Darren Decker / Miss Universe Organization
Monday, June 9, 2014 | 3:28 p.m.
Billionaire Miss USA Pageant owner Donald Trump may well have yanked his contest from Las Vegas after a six-year run, but stunning 24-year-old Nia Sanchez of Henderson brings the tiara and the title of Miss USA back to our city after Sunday night’s three-hour NBC telecast from Baton Rouge, La.
Nia became the first Nevada contestant in the pageant’s six-decade history to win and only the fourth Hispanic to claim the crown. Here’s a YouTube video of that emotional moment of victory Sunday night:
Nia, who now goes on to represent the United States at the 2014 Miss Universe Pageant later this year, leaves today for the first time in her life to New York to start her reign moving into an apartment in Trump Tower. Here’s raw footage of her press conference (complete with a shout-out to brunch at Simon in Palms Place) that followed Sunday’s coronation.
“It’s going to be a great year — this is all a wonderful dream,” Nia said. “In going to New York, I can’t wait to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time.”
Nia said that she had a choice of two dresses to wear onstage for the judges’ tough final question and picked red because it was the color she wore when she won Miss Nevada.
“It’s become my lucky color,” she said, laughing.
Nia tackled a question about sexual assaults among college students being swept under the rug from judge actress Rumer Willis, the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. Nia called on her taekwondo training:
“I believe that some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation, and that would be a reason it could be swept under the rug because they don't want that to come out into the public. But I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves.
“Myself, as a fourth-degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself. And I think that’s something that we should start to really implement for a lot of women.”
Nia started training when she was 8 and started teaching when she was 12, becoming a certified instructor when she was 15. Her boyfriend, actor Daniel Booko, joined her divorced parents in the Mississippi River city for the pageant, and Nia joked afterward: “He’s now going to have to move to New York for the year I’m there.”
The other Miss USA judges included “Sharknado” and “Beverly Hills 90210” star Ian Ziering, who begins a second guest-host run in Chippendales at the Rio this weekend; UFC fan favorite, action star and hometown hero Randy Couture; ’N Sync star and Las Vegas regular Lance Bass; NBA great and Louisiana native Karl Malone; and actress and comedienne Melissa Peterman.
Nia’s road to victory began here in January when she won the Miss Nevada USA Pageant, which I helped judge. I was convinced then that she would at least make it into the top five of the Miss USA Pageant. Before her flight to Louisiana, I interviewed her just ahead of her bon voyage party at Deuce Lounge in Aria. She revealed the secret to her confidence and her premonition of winning:
“I feel like I’m really good at being this emotionally ready for something. I feel good emotionally. I’m just ready and excited. I know who I am, so I don’t have to pretend to be anyone else; I just get to be me.
“I’m getting everything in order just in case I happen to be living in New York. I have a roommate here, we live in a house together, so I told her that I’ll pay another month’s rent and then I’ll have somebody come out and pack everything up to put in storage for me, so I’m prepared.
“I don’t have that many physical things that are really important to me, so I would pack photos of my family and some of my essential outfits and shoes. I feel like everything else, I can get by, I’ll get it later.”
How do you feel at the moment your name is being called?
I was actually very calm and at peace. I had a lot of friends and family sending lots of positive text messages and praying for me, and it just put me at ease. Even going into the interview, which for me is one of the most nerve-wracking things at times, I felt really, really calm and comfortable, and I want to carry that on to Miss USA.
I want to be just calm, comfortable and have a good time. That’s what it’s really about. If you have a good time and you are who you are, that’s who wins. The girl that’s just being herself. That’s what I want to do; try not to be nervous.
Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez wins Miss USA
2014 Miss USA Pageant press conference
Here you are now, representing the Silver State, going into the Miss USA Pageant. Go beyond just pinching yourself. How does it feel?
I feel like everything happens for a reason because I started competing in pageants when I was 19. I feel like I would have had a completely different experience if I had won a state title at 19 or 20 or 21. I feel like winning at an older age, for the pageant world I’m a bit older, I feel like you appreciate the experience so much more because I’m mature enough to handle it.
How do you deal with the nerves of being cut down from 51 right out of the box, and then 10 and then 5 When you stand there on that stage and they’re calling out names and states, do the knees knock? Does the heart jump? Do butterflies get in your stomach? How do you avoid that natural nervousness?
I mean that certainly happens. It’s part of the excitement. Everybody is going to be a little bit nervous. I go into it mentally thinking whatever is supposed to happen is supposed to happen. If I’m going to win, I’m going to win, and there’s nothing that anyone else can do to prepare differently.
But if I’m not supposed to win, then I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be. I feel like having that mental thought process going into it puts me a little bit more at ease, but I’m always going to be a little bit nervous up there.
And the one beauty queen secret you’re taking to Miss USA?
Just going into it with the right mentality. Envisioning your self winning, envisioning yourself having fun because if you envision somebody else winning, then somebody else is going to win. You just have to go into it with the right mentality.
I also received really great advice to bring lots of pictures of family, make it feel like home, bring a candle and just always love on your family and communicate with them because it can get really hectic and overwhelm you.
Our Miss Nevada USA state pageant director Shanna Moakler, who won Miss USA in 1995, said Sunday night: “This has been a dream come true for all of us. Nia made Nevada proud. This was a magical night.”
Nia added the last word: “This was a day I will never forget. I am starting the next chapter of my life. I just want to thank everyone who has supported me.”
We’ll continue to chronicle Nia’s year as Miss USA and as she begins to prepare for the Miss Universe Pageant, so check back often, as Vegas DeLuxe will be your best bookmark.
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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