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Photos: Miss USA 2012

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  1. And the winner is...

    Miss Rhode Island, Olivia Culpo, center, is surrounded by fellow contestants after being crowned Miss USA during the 2012 Miss USA pageant, Sunday, June 3 in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Here she is!

    Miss Rhode Island looks toward the audience after being crowned Miss USA. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Passing on the crown

    Miss Rhode Island reacts as she is crowned by Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The last two

    Miss Rhode Island waits with Miss Maryland, Nana Meriwether, before the winner of Miss USA 2012 is announced. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fabulous five

    The five top five finalists, from left, Miss Ohio, Miss Maryland, Miss Rhode Island, Miss Nevada and Miss Georgia stand together during the 2012 Miss USA pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Best dressed

    The top 10 finalists pose in their evening gowns. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Top ten

    The ten Miss USA finalists pose on stage during the 2012 Miss USA pageant, in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Swimming style

    Miss Colorado, Marybel Gonzalez, walks the runway during the swimsuit competition during the 2012 Miss USA pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Looking swimmingly

    Miss Rhode Island takes part in the swimsuit competition. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Showing off swimwear

    Miss Maryland, Nana Meriwether, walks in the swimsuit competition during the 2012 Miss USA pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tonight's hosts are...

    Andy Cohen, center left, and Giuliana Rancic open the 2012 Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Sweet sixteen

    Miss Ohio, Audrey Bolte, walks along the stage after being announced as one of 16 finalists during the 2012 Miss USA pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Cutting down the competition

    Miss Texas, Brittany Booker, right, walks along the stage after being announced as one of the 16 finalists during the 2012 Miss USA pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Picked from the pack

    Miss New Jersey, Michelle Leonardo, left, reacts as she is announced as one of the 16 finalists during the 2012 Miss USA pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Donald makes a speech

    Co-Owner of the Miss Universe Organization, Donald Trump, addresses Miss USA contestants on the last day of rehearsal for the Miss USA 2012 Competition. (Greg Harbaugh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Olivia Culpo
    Julie Jacobson / AP
    Above: Slideshow (15) Rhode Islander wins Miss USA 2012
  2. Miss USA
    Slideshow (11) 11 surprising facts about Miss USA contestants
  3. Image: 2011 Miss US
    Julie Jacobson / AP
    Slideshow (14) Californian wins Miss USA 2011
By
updated 6/3/2012 11:24:20 PM ET 2012-06-04T03:24:20

A 20-year-old cellist from Rhode Island won the Miss USA crown and will represent the United States in this year's Miss Universe pageant after voicing support for transgender beauty queens.

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Olivia Culpo topped a field of 51 contestants on Sunday to take the title at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. She strutted across the stage in a lilac bikini and a fuchsia evening gown adorned with a sparkly belt.

In the dreaded interview round, Culpo was faced with the most difficult question of the night: "Would you feel it would be fair that a transgender woman wins the Miss USA title over a natural-born woman?" Culpo never stumbled as she embraced the Miss Universe Organization's recent decision to admit transgender contestants. The question came from a pageant follower on Twitter, a first for the competition.

"I do think that that would be fair, but I can understand that people would be a little apprehensive to take that road because there is a tradition of natural-born women, but today where there are so many surgeries and so many people out there who have a need to change for a happier life, I do accept that because I believe it's a free country," Culpo said.

Culpo said after the pageant that she wasn't put off by the question when she heard it.

"This is a free country and to each their own," she said.

Slideshow: Rhode Islander wins Miss USA 2012 (on this page)

Culpo said she was short and chubby as a girl, but blossomed after a growth spurt. She spent her summers at band camp after learning to play the cello in second grade. Her parents are also musicians, and her love for music saw her perform at Symphony Hall in Boston and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Culpo is a 2010 graduate of St. Mary Academy Bay View, an all-girls Catholic school in Riverside, where she was a member of the National Honor Society. She is a sophomore at Boston University and said she comes from a big, Italian family. On her Twitter account, she describes herself as a nerd and model.

"I was just so surprised, so shocked, so honored to be there," she said of her win.

Rounding out the top five contestants were first runner-up Nana Meriwether of Maryland, second runner-up Audrey Bolte of Ohio, third runner-up Jade Kelsall of Nevada and fourth runner-up Jasmyn Wilkins of Georgia. As Meriwether and Culpo held hands waiting for the winner to be announced, Culpo bit her lip and cringed with anticipation.

