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2016 Miss USA Recap: Awkward Answers, Sexy Swimsuits and a Winner Is Crowned

Brains and beauty! Unlike Steve Harvey (who infamously named the wrong contestant as the winner of Miss Universe last December), Miss USA 2016 cohosts Julianne Hough and Terrence Jenkins made it through the Sunday, June 5, broadcast error-free. 

Miss USA 2016 Top 5 finalists
The 2016 Miss USA top five finalists. FoxTV/Twitter

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Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated cover model Ashley Graham gave viewers an insider peek at what goes on behind the scenes, which apparently included everything from twisted ankles to the women needing to be told they could not bring their phones on stage (no comment).

Judges Ali Landry, Joe Zee, Laura Brown, Nigel Barker and Crystle Stewart held down the fort while viewers at home weighed in with their own votes. This year also marked the introduction of Miss 52 USA, which was essentially a wild card contestant chosen from a pool of photos and videos submitted from women all over the country. It’s probably worth saying up front, however, that while the first Miss 52, Alexandra Miller, said she was “joyful” to be competing, she didn’t make it very far. So, which states went all the way?

The Top 15

Prior to tonight’s live broadcast, the top 15 had already been chosen based on a preliminary round earlier in the week. The lucky group included Miss South Carolina (Leah Lawson, who you may have recognized from her stint on American Idol), Miss Ohio (Megan Wise), Miss Georgia, (Emanii Davis), Miss Arizona (Chelsea Myers), Miss Alabama (Peyton Brown), Miss West Virginia (Nichole Greene), Miss District of Columbia (Deshauna Barber), Miss California (Nadia Grace Mejia, whose father happened to be the famous ’90s rapper Rico Suave), Miss Missouri (Sydnee Stottlemyre), Miss Connecticut (Tiffany Teixeira), Miss Hawaii (Chelsea Hardin), Miss South Dakota (Madison McKeown), Miss Arkansas (Abby Floyd), Miss Virginia (Desiree Williams) and Miss Oklahoma (Taylor Gorton).

Related: PHOTOS: Miss USA 2016 Top 15 — See Their Bikini Body Photos

These 15 young women then strutted their stuff in the swimsuit competition, during which announcers provided interesting facts about each contestant, ranging from who prefers less makeup for a more natural look (Miss South Carolina) to who is one of the best walkers (Miss Georgia). And then the top 10 were revealed.

The Top 10

The top 10 were Miss Virginia, Miss Alabama, Miss California, Miss Georgia, Miss Connecticut, Miss District of Columbia, Miss Missouri, Miss Arkansas, Miss South Dakota and Miss Hawaii. They all made a quick wardrobe change for the evening gown competition and viewers at home were reminded they are not judged based on their dresses, but rather on their grace and elegance. A special note was made that, during rehearsals, Miss South Dakota was “whipping” the cape portion of her dress as she walked, but changed her strategy after the show’s consultant advised her to “just let it flow.”

The Top Five

Unfortunately, not even that expert tip could keep Miss South Dakota in the running, and the top five were Miss Georgia, Miss Hawaii, Miss District of Columbia, Miss Alabama and Miss California.

Related: PHOTOS: Miss America 2016 Bikini Bodies Pictures

The Dreaded Question Round

For the most part, the questions were straightforward and the contestants gave safe, acceptable answers—with the exception of Miss California. Asked about what might be done to ease economic inequality in the United States (which, to be fair, is a tough question to answer in under a minute), she choked. After closing her eyes in silence for a few painful seconds, she muttered something relatively incoherent about how the rich and poor “need to stop being so segregated” and stating her personal theory that there is a middle class. At this point, cohost Hough reached out and gave her a reassuring pat on the arm, but the damage was already done. Needless to say, Miss California did not make it to the top three.

Georgia, Hawaii, and D.C. Battle It Out for the Crown

Miss Georgia, Miss Hawaii and Miss District of Columbia then moved on to the final round. It was pretty clear from the start that Miss D.C. was a front-runner, as the audience and judges all clearly admired her military career and no-nonsense demeanor.

For the final judging round, these three women were each asked the same question, which was to define “confidently beautiful” (an unofficial theme of the evening). Miss Georgia said it was about loving your flaws, and Miss Hawaii said it was about making other people feel loved, but it was Miss D.C.’s answer that really got the crowd excited as she took the opportunity to highlight her military experience, arguing it was about being able to earn others’ respect, despite your appearance.

The Backstreet Boys performed a medley of their tried-and-true favorites while the final three sashayed around the stage one last time.

And the Winner is …

Ultimately, Miss District of Columbia, Deshauna Barber, was crowned Miss USA! (Miss Hawaii was the runner-up and Miss Georgia was the second runner-up.)

Though it seemed clear from the outset that she was one of the favorites, Barber appeared genuinely shocked and overwhelmed as 2015 Miss USA Olivia Jordan ceremoniously handed over her crown.

Tell Us: Do you think the right contestant won?

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