Despite snafu, La. officials tell Miss USA 'Y'all come back now'
BATON ROUGE - Despite some tense moments surrounding the Miss USA pageant, local leaders said they'd be open to working with the pageant for a third year.
Everyone was in good spirits at the official welcome party Thursday night after learning a few hours earlier, the event would be televised.
"This is a great event, this is all about these young ladies," said Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne. "It was a huge success last year, that's why we were willing to reinvest in it this year and if the pageant wants to find a permanent home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that would be fine with me."
After being dropped by NBC, the pageant was picked up by cable network Reelz Channel. But, it does not offer the same amount of viewers as the broadcast network. The network is available to about 70 million subscribers but not cable customers in Baton Rouge.
"Frankly, I think NBC overreacted, I don't think the punishment fits the crime," Dardenne said. "If they wanted to get after Donald Trump for what he said that's one thing, but this is really hurtful to the girls I think and to the nation-wide audience."
But, the next time around, Dardenne said he would change the language in the contract.
Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden agrees he would bring the pageant back again next year if given the opportunity, because of what it's already done for the local economy.
"The repercussions in terms of the pluses will extend for years to come," said Holden. "The other part is for these young ladies who spend months, and in some cases years to get to this point."
Ready to focus on what is next, the contestants were given a big Louisiana welcome at a reception put on by Ruffino's Catering at De La Ronde Hall. The women jumped right into the Louisiana culture. Miss Oregon was seen holding a baby alligator and even gave it the nickname, Freddie.
"Well, I always wanted to see an alligator so I guess my dream has come true today," said Miss Oregon Bridget Wilmes. "Looks like I made a new best friend."
There, contestants enjoyed a buffet of Louisiana seafood including crawfish, oysters and shrimp.
"We really wanted to showcase Louisiana seafood," said Co-Owner of Ruffino's Italian Restaurant Peter Sclafini. "These girls are really eating this up."
Sclafini went on to comment that a lot of the women ate their first raw oyster Thursday.
The home state girl said a few of her fellow contestants were concerned about the food, at first.
"They keep asking me, 'what can I expect, is it going to be gross?'" said Miss Louisiana Candice Bennatt. "I just assured them to have a good time because that's what Miss USA is about."
The evening followed with a Second Line down Florida Street. The 51 contestants and Miss USA Nia Sanchez were lead by Baton Rouge Police escort on Capitol Park Trolleys to the Old State Capitol where the 2015 Miss USA contestants kicked off the competition.
While things are moving forward, leaders are still taking a close look at the financing obligations from Baton Rouge and state agencies. The city paid its share of money Thursday, a day late. The state and Visit Baton Rouge, the tourism group, have not paid $145,000 promised. Leaders said they may wait until after the pageant is over before paying.