Nia Sanchez, 24-year-old 4th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do from Nevada, was crowned Miss USA on Sunday during the 63rd telecast of the annual beauty pageant.
Miss Florida Brittany Oldehoff, of Oakland Park, was the fourth runner-up.
Before the competition, she told the Sun Sentinel she was excited.
“If I get in the top five, I might be [nervous] because you never know what question the judges will ask,” said Oldehoff, a graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High School and Florida Atlantic University.
The brunette beauty — who shared a hotel room in Baton Rouge with Miss Alaska USA — has made a lot of friends and calls pageantry a sisterhood.
“I already knew what I was going into [with the pageant], and if you're nice to everybody and give everyone a chance, I feel if somebody doesn't like you … it is what it is,” Oldehoff said. “It's not always going to be everyone liking you.”
Preparation for the big Miss USA competition started as soon as she was crowned Miss Florida USA in July. She's met with vocal coaches, dance choreographers, pageant directors and fashion designers. Her elegant evening gowns had to be specially fitted to cling to her athletic, 5-foot-11-inch frame, and she's been cutting all carbs from her diet to be swimsuit-ready.
Oldehoff left her Oakland Park pad for Baton Rouge two weeks before the pageant with several suitcases filled with clothes, makeup and shoes galore. The hectic schedule includes 12-hour days with little time to eat and sleep.
Sanchez, who wore an intricate red gown during the latter part of the three-hour nationally broadcast contest, addressed the issue of sexual assault on college campuses during a question-and-answer session faced by all six finalists.
Sanchez said she felt some colleges, fearing a bad reputation, might sweep the problem under the rug, and that "More awareness (of the issue) is very important so that women can learn to protect themselves."
She added that as a 4th degree black belt, she learned "you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself ... That's something we need to start to implement for a lot of women."
The pageant, co-hosted by Giuliana Rancic of "E! News" and MSNBC's morning news show "Way Too Early" host Thomas Roberts, was broadcast live on NBC from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The first runner-up was Audra Mari, 20, from North Dakota.
Other finalists included contestants from Georgia, Louisiana. Iowa's representative became a sixth finalist based on fan voting on Twitter, but placed as the fifth runner-up.
The competition featured contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia who were judged in three traditional beauty pageant categories: swimsuit, evening gown and interview.
Erin Brady, Miss USA 2013, crowned her successor, who will go on to compete at the international Miss Universe competition.
(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Robert Birsel)