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Smallest state goes big on Miss Universe pride

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Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The city of Cranston is known _ sort of _ for being the one-time home of the Narragansett Brewing Company, and it scored a mention in the Jim Carrey flick "Dumb and Dumber."

But the city has suddenly found itself at the center of the universe.

The nation's smallest state has gone big on pride after Cranston native Olivia Culpo snagged the Miss Universe title on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, beating out 88 other women from six continents to bring the title back to the U.S. for the first time since 1997.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung calls it "mind-boggling" to have his city of 80,000 residents, the third largest in Rhode Island, put on the map for an international audience. He says Culpo's win is inspirational for the city, state and nation.

"To have Olivia perform the way she did, with the poise that she did, coming from where she came from, it provides this really feel good moment," he said Thursday. "She's going to be a wonderful ambassador for Cranston in particular, her hometown, but our state and our country."

Fung gave the 20-year-old Boston University student a key to the city after she was crowned Miss USA in June, the first time anyone from Rhode Island had won the title. A tree was planted in her honor at City Hall, and a band of students from local high schools played. Culpo herself is an accomplished cellist.

Fung said she can have another key to the city _ or whatever she wants _ given her beauty pageant promotion.

"She is the center of the universe," he said.

In an interview, Culpo thanked Rhode Islanders for their support and said she loves the state "where it all started."

"I think it's cool to put Rhode Island on the map," she said. "To be able to have come from such a small place and to now be representing so much is so cool."

Rhode Island residents' nerves were on edge after Culpo tripped slightly during the competition's evening gown segment. She then was asked a question about whether she had ever done something she regretted; she said you learn from every experience, good or bad, but that she regretted picking on her siblings growing up.

After she was crowned, congratulations flooded Twitter, including from her former Catholic school in East Providence, St. Mary Academy Bay View; Providence Mayor Angel Taveras; even Rhode Island's most famous seller of its trademark hot wieners, Olneyville New York System.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline sent out a news release including a picture of her in a white dress and her Miss USA sash that was taken outside his Washington, D.C., office. He said she had already made Rhode Island proud but that "her success tonight is an even greater source of pride for the Ocean State."

While Culpo will be back in Rhode Island for the holidays, no official appearances as Miss Universe are planned. She said she's looking forward to seeing one of Providence's landmarks while she's home: the giant termite atop a pest control business near downtown.

"I hope the big blue bug will have a little something for me," she said. "Maybe we need to add a tiara."

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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