Alyssa Campanella, Miss USA 2011 poses with SkyBlu, Chelsea Korka and his Pary Rock crew before a performance at
Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday, May 27, 2012.
May 29, 2012
MONDAY IN LAS VEGAS
It was another hot-temperature, grueling day in front of the cameras for the 51 contestants of the 2012 Miss USA Pageant as they filmed around-the-town segments for the Las Vegas highlights to be woven into the Sunday, June 3, live NBC broadcast from Planet Hollywood. Real-estate billionaire Donald Trump, who owns the Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe pageants, flies here early next week to meet all the ladies. He also hosts Tuesday’s fundraiser at his Trump International Hotel and Tower for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, with casino heads Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. Newt Gingrich also is expected there to boost Mitt.
The year’s three filming highlights for the glamour girls were at the Flamingo pool, the just-opened Carlos’n Charlie’s Mexican party restaurant also at the Flamingo -- and then at the scandalously sexy “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace. Our thanks to Miss USA photographers Darren Decker and Patrick Prather for today’s photo galleries.
The lovely ladies organized teams for a volleyball game in the Flamingo pool and played rock, paper, scissors to win the serve. They were gifted with OPTX sunglasses, one of the pageant’s sponsors. At Carlos’n Charlie’s, it was fiesta time. Our 2012 Miss Nevada USA Jade Kelsall led her rivals on a dance tour with chefs and waiters at the party playground. Then came the shocks and surprises of “Absinthe” served in a private, special selections showcase by The Gazilionaire, who didn’t hold back one bit from his four-letter and full-frontal comedy. At first, the girls were nervous about laughing, but after a few moments were hysterical over his comedy and after Penny Pibbets launched into even more graphic humor. The girls were open-mouthed watching the spandex-covered acrobatic Duo Vector, applauded when Melody Sweets sang and covered up in plastic while a twirling female acrobat performed through falling rain from the top of the circus tent. Then the audience-participation fun started, and you’ll see it on the NBC broadcast. “Peepshow” and “Absinthe” starlet Angel Porrino demonstrated her tap-dancing skills in her weather balloon act, and then asked for a volunteer.
2012 Miss West Virginia USA Andrea Rogers agreed to doff her dress and perform in a bikini. Lotion was applied to her body head to toe in order to squeeze into the latex. She nearly lost her balance inside the rolling balloon but recovered and won applause from everybody in the tent. Andrea said “I’ve tap danced since I was 3 years old, and I give dance instruction classes back home. But this was a first, and it’s much trickier than you’d think. As much as people back home would marvel at it, I don’t think it’s something I’ll introduce at my studio! Maybe when it’s shown on TV, people will want me to perform it. Angel gets top marks for doing it nightly without mishaps. I almost lost my top, but I’d do it again!” The contestants narrowly missed singer Pink, who arrived later to watch the full show and met up backstage with Gaz and Penny.
This past weekend included the princesses of the 61st annual pageant began tougher tasks in their daylong rehearsals and dance routines and pair off with Best Buddies mentoring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They were guests of J.Lo and Marc Anthony at “The Chosen” at Mandalay Bay on Saturday and partied with Sky Blu of LMFAO at Pure in Caesars Palace on Sunday. Today (Tuesday) we return for the remainder of the competition with more reports of rehearsals, weekend events and preparations for the preliminary competition Wednesday at Planet Hollywood’s Theater for the Performing Arts where we will begin reporting live from the desert. The prelims are the first glimpse of the contestants in their gowns, swimsuits, dresses and dance numbers. The pageant will be preceded by a red carpet with 2011 Miss Universe Leila Lopes, 2011 Miss USA Alyssa Campanella, hosts Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic, roving reporters Kelly Osbourne and Jeannie Mai, judges Arsenio Hall, Joe Jonas, Rob Kardashian, Ali Fedotowsky, George Kotsiopoulos and other celebrity guests before the telecast.
