The 'Show Me' state certainly showed us! The clear favorite and my prediction was the winner! Shandi Finnessey had much support from lots of people so it was absolutely no surprise and very refreshing to see that she indeed won the crown.
Shandi competed a few times before actually winning Miss Missouri USA. She was even Miss Missouri America but didn't make the semifinals at Miss America. But this time, you could tell that Shandi did her homework and proved herself worthy of the title of Miss USA. Her dazzling smile and occasional laughter made her appear supremely confident. She chose a gown that was unique in the good way and worked it well and she had great hair and a body to die for. Of course, the recent hype around the state of Missouri seemed to further aid Shandi's win. We all remember a certain show called "Average Joe" starring two former Miss Missouri and Missouri Teen USAs, namely Larissa Meek and Melana Scantlin, giving Shandi all the more popularity. It was simply Missouri's turn to finally win the crown. The highest Missouri placed prior to Shandi's win was 2nd runner-up 3 times, in 1952, 1963 and the most recent being in 1998, Melanie Breedlove (yet another former Miss Missouri and Missouri Teen USA). It also seemed like a righteous payback for Larissa Meek's fumble in 2001, which is said to have led to keeping a top five rather than narrowing the field to three. In any case, Shandi certainly did perform exceptionally. She has immediately become a frontrunner for Miss Universe.

Miss USA glammed it up this year by heading to the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood where the Oscars are held. The intro where Donald Trump dismissed reigning Miss USA, Susie Castillo, in "The Apprentice" style was funny. Susie totally understood and the Donald just kept milking his revived fame. Prior to the show, we saw Miss Alabama capture the Miss Fear Factor title. The intros were good. I liked the fact that there was a little more vamping adding to the glam appeal. The outfits were good and you could really see the effort being put in to make the delegates look good. Billy Bush & Nancy O'Dell were also decent hosts. Pretty generic for the most part but not overbearing. The dancing was great and I loved the music as well.

On to the top 15. As you can see below in my predictions, I chose 9 of the 15 semifinalists plus 1 alternate and 1 honorable mention. The 4 that I missed were Oregon, New Mexico, Washington and New Hampshire, none of whom were deserving semifinalists in my significant opinion. As for the 6 girls in my list that didn't make it: First, Nevada's Victoria Franklin was a memorable competitor at Miss Teen USA 1998 and I really hoped that she would be given another opportunity. She probably should have left her hair open during the preliminaries. I prophecied that DC's Tiara Dews would return to Miss USA with a vengeance. She totally turned on the diva attitude and for each of the little bits that we saw Tiara, I loved her style. I was also quite disappointed not to see her in the semis because I know she would have really given us a show. Kansas had an amazing body but I guess it wasn't enough to pull her into the semis. New York also a very unique and interesting look but the judges didn't go for that either. Virginia's Kristi Glakas looked all woman this time around but she didn't make it in spite of a strong performance and Massachusetts had a nice body and gown but was not as attractive in the face.



Winner=Missouri-Shandi Finnessey

Winner=Missouri-Shandi Finnessey*

1st Runner Up=South Carolina-Amanda Pennekamp

1st Runner Up=Nevada-Victoria Franklin

2nd Runner Up=North Carolina-Ashley Puleo

2nd Runner Up=District of Columbia-Tiara Dews

3rd Runner Up=Oklahoma-Lindsay Hill

3rd Runner Up=Kansas-Lisa Forbes

4th Runner Up=Tennessee-Stephanie Culberson

4th Runner Up=Arizona-Danielle Demski*

FINALISTS (alpha'l)


