In reality, the show's 10 contestants were secretly being videotaped so a panel that included Minnillo, Beth (Ostrosky) Stern, and Carson Kressley could determine if their beauty was more than skin deep.
Minnillo knows a thing or two about being a beauty inside and out. In 1998, she proved nice girls can finish first when she became the only Miss Teen USA winner to also take home the "Miss Congeniality" sash.
Now approaching her 30th birthday, Minnillo showed her congenial side once again when she chatted with StyleList about her second season on "True Beauty," pageants, and must-have products.
Minnillo told us ahead of tonight's finale that we would not be surprised by the winner, who ended up being athlete-turned-aspiring model Taylor Bills.
Although Long Island, NY, bartender Erika Olthen seemed like the obvious front-runner, Minnillo told us: "I don't think fans will be surprised. I think this person proved exactly what we were trying to prove, that beauty really is as much about inside as the outside."
StyleList: Some of your contestants have done some ugly things: shoplifting, ignoring people pleading for help, etc.
Vanessa Minnillo: The shocking thing was ignoring people. That was the thing that made our jaws drop. I get it's a competition and we were almost bribing people to be bad, but when someone in need asks for help and you say "no" -- not nice! That shocked all of us!
SL: Your role involved confronting contestants with videotapes of their bad behavior. How did you play it so straight?
VM: It's tough. No matter how much you see us giggling and having a good time, it is heartbreaking when we expose them. I have seen these people crying their eyes out backstage, they are so mortified by what they've done. I genuinely believe that nine of the 10 people on this show are heartfelt, good people. They got caught up in the free booze and glitz and glamor of Vegas. When you see how ashamed they are it can get very emotional. Beth, Carson, and I have all gotten a little choked up.
SL: Was the pageant world this ugly?
VM: When I won Miss Teen USA I didn't have the prettiest dress or the best body. All I had was me. I didn't think I had a shot. To be validated by winning Miss Congeniality and Miss Teen USA was such a lesson for me about being your own person. Girls are girls and, yes, we sometimes let our worse half get the best of us, but ultimately what I experienced is that it's not only about all the exterior stuff and status stuff. If it was, I wouldn't have won!
I think some of the messages we get about beauty and status in the media are changing. I was just on a plane watching "Glee" and I love that show! You have the most diverse group of kids. They are not all beauty queens. But there they are, believing in themselves and sticking up for each other. What a great message!
SL: So how do you feel about pageants like Miss USA [which Minnillo has hosted] going sexier?
VM: Oh, Miss USA has always been the sexier one if you compare it to Miss America. Look at what they judge: It's one-third bikini, one-third interview, one-third evening gown. Miss USA started as a swimsuit pageant. It's never pretended to be anything but a beauty pageant. Donald Trump is just kicking it up a notch and I can't blame him for trying.
SL: Tell us about your own true beauty routine?
VM: [Laughs] Well, I would like to practice what I preach and say it doesn't matter if I have one! On the flip side, I am a girl. I like makeup. I love getting dressed up and going to a function with my boyfriend [Nick Lachey]. I enjoy putting on false eyelashes and getting all dolled up. I go to the gym and work out a lot but, honestly, it's more for how I feel than how I look in a bikini. I like the energy and strength I get from being fit.
SL: What are your favorite beauty products?
VM: I'm addicted to Bioré face wipes. I also love cocoa butter lotions, and my Pleasures perfume. I like to have soft skin and smell good. So sometimes I wear both together and, combined, I think they smell like the beach but even better!
SL: How do you work on your inner beauty?
VM: I'm definitely still a work in progress. I am always trying to learn new things. I am going to be 30 [Nov. 9] and I am thinking more about my emotional and spiritual growth than aging. I just want to learn more, grow more, and be a better person. Like acting, I'm relatively new to that, but I try to take everything I'm learning seriously. I don't show up pretending that I know everything.
SL: For the sake of "true beauty" are you open to joining the list of celebrities who have posed for photos without makeup or retouching?
VM: Of course! I think it would be very freeing and liberating. My favorite days are when I go out without makeup and people tell me I have a glow and my hair looks great and I haven't even tried! So I would be completely open to that.
SL: Your look on the show is very Vegas glamorous. Did you like the style?
VM: You know Beth Stern showed up with a lot of her own dresses and shoes and and I was like, "I didn't know we could do that!" [Laughs] I might have packed some of my own things! As for my look, it's Vegas and I had never worked with a Vegas style team before. It was a lot of eyeshadow and hairspray, and it was a little much for me, but I had a great time with the stylists on the show.
SL: It seems like you had a good time with Beth and Carson.
VM: Beth is fabulous in every sense of the word, the epitome of a true beauty. It speaks volumes of Howard Stern -- who by the way is a great big teddy bear -- that he is married to this woman!. As for Carson, I couldn't stop laughing. He is so much fun.
Want more reality TV beauty scoop? Check out our interview with "Shear Genius" winner Brig Van Osten.