BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Fearless was the word spoken over and over again by members and supporters of the Miss USA Organization and a young woman would certainly have to be fearless to strut out in a bikini in front of a national television audience, but it is a different kind of strength the Miss Universe Organization president said she referred to.
"It's all about confidence and that's where women will take their place in the world," said Paula Shugart, MUO president. "The more confident they are and that's what we've always been about."
This year, the Miss USA pageant morphed from a platform for young women seeking to bring attention to causes into an unexpected plot twist in one man's quest to become president of the United States. On Sunday evening, when the 2015 Miss USA finals began, Shugart was fearless in demanding that the attention return to the 51 young women who have worked for years to reach the big stage.
So, with a new panel of judges - all former title holders - and a new lineup of entertainers, the pageant began with hopes of being, as host Todd Newton put it, "the most exciting night in recent pageant history."
Right off, 15 women set the bar high. The women representing Texas, Maryland, Arizona, Michigan, Virginia, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Hawaii, New York, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma, Delaware, Louisiana and Alabama were the semifinalists. Through impressive swimwear and elegant dresses, those 15 would be whittled down to just five: Oklahoma, Texas, Rhode Island, Maryland and Nevada.
Through it all, each musical number and runway display from the contestants would be buffered with a glimpse into the lives of these women and how, beyond their beauty, they worked to help others around them. The result was a show of diversity, talent, intelligence and, yes, fearlessness.
Finally, Miss Oklahoma Olivia Jordan took the ultimate prize. In her first encounter with the media as the new Miss USA, Jordan did not flinch. Displaying a bubbly giddiness, she didn't hesitate to tackle the drama Miss USA has faced in recent weeks.
"This organization is not one person; it's definitely not just me," Jordan said. "It's not one leader. We're family. This organization certainly celebrates diversity and I think that was very clear on stage tonight. I look forward to being a part of this brand and looking forward to spreading a message of love and diversity and acceptance."
So, it is with a sense of fearlessness that Jordan will move into an incredible year of representing Miss USA and later competing for Miss Universe. She told reporters she has a modest goal of changing the world with her time in the spotlight. With more spotlights than ever pointed towards the organization, she may get that chance. In addition to promoting the various charities MUO works with, Jordan will also have to be the public face of an organization hoping to step out of the shadow of its co-owner, while he pursues a presidential campaign.
That's a goal Stan Hubbard, CEO of REELZ Channel, hoped to help with by picking up the pageant when NBC Universal dropped its coverage. Hubbard said he believes in the 64-year-old tradition and what it represents. While he had no idea what the final numbers would be, he said it would also be a historic night for his company.
"We had the chance to do the right thing, to stand up for this community and to stand up for those 51 contestants," Hubbard said. "It feels so good to have done that."
Texas was the first runner up and Louisiana finished in the top 10.
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