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Olivia Culpo’s Crowning Achievement

BU student wins Miss USA pageant

| From BU Today | By Amy Laskowski

Miss Rhode Island, Olivia Culpo (CGS’12), was crowned Miss USA, on Sunday, June 3, 2012, in Las Vegas. Photo by AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Olivia Culpo says she really wasn’t expecting to win. Standing on stage at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas on June 3, she was competing against 50 seasoned beauty queens, many who had been wearing tiaras since they were toddlers. This being only Culpo’s second pageant—her first came when she was crowned Miss Rhode Island last September, sending her to Miss USA—she figured winning the title was a long shot.

To her amazement, she won.

“I was so surprised and my first thought was that all the other girls behind me were going to win, and I just didn’t think that I was going to make it so far,” says Culpo (CGS’12). “And I thought that everyone who participated in the pageant was so great, and I was honored to win the title.”

Appearing before an estimated television audience of six million viewers, Culpo, 20, wowed the judges when she strutted across the stage first in a lilac bikini and later in a flowing fuchsia gown.

But she garnered the most attention during the contest’s interview round with a pitch-perfect answer to a question submitted by a viewer via Twitter: “Would you feel it would be fair that a transgender woman wins the Miss USA title over a natural-born woman?” The question referred to the recent Miss Universe controversy over a transgendered Canadian woman who was initially turned away from the competition, but later allowed to compete.

Culpo began her answer tentatively, saying that while she thought it would be fair, she could understand how people might be a little apprehensive. “But today, where there are so many surgeries and so many people out there who have a need to change for a happier life,” she said. “I do accept that because I believe it’s a free country.”

The crowd applauded wildly, and the judges beamed their approval.

Culpo elaborated on that answer a few days later: “I feel like in America we all have the right to be happy and the right to live freely, so that’s how I stand on it. It all goes back to the foundation of this country and freedom of choice.”

Besides an obvious talent for public speaking, Culpo is an accomplished cellist and has played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She launched her modeling career when she moved to Boston to attend BU, appearing in ads for Keurig, Stuff Magazine, and the Improper Bostonian. Later this month, she can be seen on the big screen in a bit part in Ted, a comedy written and directed by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis.

It was modeling that first sparked Culpo’s interest in the Miss Rhode Island pageant last year. She rented a dress for $20—a dress she later discovered had a hole in it—and admits she entered the Miss Rhode Island pageant as practice.

“I felt that pageantry was a way to practice my stage presence,” the Cranston native says. “It was all geared to my direction toward communications and acting.”

Since winning the Miss USA pageant, Culpo’s life has changed dramatically. After leaving the stage of Las Vegas’ Planet Hollywood Casino and Resort, where the pageant was held, she flew to New York City to appear on Live! with Kelly. And she’s thrilled that she now gets to live in a $3 million apartment in the city with Leila Lopes, Miss Universe 2011, courtesy of Donald Trump, co-owner of the Miss USA pageant.

The new Miss USA has already weathered her first controversy: the day after the pageant, Miss Pennsylvania, Sheena Monnin, made headlines when she alleged that the contest was fixed and that one of her fellow contestants had said she’d seen a paper listing the top five winners before their names were announced. (Monnin subsequently resigned as Miss Pennsylvania.)

“It’s not rigged at all,” Culpo says, when asked about the uproar. “It’s kind of sad that she’s trying to break down the integrity of this entire organization. I feel for her that she’s giving up her title, because it’s such an awesome opportunity and such a great experience.”

Culpo also says she’s already gotten used to paparazzi following her around. She’s been featured on the TMZ, where she talked about wolfing down a cheeseburger hours after winning.

The newly crowned Culpo, who will take the next year off from school, says she’s excited to begin working on causes supported by the Miss USA organization, like breast and ovarian cancer prevention in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Because of her interest in the cello, she plans to also become involved in projects supporting music education.

When she returns to BU in 2013, she says, she plans to study either communications or acting (she’s a huge Audrey Hepburn fan). She’s already thinking about the Miss Universe pageant in December. She has met with the team that will help her prepare for the competition and while she hasn’t given too much thought to it, she says she’s begun to consider her wardrobe for the event.

“For Miss USA I wore a free-flowing gown because I always want to feel as comfortable as I can on stage,” Culpo says. “I think I’ll stick with that for Miss Universe, since it worked so well the last time.”

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