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Miss USA's Reign Coming To An End

Tara Elizabeth Conner, she is one Miss USA America won't easily forget, and not only because she was nearly stripped of her crown.

From small town Kentucky to an apartment in New York City, Conner began living out her dream come true. But with that came the partying and an unrealized addiction.

Tabloids began telling salacious tales of her bad behavior and critics began calling for her crown. Donald Trump, who owns the Miss Universe Organization, decided that she would be given a second chance.

With lights flashing and only three months left in her reign, Miss USA 2006 went to rehab for the first step of her second chance.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes, not only given a chance to have the time to better myself but to better me as Miss USA," she said at the press conference when Trump announced she would retain her title. "And I plan on walking out of this the best Miss USA you've ever seen."

It is almost time for Conner to turn over her crown to a new Miss USA. The 56th annual pageant will be broadcast Friday on NBC from the Kodak Theatre. Conner has been out of rehab for nearly two months and said she has been sober 100 days.

But initially, she said she was in total denial of her alcoholism. Even during her press conference with Trump, she had difficulty admitting her problem.

"I was in complete denial. Probably about a week and a half into rehab … that's when I figured this out," she told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "We all had the same story. It is all the same."


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These days, many celebrities, like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, are spending time in rehab. It seems to be the first stop for any star who gets himself into trouble. But Conner said her rehabilitation wasn't about publicity.

"I had the option — resign or go to rehab for 30 days," she said. "I took the rehab. Because, obviously, I thought, God's put me here for a reason. I'm not going to just go to rehab for no reason whatsoever. So while I was there, I realized how unmanageable my life was. It was so insane the way I used to be. Very manipulative, lied a lot. I had these masks I wore everywhere I went — a different mask for a different day. I was a one-person act. And it just — ever since I've been sober, it's been a thousand times better."

2Conner was very lucky to receive mercy from the notoriously ruthless Trump, but she said that he could see the deeper problem.

"I think he has a brother that suffered from alcoholism and he understood what I couldn't understand," she said. "And a lot of people don't understand anything about alcoholism or addiction … they don't think it's a disease, they just think it's just something you have an issue with. They think you'll go to rehab and control your use. It's not that at all. I can never pick up again. I can never pick up again. Because if I do, I'll end up dead. It will end up killing me, you know? Or I'll end up in jail or something."

Conner said she has come to realize that she has a physical dependency on drugs and alcohol. But some people have questioned Trump's motives for allowing her to retain her crown and questioned whether or not Conner was worthy of a second chance.

"Because of these stigmas that are attached, I've had people ask me every day, 'Do you think you tarnished the crown?' " she said. "Maybe I did. The bad thing about that is, if everyone thinks of alcohol addiction or the disease in general as a negative thing, no one's going to get help. No one wants that stigma attached. I'm an alcoholic or an addict, you know? Therefore, they're going to be afraid to come out and say, 'You know what? I need a little bit of help.' Because you can't do it by yourself."

For now, Conner plans to stay in New York City and perhaps travel back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. She said she has some "amazing choices" in front of her. But one year from now, she said she will still be "clean and sober, God willing."

"There's talk of Broadway, correspondent work on 'The Tyra Show,' talk of getting into music," Conner said. "I plan on writing a book. There's a lot of different things."