“The past year has been a blur. It still hasn’t hit me that I was Miss USA for a year. It’s crazy that it hasn’t sunk in. It was a dream all my life to be Miss USA, and only now when it comes to an end will I have the time to look at it all and smile remembering so many wonderful experiences. I want to look at all the photos from the year and read everything on my blog that I wrote so that I can think back to all the incredible memories.
“I will feel a little sad,” Kristen told me in one of her last exclusive interviews as captured by contributing photographer Tom Donoghue. “I understand that I’m done; it’s over for me. I think I will be a little bit scared and feel alone. Rightfully so!Tomorrow night -- in less than 36 hours -- Kristen Dalton’s reign as Miss USA comes to an end, and she’ll crown her successor at the 2010 Miss USA Pageant telecast live on NBC from Planet Hollywood.
“All the attention will go to the new Miss USA. In a sense, I’ll be pushed aside, and the cameras that have followed me for a year will suddenly not be on me but on her. That’s going to seem pretty strange and take a little bit of getting used to.
“The 12 months went by so fast traveling all over the world and throughout America. Now I’ll have time to enjoy them all.”
Kristen told me that she will never forget her most recent trip a month ago to a refugee camp in Haiti where she helped deliver and set up ultra-sound machines to the earthquake victims.
“I will also remember forever my visit to the Dominican Republic for World Water Day and working on the resources there,” she added.
Kristen did find time in her hectic and round-the-clock schedule to take up salsa dancing as physical exercise for the nonstop travels. “I’d love to doDancing With the Stars next season,” she smiled with a hint that there have been talks with ABC producers. “I’m going to take part in the World Salsa Congress in Los Angeles, and we’ll see how I’ll do. I just love it,” she added.
There was even time for a romance! Kristen has been dating The Bachelorette star Reid Rosenthal for the past several months. He plans to be at Planet Hollywood tomorrow to watch as she hands over her crown. Philadelphia realtor Reid was one of the final three bachelors on Season 5 and proposed to Jillian Harris, who rejected his offer of marriage.
“We met during the year. There’s no engagement ring -- yet” she laughed as I pushed for details. “It’s all just going great. We’re having a good time together, and we are each other’s best friend. We’ll see where it takes us, but, yes, we’re in love.”
The North Carolina beauty has been based for a year in New York City, where she worked for the Trump Organization, as real estate mogul Donald Trump owns the Miss USA, Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA pageants. She plans to continue a TV hosting career from the Big Apple.
“It’s been such an incredible year,” she continued. “I changed. I toughened up. I learned to stand up for myself. The whole Miss USA experience really rounded me out as a woman. I also learned how to communicate my feelings more -- and better. I wouldn’t have changed any of it for one moment.
“I didn’t cry a year ago when they called my name -- and I don’t think I will tomorrow when it is over for me. I felt so good competing last year that in a nice way it felt right to become the winner. It was a real lifelong dream, and it came true. It’s been the best it could be as a springboard into something for the rest of my life.
“I’m certain all the girls this year are just as competitive. I certainly can tell you they have all brought their A game and are at their personal best for tomorrow. It’s an amazing group. There are no jealousies, there’s no backbiting. They are all fun and laid back and ready to see what happens during the show. I won’t say they are actually rooting for each other to win, but they are all supporting each other.
“The intriguing part of all of this is the suspense for all the girls up there onstage. It’s the same for them as the audience and the judges. It goes right down to that final question that they ask you live before anybody really knows who’s going to ace it and win. That’s the real suspense.”
This year’s pageant has certainly generated headlines as a result of the controversial yet striking video and photo shoot of the 51 contestants titled Waking Up in Vegas by photographer Fadil Berisha. The stunning lingerie-clad ladies were filmed in the Panorama Suite at Planet Hollywood. Expect even more raised eyebrows and headlines when portions of the video are shown on Sunday’s 7 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT telecast from Las Vegas.
Meantime, you can go see them all close up for yourself. All 51 of the gorgeous glamour girls are now on show in a free photo exhibit on the casino’s mezzanine level that will remain on display until the end of this month.
Kristen told me: “The photos are beautiful. Yes, they are sexy, but it shows they are all confident in their own skin. I think if I’d been asked to do it last year, I would probably have worn a little more lingerie and been a little more covered up. That was then, but I grew up a little bit this past year, so you’ll even see me ‘topless’ in the official show program also shot by Fadil.
“I had no problem with it. My arms are across me, and it’s tasteful and classy. All the girls had so much fun and enjoyed the shoot. Nobody was pressured to do anything they didn’t want to. They all really got into it, and the results speak for themselves.
“Yes, it’s added a lot of pizzazz to the pageant. I’m ready. The girls are ready, and it’s going to be a great night. I just don’t know how I’ll feel when I wake up the next morning without the crown. I’ll be very happy for the new Miss USA, but I’ll be a little sad it’s over for me.”
Tomorrow here at Vegas DeLuxe, we’ll have our interviews with Miss USA Pageant chief Paula Shugart and with our Miss Nevada USA Julianna Erdesz in the final 12 hours before curtain up on this year’s pageant. The show will feature Joan and Melissa Rivers behind the scenes amid the chaos of hair, makeup and wardrobe, plus Boys Like Girls and Trace Adkins debuting his single “This Ain’t No Love” during the evening gown competition.
We’ll tweet from the front rows of the show, and after the crowning of the new Miss USA, we’ll post photos, including the moment Kristen turns over the crown.