Rima Fakih, a 24-year-old Arab-American, won the 2010 title in Las Vegas on Sunday after strutting confidently in an orange and gold bikini, wearing a strapless white gown that resembled a wedding dress and saying health insurance should cover birth control pills.
Fakih, from Dearborn, Michigan, nearly stumbled in her evening gown, but she said she believed she had the title after glancing at pageant owner Donald Trump as she awaited the results with the first runner-up, Miss Oklahoma USA Morgan Elizabeth Woolard.
“That’s the same look that he gives them when he says, ‘you’re hired’,” she said, referring to Trump’s catchphrase from his reality show The Apprentice.
“She’s a great girl,” said Trump, who owns the pageant with the NBC television network in a joint venture.
In a moment that was replayed during the broadcast, Fakih nearly fell while finishing her walk in her gown because of the length of its train. But she made it without a spill and went on to win.
“I did it here, I better not do it at Miss Universe,” she said.
“Modelling does help, after all.”
When asked how she felt about winning the crown, Fakih said, “Ask me after I’ve had a pizza.”
The pageant, held at Vegas’ Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on Sunday night, was hosted by Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone and NBC correspondent Natalie Morales.
Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant, moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York, where she attended a Catholic school. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003.
She told pageant organisers her family celebrated both Muslim and Christian faiths.
Pageant officials said historical pageant records were not detailed enough to show whether Fakih was the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win the Miss USA title.
The pageant started in 1952 as a local swimsuit competition in Long Beach, California.
Fakih told reporters she sold her car after graduating from university in Michigan to help pay for her run in the Miss Michigan USA pageant.
Fakih replaces Miss USA 2009 Kristen Dalton and won a spot representing the United States later this year in the 2010 Miss Universe pageant.
She also gets a one-year lease in a New York apartment with living expenses, an undisclosed salary and various health, professional and beauty services.
During the interview portion, Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should because it was costly.
“I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it’s a controlled substance,” Fakih said.
First runner-up Woolard handled the night’s toughest question, about Arizona’s strict new immigration law.
Woolard said she supported the law, which requires police enforcing another law to verify a person’s immigration status if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally.
She said she was against illegal immigration but was also against racial profiling.
“I’m a huge believer in states’ rights. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about America,” Woolard said.
“So I think it’s perfectly fine for Arizona to create that law.”