevi thought I was going to be really mean to her, but we ended up getting along great and we’re like sisters now. Dayana travels all the time, so she’s probably spent the night at the apartment three or four nights since I’ve lived here.

PM: Living with Dayana Mendoza offers you the advantage of experience as you prepare for the Miss Universe Pageant. Have you asked her for any advice about what it takes to win?
We’ve talked about Miss Universe and how the attitude and girls are different, and how you should handle yourself while you’re there. But really her biggest advice has been to have fun and not let girls play mental games with you. And that never happened at Miss USA because everyone was so nice and so genuine and I made so many good friends there.

PM: Past Miss USA and Teen USA winners have often talked about the sisterly bond between them while they’re living in New York. What has your relationship with Stevi been like, as she’s preparing to move on?
I am so sad that I’m about to lose Stevi. We really are so close—we work out together, we eat together, watch our TV shows together. I just really hope that whoever wins is a lot of fun and responsible at the same time.

PM: Crystle Stewart had a cameo on an episode of Days of Our Lives and Stevi will also be making an appearance on the soap opera. When can we expect to see your daytime TV debut?
That is a great question and I have asked the same thing. Hopefully soon!

PM: You already have an acting background, having appeared on One Tree Hill. Is a career in acting something that you’re looking to pursue?
I definitely want to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, either in acting or hosting. Hopefully the Miss Universe Organization is going to help me focus on which one I’d be better suited for. I’m taking acting classes at the New York Film Academy right now, so I would like to get a taste of film acting, as well.

PM:What are you most looking forward to for the remainder of your time as Miss USA?
I’m looking forward to speaking at schools throughout the country, because to me one of the most important aspects of the job is to inspire and to motivate. That’s where you can really spread your message and touch lives, especially in the schools. I’m excited to see how much money we can raise for breast and ovarian cancer research, because I really want to beat Crystle Stewart’s amount from last year, which was really high. And all of the other opportunities like traveling with the U.S.O., taking my classes at the Film Academy and hopefully some TV and entertainment work, too.

Pageantry magazine: Glamour shots of Kristen Dalton, Miss USA 2009

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