Rachel Smith Miss USA 2007

Miss Tennessee Rachel Smith has replaced the sleazy Tara Conner as Miss USA.

Rachel Smith realized she had a real shot at the Miss USA crown when she made it to the top 15. Next up was the swimsuit portion of the pageant, and the journalism graduate from Tennessee told herself: “I’m just going to work it.” Smith, 21, ultimately bested 50 other aspiring beauty queens to win the title of Miss USA on Friday night.

The 5-foot, 11-inch-tall brunette is a graduate of Belmont University and a former intern for the production company behind “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“I’m speechless at this point, I really am,” Smith said after the pageant.

Contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia competed to succeed Miss USA Tara Conner, who entered rehab after accounts surfaced suggesting she was boozing at New York clubs. The Kentucky native was in danger of losing her crown, but Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with NBC, gave her a second chance.

The telecast didn’t shy away from the controversy, opening with a string of news and interview clips about Conner’s woes. Then, the 21-year-old blonde emerged onstage wearing a strapless, ruffled gown. “It has been the most unforgettable year of my life and I’m back, and better than ever,” Conner said to wild applause from the audience at the Kodak Theatre.

Smith, of Clarksville, Tenn., edged out top finalists Meagan Yvonne Tandy of California; Cara Renee Gorges of Kansas; Helen Salas of Nevada; and Danielle Lacourse of Rhode Island, who was named the first runner-up.

I like that she uses phrases like “Work it,” acknowledging that beauty pageants are just high class strip shows, except they don’t get quite as naked. Although, come to think of it, a lot of them do naked photo spreads, too.

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