Marina Gray of Portland cracked the top 10 in the Miss USA pageant Monday night, surprising doubtful TV commentators by surviving two rounds of elimination.

Gray, 23, won the title of Miss Maine USA last November and traveled to Shreveport, Louisiana, for the Miss USA competition. When she made the first cut, which whittled the 51 contestants down to just 15, the commentators who were narrating the live, on-air event called it a big surprise.

A sergeant in the Maine Army National Guard, Gray had never considered entering a pageant until about two years ago when she read that an Army Reserve officer, Deshauna Barber, had won Miss USA.

Making the first cut Monday night advanced her to the swimsuit competition, during which commentators noted her athletic, muscular build as she walked the runway in a floral bikini. She advanced to the third round, or top 10, to participate in the evening gown competition, during which she wore a baby blue lace gown with a cape train.

“Life has brought me to some amazing places and I can honestly say I NEVER expected to be where I am today,” Gray posted a day earlier on her Instagram account. “Doing a pageant was something way out of my comfort zone … the heels, make-up and dresses. … Those are things I always wanted to embrace but was to scared to.”

Gray grew up in Trenton in Hancock County and took charge of her life at a young age. She went to court to become emancipated from her parents at the age of 16, allowing her to live on her own and sign legally binding documents. She graduated from high school in three years, joined the Army National Guard for tuition money and graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in interpersonal communication.

She will continue serving as Miss Maine USA until her successor is crowned later this year. Gray works as a waitress at Scales Restaurant and doing film work for Head Games Salon in Portland and its Controlled Chaos hair care brand. She films instructive videos about hair care and hair styles. She would like to have a career in documentary film.

Sarah Rose Summers, Miss Nebraska USA, went on to claim the Miss USA title Monday night. She gets an undisclosed salary, a New York City apartment and resources “to advance personal and professional opportunities,” according to the Miss Universe Organization, which runs Miss USA. The winner also competes in the Miss Universe competition.

Staff Writer Penelope Overton contributed to this report.


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