Alabama-Tara Darby

New York-Jaclyn Nesheiwat

Florida-Kristen Berset

Texas-Stephanie Guerrero*

Georgia-Caroline Medley

South Carolina-Amanda Pennekamp*

Idaho-Kimberly Weible

North Carolina-Ashley Puleo*

Oregon-Jennifer Murphy

Virginia-Kristi Glakas



Arizona-Danielle Demski

Tennessee-Stephanie Culberson*

New Hampshire-Vanessa Bissanti

Alabama-Tara Darby*

New Mexico-Jenna Hardin

Oklahoma-Lindsay Hill*

Texas-Stephanie Guerrero

Florida-Kirsten Berset*

Washington-Tina McCormick

Massachusetts-Maria Lekkakos


ALTERNATES:Rhode Island, California, Alaska, Louisiana, Idaho*


HONORABLE MENTIONS:Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Georgia*


* = made actual top ten

On to the evening gown competition beginning with Arizona. She chose a gown that didn't really flatter her mid-section. Her choice at Miss Teen USA 99 was much smarter. Missouri's gown was very fascinating and unique with the seethrough mid-section showing off her great abs and the blue sparkles matching the underskirt on a skin-tone bodice was an interesting blend. Shandi worked this gown well and the large jangly earrings were a nice touch. I think she could have worn her hair open for this competition but it didn't really matter. Everything about Shandi screamed winner! Texas' Stephanie Guerrero is another experienced pageant girl having competed several times before getting the title. I would also like to note that in the very competitive Miss Texas USA pageant, former Miss Teen USA Christie Woods was unable to capture the Texan crown on her third try and she has now aged out. Stephanie chose to go with the Lady-in-Red look and it did work very well with her skin tone but it wasn't enough to pull her into the top ten. North Carolina's gown was simple and elegant but what I liked most of all was how it showed off her great legs. New Hampshire had too much of a teen look and a boring basic black gown. This girl robbed more deserving delegates of a semifinalist spot. South Carolina had a very billowy furry bottom of her gown which when split apart didn't really look all that great but the great thing about this gown was that it accentuated her nice curves. Amanda's style (the hair, the poses, etc.) was also very Aishwarya Rai. As Florida stepped on stage, you could just taste the strawberries and cherries exploding in your mouth. This gown had a very flavorful appeal and reminded me of the gown that Carole Gist, Miss USA 1990 wore at Miss Universe--a gown which you would swear was the sexiest strawberry fruit-roll-up you had ever seen. Alabama's dark gown could have been a little better. I was expecting a little more from her performance. Oregon had a black gown with silver sparkles which was just there and not particularly outstanding. I really didn't like the color of Georgia's gown. The flourescent greenish-yellow was a little bit of an eyestrain. New Mexico's turquoise satin number from 15 years ago was another disaster. And if you're talking disaster gowns, look no further than Washington. The fact that anyone would seriously wear something this hideous in a competition is just mind-boggling. It almost seemed as if she was just let into the top 15 to reveal this monstrosity. Idaho proved herself to be very worthy of a top spot after stepping out in this gown. I had an inkling that she was going to make it, not only because she adapted her look to resemble Jessica Simpson but also because Brandi Sherwood (also from Idaho and a Miss and Teen titleholder) was a judge. Idaho's gown and hair looked lovely. On to Oklahoma. Now, you would think that someone with such a great body would be given a great gown but this inkstained number was hardly flattering. I wasn't impressed with this gown. Finally, Tennessee worked her white gown well. It was a step up from the one she chose to wear in the preliminaries.

On to the swimsuit competition, complete with flag dancers and gold chastity belts. First up was Georgia and although she looked finely toned, you probably could grate cheese on those ribs. Oklahoma worked her lovely supermodel body. Alabama also had a good body but she just didn't really stand out. North Carolina has a very nice body. I'm glad she didn't overdo it on the flexing this time because in the preliminaries, it looked like one of her thigh muscle would pop out. Idaho looked very good during swimsuit. I was pleasantly surprised because in all the pictures I saw of her I thought she was a bit on the stubby side but she looked better on TV. Florida had a nice body, very feminine. Missouri was simply a vision. The hair, the finely toned body and those great thighs. Everything was excellent. Oregon clearly had the worst body of the ten, she was a bit thick. South Carolina certainly wasn't afraid to show off her nicely curved buttocks. Tennessee showed off her very thin waist. Something about her forehead bugs me though.

