During the past six months, Tara Conner has shared a room with pop stars Sheila E. and Taylor Dayne. The former Miss USA has boogied down with the funkadelic George Clinton. She has flown to England in an attempt to turn some girls gone wild to mild.
And yet the highlight for the self- described “pretty busy little muffin” was sitting in the kitchen with her “country as a corn flake” grandmother during a Christmas visit, making chocolate pies and singing Coal Miner's Daughter.
“You just can't beat that,” she said.
As the first Miss USA from Kentucky, Conner, 23, a graduate of Russell County High School, made some unwanted headlines, nearly losing her 2006 crown because of her hard-partying ways. She held a tearful news conference, went to rehab and retained her crown; along the way, she became one of the best-known Miss USAs in recent memory.
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Conner has most recently parlayed that fame into two television shows. She is competing in the third installment of CMT's Gone Country, a reality competition that tries to turn celebrities into country music stars. (Thus the bunking with pop stars and the funkadelic boogie.)
She also is one of the hosts of MTV's The Girls of Hedsor Hall, a reality show that takes bad girls from America and gives them the strict English prep school treatment.
Fortunately, Conner said, the two shows are broadcast at different times, and the so inclined can get a weekly double dose of her.
Gone Country, which airs new episodes through March, is close to her heart because she always has wanted to sing. She grew up around music because her father and uncle played instruments and sang, but, she said, she was too insecure to join in.
The show, she said, was surreal, what with Clinton always falling asleep with food in his beard and her kind of not knowing what her roommates, Sheila E. and Dayne, were famous for until one day it clicked. “Oh, you sang that!” (Dayne is best known for her 1988 hit Tell It to My Heart, and Sheila E. hit the charts in 1984 with The Glamorous Life. She also worked with Prince.)
“It was like I was in Wayne's World. … ‘I'm not worthy,'” Conner said.
But, she said, she hopes she can translate her time on the show into a real country music career along the lines of her musical inspirations, who are as varied as Miley Cyrus and Loretta Lynn. She's working with a Nashville vocal coach and writing her own songs, one of which she just mastered, a fact she mentioned several times in a short interview.
If singing doesn't work out, there is always hosting.
“I have so many different hidden talents,” she said.
Hedsor Hall is the latest in a line of shows, from American Idol to Rock of Love Charm School With Sharon Osbourne, in which British people tell Americans how to behave.
Conner, who is accompanied by British colleagues, hosts the show but helps by teaching things such as how to walk with a book on your head. She said she was surprised how easily a country girl from Kentucky fit in with the British upper crust.
“Every proper lady that walked into Hedsor Hall, I bonded with,” she said.
At the same time, as a reformed bad girl, she said she felt a connection with the young women on the show.
Conner has resigned herself to the fact that, for at least a while longer, she will be identified with her infamous past. But she is taking it in stride. “There is always going to be somebody who has something to say,” she said, “but it is getting easier.”