Miss South Carolina USA 2012, Erika Powell, works on her fashion walk during rehearsal at Planet Hollywood Resort on
Monday, May 28, 2012. / Miss New York USA 2012, Johanna Sambucini / Miss Minnesota USA 2012, Nitaya Panemalaythong
Miss Connecticut USA 2012, Marie-Lynn Piscitelli; Miss Alaska USA 2012, Jessica Kazmierczak; Miss Arkansas USA 2012, Kelsey Dow; Miss Hawaii
USA 2012, Brandie Kapuaalohaakaua Cazimero; Miss Florida USA 2012, Karina Brez; and Miss Kentucky USA 2012, Amanda Ashlee Mertz; dance at
the Voodoo Lounge in the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday, May 27, 2012.
Miss Iowa USA 2012, Rebecca Hodge / Miss Alaska USA 2012, Jessica Kazmierczak; Miss Arkansas USA 2012, Kelsey Dow; Miss District
Of Columbia USA 2012, Monique LaShone Thompkins; and Miss Hawaii USA 2012, Brandie Kapuaalohaakaua Cazimero
BEST BUDDIES SATURDAY
Miss Mississippi USA 2012, Myverick Rashea Garcia, poses for a photo with her Best Buddie Tracy during a Best Buddies
event / Miss South Carolina USA 2012, Erika Powell, poses for a photo with her Best Buddie Catherine Wiencek
Miss Pennsylvania USA 2012, Sheena Monnin plays ball with her Best Buddy
RAMSEY STEAK HOUSE
Miss USA 2011, Alyssa Campanella, surprises the Miss USA 2012 Contestants with a dessert she made for them at Gordon Ramsay Steak at the Paris
Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, May 25, 2012 / Miss Texas USA 2012, Brittany Lynn Booker, shows off part of her dinner
Miss South Dakota USA 2012, Taylor Neisen; and Miss Rhode Island USA 2012, Olivia Culpo
GETTING TO KNOW: MISS MINNESOTA USA
The new Miss Minnesota USA, born in a refugee camp, entered her first beauty pageant seeking a scholarship, but also won the crown. One measure of the American Dream: After your parents dodge soldiers in the Laotian countryside, and your father builds a bamboo raft to escape across the Mekong River, and your family settles in a prosperous neighborhood in Savage, you are crowned Miss Minnesota USA, and the thing that makes you shake your head in wonder is butt glue. "I never knew about butt glue! Did you know about butt glue?" asks Nitaya Panemalaythong, eyes wide. She discovered it during the swimwear part of the state pageant in November, where there's a downside of having your bikini bottom ride up your backside. That Panemalaythong had never heard of the glue -- officially known as It Stays! Body Adhesive -- speaks to her unfamiliarity with pageant culture.
The Miss Minnesota USA pageant is the only such contest that Panemalaythong ever entered. Not only that, but she's 26, the oldest a competitor can be. She's also the first Asian-American to be named Miss Minnesota USA. "I did this for the scholarship money," she said, explaining that a state pageant winner is eligible for $45,000 at a Missouri university. In the meantime, she's had to put her education on hold at Normandale Community College, where she enrolled as a part-time student last fall after she'd gotten her parents and siblings settled and decided she could "finally focus on myself instead of worrying about everyone else." But she's always been a worrier about her family.
The elementary translator
Panemalaythong was born in 1985 in a refugee camp in Thailand, where her parents and three older siblings landed after escaping from Laos. The family arrived here when she was 1, "so I feel that Minnesota is my home state, really." She spent much of her childhood in Mountain Lake, filling in the gaps familiar to many immigrant children, such as being the family translator during parent-teacher conferences.
Eventually, though, her family went on the move in search of jobs, first to California, then to North Carolina, where she graduated from high school. Scarce finances put college on hold, and Panemalaythong returned here to live with a sister, while her parents, Kesone and Kaenchanh, moved to be near three sons in Anchorage, Alaska. She did some modeling, "but it didn't really take me anywhere," she said. "I was told I didn't really have the Midwestern look and would have to move to Los Angeles or New York. But I was only 20 and I couldn't see leaving my family."
