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New Miss USA told herself: ‘Don’t trip’

The newly crowned Miss USA, Crystle Stewart, won the coveted tiara by avoiding the on- and off-stage missteps of some of her predecessors.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Young women and girls need positive role models, and the newly crowned Miss USA, Crystle Stewart, is looking forward to serving in that capacity.

“I just want to instill character and determination in young women,” the tall, 26-year-old motivational speaker from Texas told TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira Monday on Rockefeller Plaza.

Stewart ought to relax a little. She's already got the job, and she did it by avoiding the on- and off-stage missteps of some of her predecessors.

Wearing the tiara she won on Friday night when she took the title at the end of a two-hour live broadcast from Las Vegas on NBC, Stewart was all smiles as she talked about her hopes for the coming year. A graduate of the University of Houston with a degree in consumer science and merchandising, she runs her own business, “Inside/Out,” which helps young women build confidence and self-esteem.

So, when Lauer asked her if she can counter some of the negative female role models in Hollywood, Stewart answered without hesitation.

“One of my goals is to be a positive role model,” she said. “I think we need that more today, and that’s my goal, to be a great Miss USA.”

Stewart succeeds Rachel Smith, whose reign was a model of good behavior in marked contrast to that of her predecessor, Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner. Conner had nearly lost her crown when she was seen in New York clubs boozing it up and acting in a manner that pageant officials like to characterize as “inappropriate.”

The pageant’s co-owner, Donald Trump, forgave Conner when she went into rehab and allowed her to keep her crown. Other contestants that year were also in embarrassing episodes. Miss Nevada USA Katie Rees lost her state title when racy pictures of her surfaced on the Internet, and Miss New Jersey USA Ashley Harder had to resign her title when she became pregnant.

Smith herself had a famous pratfall during the evening gown competition at the Miss Universe 2007 pageant in Mexico City, an accident she rose from with aplomb to finish fifth.

Vieira asked Stewart if she was thinking of Smith’s crash landing as she was competing on Friday.

“I don’t think about negative things,” Stewart said. “I just think positive things: ‘Don’t trip, answer my question right, and I’ll be OK.’ ”

The pageant, hosted by Donny and Marie Osmond, was held at the Theatre for the Performing Arts at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Each contestant from 50 states and the District of Columbia was judged in three categories: swimsuit, evening gown and interview.

The Miss USA pageant judges were Heather Mills, contestant on season four of "Dancing With the Stars"; Rob Schneider, star of "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"; Joey Fatone, host of "The Singing Bee"; Kristian Alfonso, entrepreneur and star of NBC's "Days of our Lives"; Olympic gold-medal swimmer Amanda Beard; Christian Siriano, this season's winner of Bravo's hit show "Project Runway"; San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman; celebrity hairstylist Ken Paves; Kelly Carlson, star of "Nip/Tuck"; and Vanity Fair's celebrity journalist George Wayne.

Miss USA travels the nation as an advocate for breast and ovarian cancer awareness, education, research and legislation. The Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe pageants are owned by Trump and NBC Universal.

As Miss USA, Stewart will travel to Vietnam this summer to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.

“It’ll be in Vietnam July 13,” she said. “I’ve never been to Vietnam, so I’m real excited. I’m just ready for the event. I’m ready.”