Taking their charm to the Big Apple


The 51 Miss USA contestants are packing their suitcases today and heading for the Big Apple.

After two activity-jammed weeks of living la vida Baltimore, the thought seems to be, if they can make it here, they'll make it anywhere.

The contestants - who have been dorming at the Wyndham Hotel since April 2 - have been experiencing quite the high life the past two weeks.

They've gotten dressed up in fabulous clothes and flitted about town, dining at Fleming's and Obrycki's and on the rooftop of Annapolis' Metropolitan. They've partied Sex and the City-style at the Merritt Athletic Club's Aqua Lounge in Canton (albeit sans cosmos; these women aren't allowed to drink).

One of the reasons pageant officials picked Baltimore as the location of its Miss USA competition for a second year is because of its proximity to New York, says Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization.

By adding New York-based parties and appearances, the show - which airs live Friday from 1st Mariner Arena - gets more bang for everyone's buck.

The women get to mingle with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and first lady Kendel Ehrlich and Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, for example. MTV's Susie Castillo and WBAL's Stan Stovall. 1st Mariner Bank Chairman Edwin F. Hale Sr. - who once played the Donald Trump role in an Apprentice-like show - and Trump himself.

The contestants say they are looking forward to their day-and-a-half trip to New York.

"I've never been over to New York," says Jillian McLain, Miss Montana USA. "So I'm pretty excited to go over to the shows and meet Donald Trump. It's going to be so much fun. I'm just excited about everything."

The New York trip is a bit of a holiday for the contestants, a break from fittings, taping segments for the live show and grueling daily rehearsals.

"Baltimore has become a lot like home," says Miss Ohio USA Stacy Offenberger. "But just like any other vacation, you're definitely excited about getting out and exploring new things."

Once they arrive in Manhattan about 11:30 tonight, the contestants' schedule is star-studded and frenzied.

Tomorrow morning, the women, including the current Miss USA Chelsea Cooley, spend a little time with Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry on NBC's Today show. From there, they hob-nob with Philbin and Ripa on their show, Live with Regis and Kelly.

They lunch at a popular Times Square restaurant, Mars 2112, whose Web site declares it a "spectacular mingling of fantasy and reality, a 35,000-square-foot, bi-level, multi-dimensional, immersive environment that catapults travelers to a completely new world."

To cap off the night, the contestants will party with Trump, who co-owns the pageant, Cooley and the current Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA at a launch party for a tabletop beauty book called Universal Beauty: The Miss Universe Guide to Beauty, being released by the Miss Universe Organization.

Wednesday morning, the contestants head to CBS to tape a segment of The Early Show.

Somewhere in there, they'll meet actor-turned-talk-show host Tony Danza, renowned chef David Burke and many other celebrities, including Drew Lachey, this year's co-host of the Miss USA pageant. They'll hang out at MTV's Total Request Live - a favorite show for many of the young women. Thousands of photos will be taken.

They'll see New York for all of its glamour and none of its grit, and we wonder if they'll ever see the charm in Charm City again.

No worries, they say. Wednesday afternoon, when the tour bus brings them all back down the turnpike to their temporary home in Baltimore, the contestants imagine they'll be much-relieved.

"New York is overwhelming. It's going to be crazy, so much running around going from appearance to appearance," says Katee Stearns, Miss Maine USA - who, incidentally, has declared steamed crabs not at all like lobster. "When you come back to Baltimore, you're still in a big, beautiful city, but it's a bit more relaxing."


Miss USA in N.Y.

Here's a glimpse of what the Miss USA contestants will be doing in New York the next two days:


8:30 a.m.: Appearance on NBC's Today show

9 a.m.: Appearance on Live with Regis and Kelly

11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: Lunch at Mars 2112

3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.: Appearance on MTV's Total Request Live

8 p.m.-10 p.m.: Book launch party hosted by Donald Trump


7:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m.: Appearance on CBS' The Early Show

10:30 a.m.: Depart for Baltimore

For comprehensive coverage of the Miss USA competition in Baltimore, go to baltimoresun.com/missusa.

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