by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
2013 MISS USA
Erin Brady, an accountant from South Glastonbury, Connecticut, was crowned Miss USA 2013 on June 16 in front of a nearly full theater at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. She beat out 50 fellow contestants to claim the title, which guarantees her a trip to Russia on November 9 to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.
I was fortunate enough to attend the live telecast in Las Vegas, which impressively took just two hours to tape from start to finish, although some segments had been assembled beforehand. The evening featured a performance by the Grammy-nominated pop trio Jonas Brothers and Jersey Shore alum Pauly D. A panel of celebrity judges, including Emmy-nominated actress Wendie Malick (Hot in Cleveland, Just Shoot Me!) and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, trimmed the field of delegates from 15 to 10 to six and eventually chose the winner from that final bunch.
The evening was co-hosted by Nick Jonas and entertainment correspondent Giuliana Rancic. And, no beauty pageant would be complete without an appearance by Donald Trump - whose company, The Trump Organization, owns all three prestigious events: Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA.
Getting to Planet Hollywood and locating the exact venue proved to be bigger challenges than I'd imagined. I took the monorail ($5 one way) from the MGM Grand to Bally's, a sister property of the host hotel. Bally's connects to Paris, and supposedly Paris connects to Planet Hollywood, but from the poor directions given to me I ended up on 'The Strip' walking for about seven minutes until I got to the front entrance. My ticket had 'PH Theater' printed as the venue, though the official name is 'PH Live,' which threw me off, but by sheer luck I wandered into the right place with just two minutes to spare before the doors were closed.
Once inside, everyone was instructed to take their seats. While most of the 7,000-capacity auditorium was occupied with excited fans, there were noticeable empty seats throughout. Local radio personality Chet Buchanan served as the non-telecast emcee, responsible for interacting with the audience during commercial breaks, keeping the energy level high, and providing us with instructions or details, like when to go crazy for the cameras.
I was seated in Section 207, across the aisle from the cheering sections of Louisiana, Utah, and Mississippi. The latter of these three, a large ensemble of family and friends that spilled over three aisles, was one of the most vocal of the entire crowd. They came to support Paromita Mitra, a Bangladesh-born woman who moved to America in the early '90s and now attends Mississippi State University. One of her fans (brother? cousin? boyfriend?), an attractive young man dressed in a two-piece gray suit, cheered for her even after she didn't make the Top 15.
Another rowdy patch of fans sat in my section as well, about 10 rows behind me, cheering on Miss Tennessee. Like Miss Mississippi, the delegate for the Volunteer State (Chandler Lawson) didn't advance past the preliminary field, yet no one from her camp left the building. In fact, almost everyone stayed for the entire show.
During each commercial break, Buchanan asked the audience, 'Who's going to be the next Miss USA?' and everybody screamed out their favorite - even the names of contestants no longer in the running were called out.
Instead of watching commercials during breaks, we witnessed stagehands quickly transform the platform for the upcoming portion of the program, while makeup artists and stylists scrambled to prep the remaining women for the next round. We never got to hear Jeannie Mai's backstage commentary, and interestingly the background music played during announcements of the Top 15, Top 10, and Top 6 was on low volume in the auditorium. I didn't even know what music was used until I saw it again on YouTube the next morning.
MISS UTAH'S FLUB
Making big news after the pageant was Miss Utah's garbled answer to the 'final question,' asked by judge and reality star NeNe Leakes. Marissa Powell's family and friends, who filled an entire row, seemed very pleased with the answer she gave to the warm-up question, pertaining to her feelings on adoption - her adorable little brother stood up in his tuxedo and waved to the stage, but the cameras didn't see him. Miss Utah had emerged as the audience favorite at that point. Yet, as soon as she responded to the question from Leakes her camp dropped their heads in disappointment, and one guy even put a sign over his head in embarrassment. There was a huge 'aww' around the auditorium when that happened, because we all knew she was toast.
I was rooting for Miss Illinois, although I knew Brady gave the best answer to the final question and would likely earn the title. Most of Connecticut's delegation was also seated in my section, about eight rows in front of me. There was one woman loudly complaining behind me when South Carolina got knocked out, and she continued her rant as people were leaving the venue.
I loved the bowl-shaped auditorium with the first two sections on the main floor and an overhanging balcony, all under a domed ceiling. Britney Spears will take up residency at this exact theater later this year, and it's perfect for concerts because it's somewhat intimate and every seat offers a great view of the stage.
Once you leave PH Live - or the PH Theater, as many still refer to it - you can walk across a foyer and directly into the casino area, or wander into the the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace.
The site for Miss USA 2014 won't be made public until early next year, and you can get updated information on the event at www.missuniverse.com. If it does happen again at Planet Hollywood, the preliminary events (mid-week) and live telecast (Sunday) would likely be at PH Live. Should you decide to go, take my advice and cab it to the resort-casino, conveniently wedged onto 'The Strip' about a 5- to 7-minute taxi ride from hotels off the strip.
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