Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe
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Alyssa Campanella, the redheaded, green-eyed, 21-year-old newly crowned Miss USA 2011 from Los Angeles, flew from Las Vegas to New York City yesterday to begin her yearlong reign. After winning against 50 gorgeous rivals at the Theater for Performing Arts in Planet Hollywood, she left behind a trail of remarkable reasons to celebrate -- and her car that she’d driven through the desert to get here.
Hair guru to the stars Michael Boychuck, of Color at Caesars Palace and AMP at the Palms, tipped Alyssa to win Miss USA when he was a judge of the Miss California USA Pageant at the request of the state’s director, his friend and client Shanna Moakler, the 1995 Miss USA and the ex-wife of Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.
“We both picked her right from the start to win Miss California,” Michael told me. “When she did, I told her she’d also win at the Miss USA national competition. I’d just flown in from Hair World in Paris getting the Hair Colorist of the Decade Award and decided it was going to be the year of the reds back on Nov. 20. I see Alyssa with her red hair and that confirmed it. I told all the other judges she would be the one! You had that in Vegas DeLuxe way back then.”
Wynn odds-maker Johnny Avello also picked Alyssa to win. His odds with Alyssa as an 8-to-1 favorite were published solely for entertainment purposes six days ahead of the pageant. Alyssa herself wasn’t so confident. She admitted to backstage nerves and playing a video game on her iPad before the pageant and positioning herself right beside two trash cans in case she threw up from fright.
Miss USA Pageant officials told me Alyssa was the first redhead to win since the 1970s. As Miss California, it was the first win for The Golden State in more than a decade. You can hear our media meet-and-greet after the crowning as she joked that her green gown and red hair made her look like a Christmas tree decoration. A very big thank you to photographer Scott Harrison and the Miss USA Pageant photographers and to videographers Trent Ogle and Richard Corey for their excellent work.
The executives were ecstatic yesterday with the overnight Nielsen ratings that gave NBC a win for the night with more than 7 million viewers tuned into the two-hour pageant, clobbering the rival 38th Annual Daytime Emmys at the Las Vegas Hilton that registered a 27 percent viewer drop from last year. Miss USA Pageant owner Donald Trump can boast the ratings were the best since 2005.
Little wonder then that Paula Shugart, his pageant president, said friendly and positive negotiations are underway to renew the Planet Hollywood contract for another three years, as The Peacock Network has a similar three-year deal in place. “We love Las Vegas,” Paula told me. “I’d be very happy to call it our permanent home if it all works out right. I could even see myself moving here.”
While Alyssa flew to New York, 2010 Miss USA Rima Fakih celebrated with her own party at Ghostbar at the Palms, where Luxor headliner magician Criss Angel was waiting to help her mark the end of her reign and her new Hollywood life. “It’s been a wonderful year. Yes, tonight is somewhat bittersweet -- crying because one part is over and happy because now the door is open wide for my new life. I’m free now,” she told me.
Rapper Lil Jon, who was one of the judges and competed this season on Donald’s Celebrity Apprentice, joined the couple who first met seven months ago after being introduced by MGM Resorts honcho Felix Rappaport. Rima went to see Criss’s Believe by Cirque du Soleil at the Luxor, and the two have kept in contact ever since. She’s staying in town for a few days and returns for the Fourth of July weekend to host with boxer Evander Holyfield at Eva Longoria’s Beso and Eve at Crystals in MGM’s CityCenter and attend Criss’s illusionists party at his estate.
Alyssa partied at Sugar Factory and Chateau Nightclub & Gardens at the adjoining Paris, and her boyfriend Torrance Coombs, 28 and who appears on The Tudors, joined her. She said he’s fully supportive of her Miss USA win and will wait a year for her to finish her reign. “I watch The Tudors. I’m a huge history geek and obsessed with the Tudor era. You’ll find me in the history section of Barnes & Noble. I think I was born in the wrong era.”
One of her first assignments is to represent the United States in September’s Miss Universe Pageant in Sao Paulo, Brazil. If she wins, the Miss USA title passes to her best friend and first runner-up Miss Tennessee USA Ashley Durham, as reported in our live blog Sunday night. Miss Arizona USA Brittany Dawn Brannon won Miss Photogenic, and Miss Kentucky Kia Ben-et Hampton won Miss Congeniality.
Alyssa scored big in the swimsuit segment wearing a blue Kandy Wrappers bikini with white polka dots and then in a dark emerald green gown by Sherri Hill, for whom she is now the spokesmodel. Alyssa moved to L.A. four years ago to seek fame and fortune after she lost her apartment in New York City. When she arrived, a film job she’d hoped for in South Korea fell through. “Those downs happen for a reason. The path I’m on now is the path that’s been meant to be. I like being surprised.”
She traveled often to Las Vegas for modeling assignments and two years ago while at the Beauty Expo here auditioned and won the opportunity to be the face of a local cosmetics company, but that deal was nixed when the owner believed that it was too expensive. She returned home to learn that she won a much larger cosmetics contract as the face of Wet ’n’ Wild.
Alyssa, who is 5’ 8,” thanks her Danish mother for encouraging her to compete in pageants when she was 15. She was a runner-up in the 2007 Miss Teen USA Pageant representing New Jersey. She graduated a year early from Manalapan High School and won a scholarship to the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. Her girlfriends here and in New York told me she’s a diligent, dedicated and very humble person who is always ready and willing to help others.
“There are no skeletons whatsoever in her closets for the Miss USA officials and Trump to worry about,” one of them said. “The only surprise you have with her is that she’s partially allergic to the sun, so she’ll be wearing a lot of hats to go with the crown.”
It was a star-studded Sunday night right from the start of the red carpet with 35 Miss USA winners on parade to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler, Rio headliner magician Penn Jillette, Lil Jon, NFL Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, 2006 Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, my longtime pal Chef Rocco DiSpirito, my friend actress Mariel Hemingway and Caroline Manzo of The Real Housewives of New Jersey were this year’s judges.
Also on the red carpet: Peepshow headliner Holly Madison covering the event for Extra; pageant hosts Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic and color commentators Kelly Osbourne and Susie Castillo, Miss USA 2003; and British rapper Tinie Tempah and singer Eric Turner, who performed their smash “Written in the Stars.” The Donald had hoped to fly in for the telecast, but an urgent business trip to Scotland interrupted those plans.
98 Degrees singer and founder Jeff Timmons, who welcomed the 51 contestants to Las Vegas with Rima at Planet Hollywood, told me on the red carpet that he’s renewed his Chippendales run at the Rio to stay on through summer as singer and host at the production.
And Alyssa’s car that she had to leave in self parking at Planet Hollywood after driving across I-15 from her Sherman Oaks, Calif., home? Her father will drive it back to L.A. and store it for a year until she returns home to crown her successor.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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