She began working at Best Buy, then Wells Fargo to help support the family. When her mother developed health problems and her parents returned to Minnesota, Panemalaythong continued to postpone school and got a job at a reinsurance brokerage firm. The wait was worth it, though. In her pageant bio, Panemalaythong described her proudest moment as "the day that my brother-in-law and I purchased a home for my family" in 2010. Today, she lives there with her parents, two younger sisters, a younger brother, an older sister and her husband, and two toddlers. Panemalaythong laughingly defends her right to her own bedroom. 'Can you take the pressure?' Panemalaythong is a striking young woman, whippet-thin with perfect posture. She seems a bit reserved at first, but you soon wonder if that demeanor isn't simply her trying to keep from breaking into laughter about life's twists and turns.
"One of the qualities I most appreciate about Nitaya is she's not trying to impress you," said Jennifer Isaac, who teaches public speaking at Normandale. In her night classes, Panemalaythong "didn't try to appear completely put together," Isaac said. "After working a long day at her job, she may not have eaten and sometimes I'd see her eating candy and Slim Jims. She didn't try to hide her habits and appear to be perfect." No wonder the world of beauty pageants has proven eye-opening. For someone who wears little makeup and usually pulls her hair into a ponytail, Panemalaythong is learning about the transformative qualities of hair extensions and false eyelashes. Contestants do their own hair and makeup at Miss USA, so her skill set is expanding. In early January, she spent Pageant Power Week with state winners from the Upper Midwest, meeting image consultants, attending a "Beauty Is Power" seminar, and rocking the Jumbotron at a Timberwolves game.
While there's a reason that the stereotype of the robotic beauty queen exists, Panemalaythong is learning that competing isn't as easy as she once thought. "I even did a paper on it for school, how people would come up to me and say, 'You're not one of those girls.' But if you look at a contestant walking across a stage in 6-inch heels and a swimsuit -- I mean, give her a little credit there," she said, laughing. More seriously, she added, the interview segment is where crowns are achieved or lost -- probably because of the much-mocked beauty queen answers about saving puppies while working for world peace. "The interviews are really what the pageant is about, being able to speak in an organized way about anything," she said. "Can you take the pressure?" Isaac helped Panemalaythong work on speaking slowly and with more volume, as well as developing her goal of helping immigrant families. "I really believe that Nitaya is the face and the voice of many first-generation college students," Isaac said.
Doors are opening
Victory is proving a somewhat mixed blessing. Panemalaythong is quick to say how privileged she is to represent Minnesota, and to be able to tell the story of her family, which is the story of so many immigrant families here.
Yet competing for Miss USA is spendier than she'd imagined, especially without a network of backers that more experienced competitors build over several years. So, part of her energy is devoted to finding sponsors who can help subsidize the cost of a gown, or days of wardrobe changes, or makeup or shoes. Though she's not used to giving such things much thought, she realized that "you don't want to give the judges any reason to eliminate you."
At 26, she's practically eligible for an AARP card in the pageant world, but Panemalaythong regards her advanced age as a plus, and that having a few more years of life experience helps her keep pageants in perspective.
"If this is your only goal and dream and you don't make it, where do you go from there?" she said. "But this is a great thing for me. Many doors are opening. I want to make the most out of everything."
The Lao Embassy in Washington, D.C., has contacted her about attending an event, "which was a little bit overwhelming." She'd like to use her beauty pulpit to make Minnesotans more aware of Lao culture. "With the older generations, there was a tension between the Lao community and the Hmong community," she said. "I think the newer generations are saying, 'We are people from Laos and we stand as one.'"
Her father, Kesone, beamed as she hammed it up around her siblings, posing for a visiting photographer. "It's good for her life, good for her future," he said, nodding. More than a quarter-century has passed since he built that bamboo raft and floated toward the future.