BALTIMORE (AP) – Miss North Carolina, a 21-year-old brunette who says she sees a lot of herself in Oprah Winfrey, was crowned Miss USA at the 54th annual pageant Monday night.

Chelsea Cooley was crowned by last year’s Miss USA, Shandi Finnessey of Missouri. The new titleholder will compete May 30 in the Miss Universe competition in Thailand.

Miss California, Brittany Hogan, 20, was first runner-up. Rounding out the top five were Miss Kentucky, Kristen Lynn Johnson, 23; Miss Illinois, Jill Gulsteth, 21; and Miss Florida, Melissa Witek, 24.

The 51 contestants were trimmed to 15, then 10 semifinalists and finally five finalists for Monday’s evening gown and swimsuit competitions.

The five finalists were asked questions written by their fellow contestants.

The query for Cooley, of Charlotte, N.C., was: “What famous person does your personality most parallel?”

She replied, “I guess it would be Oprah. She has a passion for life. She loves what she does, and she works so hard to try to achieve everything in her life. … I try to emulate myself after that.”

Judges evaluated contestants in swimsuit, evening gown and interview competitions. Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps, model and actor Molly Sims (“Las Vegas”), boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (“The Contender”) and beauty expert Frederic Fekkai headlined the celebrity judging panel.

The panel was rounded out by fashion designer Pamela Dennis, Raj Bhakta (“The Apprentice”), model Ksenia Masimova, actor Brody Hutzler (“Days of Our Lives”), John Tutolo, president of Trump Model Management, and Robin Himmler, executive assistant to Trump.

Billy Bush and Nancy O’Dell (“Access Hollywood”) returned as pageant co-hosts.

The pageant is co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC, which aired the competition.


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