NEW YORK — Donald Trump gave Miss USA a reprieve Tuesday, allowing the boozing beauty queen to retain her title after she agreed to enter rehab and undergo drug testing.
In a moment of television drama filled with redemptive tears and longing looks, a tough-talking Trump, co-owner of the pageant, turned soft and decided to forgive Tara Conner for her debauched behavior.
“I’ve always been a believer in second chances,” said Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization and Miss USA with NBC. “Tara is going to be given a second chance.”
Trump met with Conner earlier Tuesday morning fully expecting to fire her, he said. But he walked away convinced the young woman was a “good person” with a “good heart” and not deserving of the boot.
“She left a small town in Kentucky, and she was telling me that she got caught up in the whirlwind of New York,” Trump said at a news conference with Conner at his side. “It’s a story that has happened many times before to many women and to many men who came to the Big Apple. They wanted their slice of the Big Apple, and they found out it wasn’t so easy.”
Conner won the title in April and moved to New York. Since then, she has partied hard, admitting she frequented clubs, where she threw drinks back — despite being underage. She turned 21 on Monday.
Miss USA is considered a role model, and her conduct must reflect that, and behavior such as underage drinking is prohibited, a Miss Universe Organization spokeswoman said.
At the news conference, in a tear-choked voice, Conner said, “In no way did I think it would be possible for a second chance to be given to me.”
Turning to Trump, she said, “You’ll never know what this means to me, and I swear I will not let you down.”
A few minutes later, a smiling and clearly relieved Conner donned her sash with the famous words: “Miss USA.”
Trump said Conner would be entering rehab. A pageant official said details would be worked out privately with Conner over the next weeks.
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Asked if she was a drunkard, Conner said: “I wouldn’t say that I’m alcoholic. I’d think that would be pushing the envelope.”
She also declined to discuss any of her problems that the tabloids had chronicled with much relish.
“My personal demons are my personal demons,” she told a horde of reporters.
Trump said Conner would be able to move back into her swank pad at the Trump Palace. But he also cautioned that if she screwed up again she would be jettisoned.
“She knows that if she even makes the slightest mistake from here on she will be immediately replaced,” he said.
If Conner had been dethroned, her title would have been taken over by first runner-up Miss California Tamiko Nash.
Conner, a 5-foot-5 blonde, has been competing in pageants since age 4. Three months after winning the Miss USA title, she finished fourth in the Miss Universe pageant.
In 2002, Miss Russia Oxana Fedorova won the Miss Universe pageant but was stripped of her title after violating her contract. Trump said Fedorova didn’t show up for some photo shoots and charity events.
It was the first time a titleholder had been ousted in the contest’s more than 50-year history. Fedorova denied she was fired and said she gave up the title voluntarily.
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