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Pageant News Bureau - Miss USA

Miss USA 2000

Branson, Missouri
February 4, 2000

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Mountain magic

Rebecca Smith is from Jackson Hole, Wyo., one of the most beautiful spots in the USA. She's used to the spectacular mountain scenery, but it still thrills her, and she's quick to invite people to come and see for themselves.

Rehearsing; Rebecca Smith at right
Rebecca Smith"More people visit our area than visit the Swiss Alps," she says.

The Wyoming mountains are a trendy place right now, with movie stars buying up ranches as hideaways. But the sturdy values of cowboy country remain. Friendships are for a lifetime, and promises are for keeping. Ms. Smith's father is an obstetrician in Jackson Hole, delivering babies for women who think of him as a member of the family. "They drive from three states to see him," Ms. Smith says proudly.

Ms. Smith describes her victory at Miss Wyoming USA as "my first conscious pageant experience." She was in a contest once as a teenager, but she developed a high fever and remembers almost nothing about the experience, except that she stubbornly refused to quit. "I actually placed as fifth runner-up," she recalls.

She took a practical view of her chances at Miss USA. "I'll apply myself 100 percent," she said before the event, "but I'm a rookie, and I don't know how well that will serve me. Still, I've been successful so far."

When it comes to the law, she seems more passionate. "I want to be a lawyer for a big corporation. I want to work in corporate America," she says. She's a student at the University of Wyoming, and she's taking "only the briefest break" from her studies to compete for Miss USA.

Rebecca SmithIt's none of our business, of course, but we think Ms. Smith ought to consider being a model or an actress. "I really would like that," she admits, "but I don't get into anything unless I can apply myself 100 percent."

She's saving that dedication for the law, and for the Miss USA Pageant.

Crowning photo courtesy of Rebecca Smith; others courtesy of Miss Universe L.P., LLLP

Youngest contestant

In August 1998, Jennifer Dupont represented Louisiana in the Miss Teen USA Pageant. It was a thrilling time. The pageant was held in her hometown, Shreveport. And her roommate, Vanessa Minnillo of South Carolina, won the national crown.

Ms. Dupont didn't wait long to return to big-time competition. At age 18, and only 18 months after competing in the teen pageant, she's back, representing Louisiana in the Miss USA Pageant. And she looks better than ever.

Jennifer Dupont
Jennifer DupontBeauty contests come naturally to Ms. Dupont, and not only because she's from Pageant City South.

Her mother makes pageant dresses. And though no one in the family makes swimsuits, Ms. Dupont wears them most ably. At Louisiana Teen America, she won the swimsuit event while placing third runner-up.


Don't get the impression that pageants are Ms. Dupont's whole life. In fact, her real love is teaching. She became a novice elementary school teacher while still in high school. (That's dedication!) She will be enrolling at Louisiana State University in the fall of 2000, working toward an education degree.
Jennifer Dupont"There's nothing like working with children," Ms. Dupont says. "You feel fulfilled at the end of every day. There was one troubled little girl who hadn't spoken to anyone in 5 years. And she spoke to me."

That may be even better than a crown.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Dupont

Renaissance girl

Kristin Ludecke, Miss Florida USA,  is a building contractor with a degree in opera. She's an award-winning ballroom dancer, an author, a fashion model, a spokeswoman for her state's juvenile justice system. She competed in the Miss America Pageant when she was still a teenager. Now, at 23, she's representing the Sunshine State in the Miss USA Pageant.

Maybe she accomplishes so much because of what she listens to. 

Kristin Ludecke
Kristin Ludecke"I believe that classical music raises the IQ," says Ms. Ludecke, who studied opera for three summers in Austria. She grew up in a musical environment. She and her family own one of the world's largest collections of memorabilia of the late opera star Lily Pons.

When it comes to pageant success, Ms. Ludecke not only has environment on her side, but also heredity. She's the daughter of Cheryl Johnson Ludecke, who was Miss Florida USA 1970 and a top 10 finalist at Miss USA.

For all her achievements, Ms. Ludecke is not one to talk about herself. But her eyes light up when she talks about Lily Pons.

Ms. Ludecke collaborated with James A. Drake on "Lily Pons; A Centennial Portrait," published by Amadeus Press. The book was clearly a labor of love.

Ms. Pons, whose career included not only opera but motion pictures, was one of the 10 most famous women in the world in the 1940s, Ms. Ludecke says. Ms. Pons combined talent with glamour, and the same is true of Ms. Ludecke.

Kristin Ludecke
Lilies (what else?) for Miss Florida USA.
Kristin LudeckeRelatively few women who compete at Miss America also make it to the Miss USA Pageant. Ms. Ludecke says she had to try, because she is really a different person from the inexperienced teen who stood on the Miss America stage. "I wanted to be in a national pageant as an adult," she says. "I feel more ready now."

Considering her impressive resume, there are a lot of words one could use to describe Kristin Ludecke. But when we asked a longtime friend to sum her up, the reply was touchingly personal. "Kristin is very sweet," she said.

Crowning photo by Paul Fong / PNB;
all others by Laskey

Power competitor

Beauty queens need poise, and when Brooke Gambrell, Miss Idaho USA, lived in Washington, D.C., she got a crash course in poise that no amount of money could buy. "I was an intern on Capitol Hill during the Lewinsky scandal."

What an awkward time and place that must have been for a young working woman! The whole country was awash in tasteless jokes and lurid speculation. It had to be difficult for the eye-catching Idaho blonde not to feel self-conscious when she mentioned her job to strangers, even though the atmosphere at her work was totally professional.

But Ms. Gambrell weathered the experience well. She has the kind of amiable unflappability that's so valuable in the pageant world.

Brooke Gambrell
Getting to know the competition
Miss Idaho (second from left) with some of the competition.
Some of Ms. Gambrell's self-assurance comes from pageant experience.

Before she was in the Miss USA Pageant, she represented Idaho at Miss America. With the skill of a politician, she declines to draw comparisons between the two contests.

Ms. Gambrell, who has a degree in international relations and has applied to law school, remains plugged into politics. 

She worked for Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne during his 1998 campaign, and she is now personal assistant to the first lady of Idaho, Patricia Kempthorne. She handles Mrs. Kempthorne's scheduling and media contacts, and travels with her throughout the state.

First lady is not a job Ms. Gambrell envisions for herself. She would prefer elective office. "Maybe governor or U.S. senator," she says when asked about her possible political aspirations. But she's just as likely to do more modeling, or to try acting or broadcasting.

"I live by the seat of my pants," she says, using an old Idaho expression. "When opportunities come, you just grab them."

Photos courtesy of Miss Universe L.P., LLLP
More Miss USA 2000 coverage:
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