Now on to the top 5, Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Tennessee was first asked why she liked "Gone With the Wind." You could hear a bit of her accent as she said she liked history and Shakespeare/Romeo & Juliet. When asked if she had any beauty secrets to share, she said that she didn't consider herself a pro and that this was one of her first pageants. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that she also competed in Miss America a few years ago and people could tell that wasn't necessarily all that true. She said she started as a senior in college and claimed to be more of a tomboy and into football. The best thing she said she did in Hollywood was hang out with the Marines. On to Missouri, who started off humorously by suggesting they get a box for Billy Bush to stand on while interviewing all these tall women. Shandi talked about her children's book, "Fur Tales" which she said was inspired because she felt a need for stories about helping to integrate people with differences like retardation and down syndrome. She stressed that there weren't many books in elementary schools geared toward that subject and she was proud that it was doing well and what she wanted it to do and it was integrated into a girl scout program. Don't forget, it was "integrated." Shandi then said that the best thing about Missouri was that it is the heart of America not only geographically but you can see it in the eyes and souls of Missouri's citizens. Next came North Carolina who talked about meeting former president Jimmy Carter while with the Habitats for Humanity program. She was impressed that he helped build a house swinging a hammer just like the rest of them. When asked if sleep or exercise is more important, she said both and threw in that she was the best multitasker and can go running at 11. When asked about any dramatic moments between the girls, she said it was pretty good and humorously added that her earrings broke and her gown fell apart and was held together with duct tape. Next up was Oklahoma, at which point Billy demanded to get a phone book for him to stand on. She was asked what type of music she liked and she said that was hard since she listens to everything except country. When asked if she felt like a movie star in Hollywood, she said that she did at times and that security was cool. Not exactly the strongest or most convincing interview possibly because she still seemed quite young in spite of a tall body. Finally, South Carolina was asked about being a healing species advocate which Amanda explained as taking stray dogs and stray children and bringing them together to teach love and compassion. She also talked about bringing her teddy bear named Elvis along with her while talking about her love for Elvis that she wanted to marry him, but she didn't know he was dead. And she said, Elvis was alive (in the form of her teddy bear) and in her hotel room.

Finally, it came down to the final questions. Tennessee picked Missouri's question, "If you could relive any moment of your past and change an aspect of it, what would it be?" This question sounded quite similar to the Miss Universe 2001 final question. Tennessee said that she would change nothing except the size of her feet because she hates saying she's a size 9. It was pretty funny but she had pretty much sealed her fate after claiming she was new to pageants. Missouri was next and chose North Carolina's question asking whether education or experience serves you better in life. Without hesitation, Shandi said that you could have all the book knowledge in the world but to have the knowledge from experience and knowledge from living each each experience you gain more knowledge than anything you could possibly read in a book. Miss Canada 95, Lana Buchberger also spoke about experiencing life and the importance of education during the 1995 Miss Universe pageant and this question reminded me of that. While it may have been a bit of a risky answer to choose experience over education, she successfully incorporated the two by implying that education comes from experience. North Carolina chose Susie Castillo's question which asked what one thing she would take during her year as Miss USA. Ashley replied that she would take her 11-year-old sister Blair since she is her sidekick/partner-in-crime and that she teaches her to live each day to the fullest and would be a good role model for the journey of Miss USA. After that, they went to a shot of Blair in the audience which reminded how much I miss the family shots of all of the proud parents during the interviews. Oklahoma chose South Carolina's question which asked who in the world she would like to have dinner with and what would they ask them. Lindsay said Justin Timberlake so that she could teach her some dance moves and they could hang out and get to know each other. A lot of people knocked Lindsay for saying something this 'teen' but she was totally being herself and honest. Finally, South Carolina chose Tennessee's question asking if it was acceptable for celebrities to voice their opinions on political issues. Amanda immediately said that it absolutely wasn't acceptable. She said they should be given the same rights as us and that we voice our opinions by boting and they should encourage us to vote. But then she said "and share it's fine." It almost seemed like a contradiction at the end but her point came across.

At the finale, Susie Castillo looked lovely as she bid us farewell and finally Tennessee was 4th runner up, Oklahoma-3rd runner up, North Carolina-2nd runner up, South Carolina-1st runner up and Missouri was proclaimed Miss USA 2004! One thing I really appreciated was that Billy actually said her name "Shandi Finnessey" at the end which they never did in several recent pageants. But we could pretty much see it coming. Shandi really did everything right and had the right look and so the door was open for her to win. Let's see if Shandi becomes the USA's 8th Miss Universe.