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Miss USA: ‘I'm going to hold my head high’

Her infamous slip and fall at the Miss Universe Pageant, and the boos from the audience, will not deter Miss USA Rachel Smith from representing her country proudly, the beauty queen from Tennessee proclaimed emphatically Monday.“Unfortunately, it happened to me. It is part of my past. I'm going to hold my head high,” Smith, 22, said during a live appearance on TODAY. “What kind of role model
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Her infamous slip and fall at the Miss Universe Pageant, and the boos from the audience, will not deter Miss USA Rachel Smith from representing her country proudly, the beauty queen from Tennessee proclaimed emphatically Monday.

“Unfortunately, it happened to me. It is part of my past. I'm going to hold my head high,” Smith, 22, said during a live appearance on TODAY.

“What kind of role model would I be if I had just crawled off the stage or just stayed there lying on the ground? It was tough, but I'm going to continue to be a good role model and I look forward to what is ahead,” Smith said.

It happened on May 28 during the evening gown competition. As she glided across the stage, Smith stumbled and fell backward onto the floor.

Smith appeared stunned briefly but rose to her feet quickly, ignoring boos from the audience. She smiled for the rest of her appearance on stage.

“I got right back up and I continued on,” Smith said proudly, adding that she wishes that video clips of her fall would not be shown over and over again on television.

The boos and hisses were not the first for Smith in Mexico City. She was jeered during the costume competition on May 20, when she wore an Elvis costume. Smith was booed again when she was announced as one of the five finalists, a cut Miss Mexico failed to make.

“I don't think anything can really prepare you for that,” Smith told TODAY's Ann Curry, referring to the booing. “I was slightly forewarned before my arrival in Mexico City, but nothing can prepare you for that reaction.”

Political commentary

The reaction to the United States' representative in the international competition may be more political than personal. Relations between the U.S. and its neighbor to the south have been strained in recent years because of the political debate surrounding the large numbers of Mexicans entering the United States illegally through the porous border.

During the 1993 Miss Universe Pageant, which was also held in Mexico City, Miss USA Kenya Moore was also booed.

“It is what it is,” Smith said. “I don't have anything to say to them, because I hold my head high and I will continue to represent my country. I was honored to wear a sash that said Miss USA. Honored.”

Smith, like 2006 Miss USA Tara Conner before her, finished fourth runner-up. The audience did applaud Smith when she graciously offered a thank you in Spanish.

Riyo Mori, a 20-year-old dance instructor from Japan, went on to be named Miss Universe 2007, beating out Smith and 75 other competitors for the coveted crown. She has not been back to Japan since winning the competition on May 28.

“I heard Japan is going crazy right now. My pleasure,” Mori said Monday, with the help of a translator, during a live appearance with Curry and TODAY host Matt Lauer on the Plaza.

Mori plans to devote her year as Miss Universe educating people about HIV and AIDS.