Rima Fakih made history when she became the first Muslim American to be crowned Miss USA on May 16, 2010. As she nears the end of her year-long reign, NewsFeed spoke to the pageant queen about her whirlwind year, her stint as reality star on the USA network’s wrestling competition Tough Enough and whether she’ll support Donald Trump, who co-owns the Miss Universe Organization, if he runs for president in 2012.
(More on TIME.com: Breaking down the controversy of a Muslim Miss USA)
As you prepare to pass on the Miss USA title, what’s been the biggest surprise of the last year?
I thought that I was competing for a beauty pageant and hoping that it was going to open doors for my life and offer me a scholarship. I ended up making a difference in life and breaking a lot of barriers. I didn’t expect that and I’m very proud of it. Being the first Arab-American [Miss USA], being the first Muslim-American [winner], also being an immigrant in this country, I think that a lot of people didn’t realize that in the Miss Universe Organization, they don’t judge a female by her ethnicity, or her religion or the fact that her hair is blonde. But it’s more of looking at the girl who can be a public image and can represent this country.
You had to sell your car to even compete in the Miss Michigan pageant. What’s the biggest difference about life pre- and post-pageant?
I worked three jobs pre-pageant, and now I work one. The second thing is not having to ever fear telling someone, “Yes, I am Muslim. Yes, I am Arabic.” I felt like before I used to preach it, but I never practiced it as much. And now I feel really courageous. I feel tougher. More accomplished.
As the first Muslim Miss USA, you surprised many when you called for the proposed mosque to be moved away from Ground Zero. How did you feel upon hearing about Osama bin Laden’s death? And how will it change the nation?
Having bin Laden be officially pronounced dead made not only myself, but my whole family, very happy. What people don’t understand is a lot of Muslims and a lot of Arabs don’t like to see his face on TV. And it’s not like they’re supporters of him. So we were proud.
(More on TIME.com: Fakih spoke to TIME’s Detroit blog when she was just Miss Michigan)
Tell me about your stint on USA’s WWE Tough Enough. Not many people would think a beauty queen would sign up to participate in a reality show about wrestling.
It was surprising to a lot of people, especially the whole Miss Universe Organization. With the Miss USA pageant—we’re promoters of being fearless. I wanted to show the world that as Rima Fakih, and as Miss USA, I can be tough. And it always helped that I was a wrestling fan as a child.
Speaking of the Miss Universe Organization, it’s co-owned by Donald Trump, who is flirting with a presidential run. If he joins the 2012 race, will he have your vote?
I love Mr. Trump. I loved him before I was Miss USA just because of his work as a businessman and the fact that I was an economics and business management major. I’ve always admired his approach to business and when I became Miss USA, I learned Mr. Trump is full of surprises. So you never know. We’ll see what he decides, and whatever it is, I’ll support him. But I also admire President Obama very much.
(More on TIME.com: See the top 10 beauty pageant scandals)