Seduced by bright lights, big city
Disgraced Miss USA Tara Conner grew up in a three-stoplight town in rural Kentucky where alcohol sales are banned and teens spend Saturday night in the Kmart parking lot
(NCD/NYDN).- But when she won her crown in April, the 20-year-old former cheerleader rocketed into Manhattan's nightclub scene where friends say she succumbed to the temptations of drinking, drugs and casual hookups.
Now some wonder if the bright lights of the big city proved too much for the small-town girl. Pageant boss Donald Trump could strip her of her title as early as Tuesday because of what he called her "personal problems and difficulties."
"When I heard about her crown maybe [being] taken away, I didn't know what to believe," her grandmother Lois Conner told the Daily News.
Conner hails from Russell Springs, a rural and religious town in south-central Kentucky with fewer than 2,500 residents.
She started young in beauty pageants: She was third runnerup in the Casey County Apple Festival when she was 4, and was voted Young Miss Russell County when she was 13.
But friends said she was still a down-to-earth girl with blue jeans and a ponytail. She graduated from Russell County High in 2004, waitressed at a steakhouse and took classes at the local community college.
She also drank and partied like other teens in town.
"Tara was real," said a 24-year-old local called J.C. as he stood with beer-drinking friends around a bonfire outside town this weekend. "She was really popular with everyone, no matter how good she might have looked or how popular she became."
"She was not stuck up," added Henry Cardwell. "She hung out with everyone."
She could also be feisty.
Donna Byrd, assistant manager of Brooke & Bucs Roadhouse, has known Conner since 2003 when the future Miss USA was waitressing at the steakhouse.
During one shift, she said, Conner was scolded by the restaurant's owner for throwing out a cup of milk meant for a child after discovering a hole in the Styrofoam cup. Conner came in the next day with a gallon of milk with a bow on it.
When she won the Miss USA title, "Congratulations Tara Conner" signs sprang up, and the town threw her a parade.
Yet even as her hometown savored the honor, she left it far behind. The pageant moved her into a swank Trump Place apartment and flew her around the country for a whirlwind of Miss USA appearances.
She barely saw her parents, relatives and friends - and broke up with her fiancé.
In New York, she quickly picked up a reputation for drinking heavily, snorting cocaine and playing around with different men.
Conner moved out of the Trump Place apartment late last week and was said to be spending time with her mom.