She looked like she had it all, but beneath the smile, Tara Conner battled addiction and self-doubt. In 2006, shortly after being crowned Miss USA, Tara Conner's unbecoming behavior began to make headlines. The media ran reports of Tara's underage drinking and drug abuse, as well as scandalous photos of this blonde beauty queen.
Then, eight months into her yearlong reign, Tara tested positive for cocaine. When business mogul Donald Trump, co-owner of the Miss USA organization, called a press conference, everyone—including Tara—expected him to strip Tara of her crown. Instead, Donald offered her a second chance. Tara agreed to go to rehab.
When she was just 13 years old, Tara started turning heads in Russell Springs, Kentucky, the small town where she was raised. On the advice of a family friend, she began entering beauty pageants. Tara's beauty and poise won her crown after crown, but beneath the smile, her world was unraveling. At age 14, Tara's parents divorced, and soon after, her beloved grandfather died. "I feel like I was crying out for help, but no one could hear me because everyone was so concerned with their own life," Tara says.
In high school, Tara found a way to mask the pain. "I started using when I was 14 years old. I had my first drink when, I think, I was 14," she says. "It wasn't me moving to New York and becoming Miss USA that thrust me into the spotlight. It wasn't that at all. I had the disease of alcoholism from the get-go."
Tara got in trouble at school or her grades started to slip, she says she learned that if she won a pageant, all was forgiven. "My name was in the papers all over again," she says. "And people thought, Well, she can't be a drug addict if she's winning pageants."
Tara's mother Even Brenda was fooled. She says, "While she lived at home, I just thought she was misbehaving. There were times when I would hear rumors, and I would confront her. But she had a way of telling me what I wanted to hear. She knew what to say to me so that I could believe her. She was a master manipulator."
Now, Tara is three years sober, and she says it's a wonder she lived to share her story. "I don't know why I was spared," she says. To anyone facing the same battle, Tara says there's someone out there who feels the same way you do, and there's help available. "Even if you don't love yourself at all, other people do love you."