Video: 51 vie for Miss USA title (on this page)

Culpo demonstrated an outgoing personality throughout the competition, blowing a kiss and shimmying across the stage during the opening number. She cited Audrey Hepburn as her source of inspiration, noting her many years of volunteer work. Culpo said she plans to visit Tiffany & Co. in New York during her reign as Miss USA to recreate the opening scene in Hepburn's iconic film "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

"She was beautiful on the outside but also beautiful on the inside," said Culpo, who sang the chorus of "Funny Face" from her favorite movie of the same name after her win.

Image: Olivia Culpo
Julie Jacobson  /  AP
Miss Rhode Island Olivia Culpo, center, is surrounded by fellow contestants after being crowned Miss USA during the 2012 pageant.

Miss Iowa USA Rebecca Hodge was named Miss Congeniality, and Miss Oregon USA Alaina Bergsma was named the most photogenic. They both won $1,000, but didn't make the top 16.

During the interview round, Bolte appeared to stumble as she answered a question about whether women are portrayed positively in films. Bolte said women generally depict strong characters, citing Julia Robert's role as a prostitute in "Pretty Woman."

Slideshow: 11 surprising facts about Miss USA contestants (on this page)

"She was having a rough time, but, you know, she came out on top," Bolte said.

The pageant at the Planet Hollywood casino on the Las Vegas Strip had three competitions: swimsuit, evening gowns and interview question. The contestants were whittled to 16 after the show's opening fashion show number. The top 16 were picked by preliminary judges through competitions and interviews during the week before the telecast.

The contestants were later narrowed down to a field of 10 and then five before Culpo was named Miss USA.

Pop band Cobra Starship performed as the beauty queens modeled their string bikinis. Singer Akon danced with the top five during the evening gown competition.

Culpo had one of the more modest dresses of the contest, with many of the beauty queens wearing revealing gowns with bare backs, high slits and sheer fabric. In contrast, Culpo's flowing gown covered her legs and back while revealing some cleavage.

The judge's panel included Chef Cat Cora, TV personality Arsenio Hall, singer Joe Jonas and reality TV star Rob Kardashian. Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic stepped in to host. Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella crowned Culpo her successor at the end of the night.

Culpo will represent the United States at the 61st Miss Universe pageant in December. An American has not been named Miss Universe since Brook Lee won the title in 1997.

The first-ever transgender contestant to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant made it to the penultimate round before losing her bid to win the title last month. She was initially denied entry to Canada's pageant because she was not born female. Donald Trump, who runs the Miss Universe Organization, subsequently overruled that decision.

Miss Universe publicity director Brenda Mendoza has said transgender competitors are now welcome at all of its pageants around the world.

The competition is not affiliated with the Miss America pageant.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 51 vie for Miss USA title

  1. Closed captioning of: 51 vie for Miss USA title

    >>> stage tonight in las vegas as 51 contestants vie for the title of miss usa 2012 . cat cora is co-host of bravo's "around the world" and they are two of the judges for tonight's big event and they are joining us this morning. hi, guys.

    >> hi!

    >> good morning.

    >> mary lou , let me start with you. why are people so intrigued by the miss usa pageant ?

    >> you know, i think people have always been fascinated with beauty and the idea that someone could come up through the ranks and represent the united states in the miss universe pageant . and it's always kind of fun to watch the fashion, the bathing suits, the conversation --

    >> exactly.

    >> -- and find somebody who's really poised and beautiful.

    >> kat , what for you will be the biggest factor in judging the pageant tonight?

    >> well, i think it's really all about beauty. and i think, you know, for miss usa , that's really what the criteria is. and we're going to be looking at how these confident women carry themselves, how they, you know, that brightness, that it factor, and is this miss usa going to be able to go on and represent the united states in miss universe ? and that's really what we're looking for.

    >> mary lou , if you had to give some of these contestants a little bit of advice before tonight, what would it be as a judge?

    >> i would say, well, i don't get to talk to them before. we don't even get to meet them until at the exact moment. it's all very, you know, very sacred in terms of fair, fairness.

    >> right.

    >> i would say be the best you that you can be and project this air of confidence, exude a certain poise and being able to represent the united states .

    >> and kat , real quickly.

    >> i would say have a good time! have a sparkle.

    >> absolutely. and kat , twitter is involved somehow? people are going to tweet in, what, a question, a comment?

    >> oh, yeah. i mean, basically, you know, twitter. we're going to be tweeting all night, twitter, you know, everyone write in, write in. we're going to also be asking people for their questions because we always ask miss universe a question. so you know, twitter, you know, writing in and let us know.

    >> yeah.

    >> what your question is.

    >> yeah. we're actually going to be taking a question from the twitter feed, et cetera . so make sure you get in there.

    >> miss usa has gone interactive. kat cora and marilu henner , thank you very much for your time. you can watch " miss usa 2012 " starting at

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