Miss North Carolina Kristen Dalton was crowned Miss USA 2009 on Sunday, beating out 50 other beauty queens in the pageant televised live on NBC from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
The 21-year-old aspiring motivational speaker from Wilmington edged out first runner-up Miss California Carrie Prejean, of San Diego. Miss Kentucky, Maria Montgomery of Danville, was the fourth runner-up.
Contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia competed in the pageant. Contestants were judged by their performance in swimsuit and evening gown modeling contests and their responses to a question asked onstage; unlike the rival Miss America pageant, Miss USA contestants do not perform a talent.
Dalton's title comes with a year's use of a New York apartment, a public relations team, a two-year scholarship at the New York Film Academy and an undisclosed salary.
She also will go to the Bahamas in August to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, where American beauties haven't been lucky in recent years. Both Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart and her predecessor, Rachel Smith, wiped out on stage during the evening gown competitions, becoming accidental YouTube stars.
If there is a YouTube moment from Sunday's show, it might be Miss California's answer to a question about legalizing same-sex marriage. The tall blonde stumbled some before giving an answer that appeared to please the pageant audience.
"We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," Prejean said. "And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."