Donald Trump gave Miss USA a reprieve, allowing the beauty queen to keep her title after she agreed to enter rehab and undergo drug testing.
In a moment of television drama filled with redemptive tears, a tough-talking Trump, co-owner of the pageant, turned soft and decided to forgive Tara Conner for her behavior Tuesday.
Conner had come under criticism for frequenting bars even though she is younger than the legal drinking age of 21. Conner turned 21 on Monday.
"I've always been a believer in second chances," said Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization with the NBC television network.
Trump met with Conner earlier Tuesday morning fully expecting to fire her, he said. But he walked away convinced the young woman was a "good person" with a "good heart."
"She left a small town in Kentucky and she was telling me that she got caught up in the whirlwind of New York," Trump said at a news conference. "It's a story that has happened many times before to many women and many men who came to the Big Apple. They wanted their slice of the Big Apple and they found out it wasn't so easy."
Conner won the title in April and has been living in New York. Since then, she has partied hard, admitting she frequented clubs and drank quite a bit.
Miss USA is considered a role model, and her conduct must reflect that, a Miss Universe Organization spokeswoman said.
In a tear-choked voice, Conner said, "In no way did I think it would be possible for a second chance to be given to me."
A few minutes later, a smiling and clearly relieved Conner donned her sash with the famous words , "Miss USA."
Trump said Conner would be entering rehab. A pageant official said details would be worked out privately with Conner over the next weeks.
"I think Tara is going to be the great comeback kid," Trump said.
Asked if she was a drunkard, Conner said: "I wouldn't say that I'm an alcoholic. I'd think that would be pushing the envelope."
She also declined to discuss any of her problems that the New York tabloids had chronicled with such relish.
"My personal demons are my personal demons," Conner told reporters.
Trump said Conner would be able to move back to her swank apartment at the Trump Palace in Manhattan. But he also cautioned her that if she messed up, she would lose her title, reports AP.
If Conner had been dethroned, her title would have been taken over by first runner-up Miss California, Tamiko Nash.
three months after winning the Miss USA title, Conner finished fourth in the Miss Universe pageant.
In 2002, Miss Russia, Oxana Fedorova, won the Miss Universe pageant but was stripped of her title after violating her contract. Trump said Fedorova did not show up for some photo shoots and charity events. It was the first time a titleholder had been ousted in the contest's more than 50-year history. Fedorova said she gave up the title voluntarily.
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