A 21-year-old "history geek" representing California was named Miss USA at the annual beauty pageant in Las Vegas on Sunday.
Alyssa Campanella, who was born and raised in New Jersey which she represented at the Miss Teen USA contest in 2007, was considered among the favorites by pageant experts.
She will represent the United States at the Miss Universe pageant to be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 12.
Campanella was crowned by incumbent Miss USA, Rima Fakih, a Lebanese-born Muslim who was the first Arab-American to hold the title.
Miss Tennessee came in second, Miss Alabama was third, and Miss Texas was fourth.
Campanella said she was a "huge history geek" fascinated by the Tudor and Stuart periods and the "Game of Thrones" TV fantasy. She is a natural blond who dyed her hair red for a play several years ago and never went back.
She won the crown despite giving a muddled answer when a judge asked her whether marijuana should be legalized in California. She replied that marijuana for medical purposes was "very important," but had concerns about whether legalization would help in the war against drugs.
Miss Tennessee, 21-year-old journalism student Ashley Elizabeth Durham, declared that burning the American flag should not be protected by free speech and that burning religious books was "just a line that you do not cross."
Don't stand by your man
Miss Alabama, 22-year-old Madeleine Mitchell, said internet bullies whose taunts force their targets to commit suicide should be prosecuted. Miss Texas, 25-year-old Ana Rodriguez, received loud applause when she said the wives of political figures caught in sex scandals should move on "and find a man who really loves you."
The fate of most of the 51 contestants was decided during a preliminary ceremony last Wednesday when a panel of judges selected 15 of the quarter-finalists based on their swimwear and evening gowns. A 16th spot was reserved for a contestant determined by fans' internet voting.
During that event, Campanella tripped while parading in her evening gown.
The results were announced early in Sunday's ceremony, with contestants from Georgia, Arizona, Maine, Utah, Indiana, South Carolina, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Missouri and Maryland rounding out the top 15. Miss New Mexico was the fan favorite for the 16th spot.
The semi-finalists were then whittled down to Maine, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, Hawaii, California and Maryland by a new panel of judges.
Elsewhere, Brittany Dawn Brannon of Arizona was named Miss Photogenic, and Kia Ben-et Hampton of Kentucky Miss Congeniality.