Next month’s Miss USA finals in Las Vegas will have a Miami accent.
Linette De Los Santos, a law student at Nova Southeastern University and the reigning Miss Florida USA, is set to compete for the coveted crown.
Pageant fans might remember De Los Santos, 25, as the woman who won the Florida title in a controversial manner in July.
She finished first runner-up to Miami Beach’s Genesis Davila in the Fort Lauderdale statewide pageant.
Within a week, however, Davila was stripped from her title for allegedly cheating, including her use of professional hair and makeup artists.
Davila filed a $5 million lawsuit, but the decision stood. The lawsuit was dismissed in October, and the terms are confidential.
De Los Santos says she’s just fine with the way she won.
“I always felt like I had won anyway,” the 5-foot-6, 115-pound De Los Santos (“I’m fun-sized,” she said) said between a class at NSU and another fitness session in a gym. “I gave everything on the stage in July. It was the best I had ever done in the four years I’ve been competing.”
De Los Santos will have to bring her A game May 14 at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, where she will battle 49 other state winners in contests that include bikini and evening gown competitions.
“The swimsuit competition isn’t really about sex,” she said. “It’s about keeping a healthy lifestyle. It’s about being fit, and nothing shows the world how fit one person is like a bikini.
“Besides, I live in South Florida. So, the swimsuit competition isn’t really a big deal for me.”
De Los Santos followed her family, including an older brother and two younger sisters, out of the Dominican Republic and to the Kendall area when she was 5. She still lives at home in The Hammocks.
She attended Felix Varela Senior High in Miami and graduated from Florida International University last year with a degree in criminal justice.
Although she had just won Miss Florida and had a full slate of appearances and her preparation for Miss USA, De Los Santos enrolled in law school.
Seeing the current political climate, De Los Santos said, she wants to specialize in immigration law because she wants to provide help those who deserve to be in this country.
“It feels like I have three full-time jobs right now,” De Los Santos said.
She plans to arrive in Las Vegas for the pageant a day after the rest of the field because she has to take a final exam in Davie May 4.
De Los Santos says she’s preparing both physically with the proper nutrition, weight room training and jogging as well as mental prep.
“The most important is to find out who you are,” she said, “and become confident with the person that you discover you are. That took some work.”
The show airs live May 14 on Fox affiliates nationwide, including WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami.