New Miss Universe marvels at her improbable rise to the top

Friday December 21, 2012

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The 20-year-old Rhode Islander who brought the Miss Universe crown back to the U.S. for the first time in 15 years is hoping that her quick rise through the beauty contest ranks and an onstage stumble will show women that anything is possible.

Perched high above the Las Vegas Strip in the Planet Hollywood winner’s suite Thursday, Olivia Culpo told The Associated Press that her yearlong transformation from Boston University sophomore to pageant winner proves that women can accomplish anything to which they set their minds.

"My first pageant was a year ago and already I’m Miss Universe. It’s kind of incredible," she said.

She pointed to the fact that she stumbled on her red velvet evening dress Wednesday night before beating out beauty queens from 88 countries as proof that confidence and poise matter more than perfect performance.

"I like the fact that I tripped last night in my evening gown. I think that that’s cool," she said. "And you learn from it: Don’t step on your dress," she added with a laugh.

Family in the Berkshires

Culpo, whose father was a Pittsfield High School graduate, spent many summers visiting family in the Berkshires. Several relatives, including her grandmother, still live in Pittsfield.

The former Miss USA spent the first day of her reign surrounded by stylists and handlers, wearing a scarlet mini-dress with cutout cap sleeves and sky-high silver heels. Plates of cupcakes and croissants went untouched as she sipped from a water bottle with a straw.

For the past six months, Culpo has shared a New York City apartment with outgoing Miss Universe, Leila Lopes of Angola. The two titleholders traditionally room together.

Her coronation ended a long losing spell for the U.S. in the competition. An American had not won the Miss Universe title since Miss Hawaii, Brook Lee, won in 1997.

Hole in her rented dress

A middle child of five, Culpo was studying theater and communications at Boston University when she decided to enroll in the Miss Rhode Island pageant last year to improve her stage presence.

The petite brunette ended up winning that contest in a rented $20 dress with a hole in the back. She claimed the Miss USA crown in the spring, despite losing an earring during the interview portion.

Culpo said she studied world events, prepared for interview questions and memorized proper walking and posing techniques using stacks of flashcards.

The aspiring actress took a year off from Boston University to fulfill the travel and charity obligations that come along with the Miss USA crown, and now says she will not return to her former college.

"I do want to finish my education," she said. "I just don’t think that Boston has a big enough market for what I want to do."


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