June 8, 2014 at 10:31 PM ET
It was all high heels and hairspray in Baton Rouge as Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez, 24, won the Miss USA 2014 pageant Sunday.
Sanchez — a successful model from Las Vegas — has studied the martial art of taekwondo for many years, earning a fourth-degree black belt. In one of her interview answers, she told the audience she believes all women should learn to defend and empower themselves.
The first runner up in the pageant was Miss North Dakota Audra Mari.
Veteran pageant host Giuliana Rancic and MSNBC news anchor Thomas Roberts introduced the 51 contestants before judges whittled them down to 20 semi-finalists to compete in the swimsuit, evening gown and interview competitions.
During introductions, fans got to know the contestants through taped interviews that highlighted their backgrounds and interests. Miss Pennsylvania Valerie Gatto, 24, described herself as “a product of rape,” and said she hopes her story of overcoming that experience will inspire others.
In a nod to host state Louisiana, the bikini-clad contestants wore Mardi Gras beads that covered all the necessary places as country chart-toppers Florida Georgia Line sang their hit “Cruise” and rap star Nelly performed.
Cosmo weighed in on the contest, complimenting home state girl Miss Louisiana for having hair one might actually see at the beach.
Celebrity judges — including actress Rumer Willis, NBA star Karl Malone, singer Lance Bass and actor Ian Ziering — judged the long-legged ladies.
Bringing the 62-year-old pageant into the modern age of social media, this year viewers voted to keep one of their favorite contestants in the top six by tweeting the hashtag #SaveTheQueen and a mystery word, revealed during the broadcast.
Miss USA 2013 Erin Brady from Connecticut showed her support for the nervous contestants with tweets throughout the night, and she encouraged fans to #SaveTheQueen by voting for their favorites via Twitter.
Fifth runner-up Miss Iowa won the #SaveTheQueen Twitter votes to nab a spot in the top six finalists, but drew ire from many on Twitter after answering a question about technology saying sending selfies and photos on social media makes today’s youth “narcissistic.”
The pressure is always on during the interview category, but Rancic and Roberts threw softballs for the first question. Some fans jumped on a stumble by Miss Florida — the closest thing to a gaffe in the first round:
Before the contestants answered tougher questions, a video montage of former highlights and embarrassing answers from past contestants put the pressure on. But the finalists managed to tackle heavy topics — from assaults against women on college campuses to the recent trade of Guantanamo detainees for Bowe Bergdahl — without flubbing their answers.
The top ten finalists included Miss Florida, Miss North Dakota, Miss Georgia, Miss Maryland, Miss Wisconsin, Miss Iowa, Miss Nevada, Miss Louisiana, Miss California and Miss South Carolina.
Sanchez will next represent the U.S. at the Miss Universe competition later this year.