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Image: Miss California Alyssa Campanella
Steve Marcus  /  Reuters
Miss California Alyssa Campanella is a natural blonde who said she dyed her hair six years ago for a part in a play. The 21-year-old was born and raised in New Jersey. She moved to Los Angeles about 18 months ago.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/20/2011 3:57:33 AM ET 2011-06-20T07:57:33

Beating out 50 other contestants, an auburn-haired beauty from California who was a favorite among Vegas odds-markers was crowned Miss USA at the end of the pageant's 60th anniversary contest on Sunday in Sin City.

Alyssa Campanella beat out her good friend, Miss Tennessee Ashley Durham, who was named first runner-up by a panel of celebrity judges. The other finalists were Miss Texas Ana Rodriguez and Miss Alabama Madeline Mitchell.

Campanella replaces Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih and will be America's representative at Miss Universe in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 12.

Slideshow: See photos from Miss USA 2011 pageant (on this page)
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After revealing on the show that she was a "huge history geek" with a special interest in the Tudor and Stuart periods, Campanella added that her favorite monarch was Mary, Queen of Scots, who was beheaded in 1587.

Campanella was born and raised in New Jersey, which she represented at the Miss Teen USA contest in 2007.

She told Reuters that she moved to Los Angeles about 18 months ago, and would like to remain there once her duties were over.

Wynn Las Vegas oddsmaker Johnny Avello tabbed Campanella the 8-1 favorite of the competition in just-for-fun odds, and contestants from North Dakota and New Hampshire (who were eliminated) were 100-1 long shots.

Campanella, 21, strutted across the stage in a blue bikini with white polka dots and a dark turquoise evening gown with beading on its top.

'Medically it's OK'
She won the crown despite giving a muddled answer when a judge asked her whether marijuana should be legalized in California.

"Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today's economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically," she said. "I'm not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war. I mean, it's abused today, unfortunately, so that's the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it's OK."

Durham, a 21-year-old journalism student who was first runner-up, declared that burning the American flag should not be protected by free speech and that burning religious books was "just a line that you do not cross."

Mitchell, the 22-year-old Miss Alabama, said Internet bullies whose taunts force their targets to commit suicide should be prosecuted.

Rodriguez, the 25-year-old Miss Texas, received loud applause when she said the wives of political figures caught in sex scandals should move on "and find a man who really loves you."

Slideshow: Beauty queen scandals (on this page)

Campanella, a natural blonde, said she dyed her hair six years ago for a part in a play, for a "fiery" character with whom she found she had traits in common.

"It's really brought out the true Alyssa Campanella, I feel, and that's why I really enjoy being a redhead," she said.

Campanella replaces Fakih, a Lebanese-born Muslim who was the first Arab-American to hold the title. The Michigan woman teared up as she walked across the stage for a final goodbye.

Celebrity judges
The pageant had three competitions: swimsuit, evening gown and interview question.

The contestants were whittled to 16 after the show's opening number, in which the beauty queens introduced themselves one-by-one. The top 16 were picked by preliminary judges through competitions and interviews during the week before the telecast. Celebrity judges picked the top eight after the swimsuit competition and the top 4 after the evening gown portion.

The pageant celebrated its 60th anniversary, growing from its roots as a bathing revue in Long Beach, Calif., in 1952 to a made-for-TV spectacle owned jointly by mogul Donald Trump and NBC. (Msnbc.com is joint venture between NBC Universal and Microsoft.)

Separate from rival pageant Miss America, Miss USA has been known in recent years for having judges at times ask somewhat sticky questions, challenging contestants to reveal more about their opinions than they might want.

This year's panel of judges included several well-known celebrities, including Dallas Maverick center Tyson Chandler, chef Rocco DiSpirito, actress Mariel Hemingway, magician Penn Jillette, rapper and producer Lil Jon, "Real Housewives of New Jersey" housewife Caroline Manzo and OPI beauty products founder Suzi Weiss-Fischmann.

The show was co-hosted by Bravo's Andy Cohen and E! News Anchor Giuliana Rancic.

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British rapper Tinie Tempah and Eric Turner performed during the evening gown competition.

Miss Kentucky Kia Hampton won Miss Congeniality USA, while Miss Arizona Brittany Brannon won Miss Photogenic USA.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: 2011 Miss USA

loading photos...
  1. There she is ...

    Alyssa Campanella, Miss California, is crowned as the 2011 Miss USA by Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Friends to the end

    Madeline Mitchell, left, Miss Alabama, walks away as Alyssa Campanella, Miss California, right, and Miss Tennessee, Ashley Elizabeth Durham learn one of them woujd win the crown. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pot? Not!

    Asked about her opinion about legalizing marijuana, Campanella told judges that while there may be some legitimate medical uses, she remains "a little bit against it." (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Breaking news: You won!

    First runneer up Miss Tennessee, Ashley Elizabeth Durham looks on as Campanella, her close friend, learns she won the competition. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Stage full of beauties

    Miss USA hosts Andy Cohen, left, and Giuliana Rancic introduce the contestants at the start of the nationally televised pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Making the cut

    Alyssa Campanella, Miss California, second from left, reacts after learning that she was a finalist in the 2011 Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Star-studded event

    Tinie Tempah performs during the evening gown competition. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Moving on up

    Miss Alabama Madeline Mitchell, Miss Hawaii Angela Byrd, Miss California Alyssa Campanella and Miss Maryland Allyn Rose react after making the semi-final cut. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lady in red

    Alyssa Campanella, Miss California, is introduced as one of the quarterfinals. She wore a teal, sequine dress during the evening competition. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 3rd runner up

    Ana Christina Rodriguez, Miss Texas, adeptly fielded a question inspired by the sexting scandal that brought down a Member of Congress. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Fan favorite

    Miss New Mexico Brittany Toll made it to the quarter finals because of an online vote, and then was ranked first among online fans in the swimsuit compettion. She failed, however, to make it to the semi-finals. (Patrick Prather / Miss Universe Organization via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Swimsuit competition

    Alyssa Campanella shows off swimwear by designer Kandy Wrappers during the swimsuit competition. (Patrick Prather / Miss Universe Organization via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Aloha!

    Miss Hawaii USA 2011 Angela Byrd, shown during the swimsuit competition, made it to the semi-final round. (Darren Decker / Miss Universe Organization via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Pageant preview show

    Contestants perform during the 2011 Miss USA Presentation Show, which was held the night before the televised finale. (Darren Decker / Miss Universe Organization via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: 2011 Miss US
    Julie Jacobson / AP
    Above: Slideshow (14) Californian wins Miss USA 2011
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    Slideshow (23) Beauty queen scandals

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