Miss USA Erin Brady can't believe her yearlong reign is coming to an end while a new journey for one of the 51 women seeking to replace her is just beginning.
"It's less than a week away now," Brady said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The countdown has begun."
Brady, of South Glastonbury, Connecticut, relinquishes her crown Sunday when the 2014 pageant competition being held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, selects a new Miss USA. Preliminary competitions in swimsuit and evening gown were scheduled for Wednesday at the Baton Rouge River Center. The final category, interview, will be determined Sunday.as not released.
During her tenure, Brady said she's worked hard to break stereotypes about pageants and the women who compete in them. A graduate of Central Connecticut State University in finance, Brady said after her reign ends she plans to return to New York and pursue a job that can use her knowledge to serve a global market.
"We're very intelligent women with great personalities," she said.
The women have been in Louisiana's capital city for more than a week, preparing for the contest that will propel one of them to the Miss Universe pageant later this year. They've visited a few of south Louisiana's plantations and other landmarks, including the old state capitol and governor's mansion, tasted some of the state's cuisine and cut loose a little at a karaoke bar.
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"I'm so blessed and so happy to be here," said Miss Idaho Yvette Bennett. "It's been so magical and amazing. Everyone's been so nice and welcoming."
NBC will broadcast Sunday's competition at 7 p.m. CDT in a three-hour show that will include musical performances by country music hit-makers Florida-Georgia Line, rapper Nelly and Louisiana native Marc Broussard, whose set will include an appearance by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Fans also will have the chance to save their favorite contestant during the evening gown competition through Twitter, using #SaveTheQueen along with a keyword that will be provided on screen during the live telecast.
Bennett, an art and communications graduate of Boise State, said if she wins the title, she hopes her success would help to inspire and motivate young girls.
"I want to make sure they know that they can pursue their dreams no matter what and to remind them that they can make their dreams a reality," she said.