Stephen M. Silverman
April 12, 2005 08:00 AM

The nation has a new Miss USA: Fashion marketing student Chelsea Cooley, 21, from Charlotte, N.C., who was crowned in the 54th annual pageant Monday night. She also holds the title as the reigning Miss North Carolina.

As Miss USA, Cooley will go on to compete May 30 in the Miss Universe competition in Bangkok, Thailand. She said loves being in pageants and got into them for the scholarship money they award her. “I fell in love with them and it snowballed,” she said. “And here I am, Miss USA.”

Also in the winners’ circle: Miss California, Brittany Hogan, 20, as first runner-up; Miss Kentucky, Kristen Lynn Johnson, 23, second runner-up; Miss Illinois, Jill Gulseth, 21, third; Miss Florida, Melissa Witek, 24, fourth.

Cooley, who studies at the Art Institute of Charlotte, said before the show that she wrote several of her fellow contestants a note to “let them know that regardless of what happened tonight I will always believe in them because they truly are extraordinary women and I’m very proud of them,” the Associated Press reports.

In her spare time, Cooley likes to watch baseball and read suspense novels, and lists dancing, parasailing and shopping among her hobbies. Her dream job? Working as a buyer for Ralph Lauren.

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