On Monday night, a new Miss USA was crowned! Elle Smith, formerly Miss Kentucky took home the crown, in what is being dubbed as a three-peat victory; “for the third year in a row, a Black woman was crowned.”
When Smith won Miss Kentucky back in May, it was her first time competing in a pageant, and now she’s en route to compete in the Miss Universe pageant on December 12 in Israel.
A graduate of the University of Kentucky who currently works as a multimedia journalist at a local ABC news station,WHAS 11. “Smith said she had wanted to participate in pageants since high school but had to wait until she had a ‘big girl job’ in order to afford it,” as NPR reports.
“A Miss USA, her job is to connect with people…She should be able to speak with a three-year-old, she should be able to speak with a 90-year-old veteran or the CEO of a business, and we do that every single day at work. You’re speaking to a wide range of personalities and meeting different people with different perspectives, and so I think that’s the big thing that I take from work,” Smith told WHAS 11.
These communication skills definitely came in handy when Smith won over the crowd and received “roaring applause” during the on-stage interview portion of the competition when she eloquently spoke “on how businesses can be more eco-friendly.”
The teen competition this year also produced another winner of color. On Saturday, “Breanna Myles was crowned Miss Teen USA 2021…[becoming] the first Floridian to win the Miss Teen USA title and the first person of African and Latino descent to represent Florida in the Miss Teen USA competition.”
Earlier this year in February, the pageant organization also made history when Crystle Stewart, former Miss USA 2008, became the first African American to take on the role of President, National Director, and licensed owner of both the Miss Teen USA and Miss USA pageants. She’s also its youngest owner, at 39 years old. Under Stewart’s leadership in its 70th anniversary, Miss USA swapped out their slogan to “Pageantry Reimagined” while simultaneously pushing for diversity.
Indeed, the New York Post “dubbed [this year’s contest as] the ‘wokest’ ever” as Smith’s 50 other competitors were part of the most diverse slate ever to compete in the Miss USA pageant to date, “including Kataluna Enriquez -the first openly-transgender competitor, Amanda Torchia, the first Afghan woman to win Miss Connecticut USA and Miss Maine Veronica Iris Bates, a[n] Air Force veteran who struggled with PTSD.”
As Time reports, “[t]hese wins are particularly significant because of the beauty pageant industry’s troubled history with race. For decades, women of color were banned from participating in some of the biggest pageants, including Miss America and Miss USA.”
WATCH: History made in 2020, with Black women crowned Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America across the board.
Fortunately, in recent years the tide appears to be turning. In December of 2019, a major milestone in the pageant industry occurred when for the first time ever, five Black women were titleholders in the most prestigious pageant systems, both nationally and internationally: Toni-Ann Singh as Miss Jamaica, “Zozibini Tunzi as Miss Universe, Cheslie Kryst as Miss USA, Kaliegh Garris as Miss Teen USA, and Nia Franklin as Miss America.”
Vanessa Williams, who in a similar fashion to Smith, won her first pageant and then went on to win at the national level, becoming the first Black Miss America, discussed the significance of why representation matters on the pageant stage: “[it’s a] wonderful example of black beauty and excellence…It’s different hairstyles, different hair textures, different hair, skin colors and hues and eye shapes and body, you know, body shapes. And it’s just wonderful that it can all be celebrated and accepted… It’s a perfect reflection of black beauty.”