It’s a three-peat; for the third year in a row, a Black woman was crowned Miss USA on Monday night, as Miss Kentucky Elle Smith earned the title during the 70th Miss USA pageant at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Okla. Smith follows in the stilettoed footsteps of Miss USA 2020 Asya Branch and 2019's queen Cheslie Kryst. Memorably, Kryst completed a Black American female trifecta of her own when crowned in the same year as Miss America Nia Imani Franklin and Miss Teen USA—not to mention 2019’s Miss World, Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica, and Miss Universe, South African Zozibini Tunzi.
Now, it will be Smith’s turn to compete for Miss Universe in Israel on December 12; a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that the 23-year-old competed in her very first pageant only six months ago, according to Insider.
What also makes Smith remarkable, in our eyes? Well, like us, she’s a journalist—“an honor and a role I take very seriously,” her Miss USA bio reads (h/t Insider). According to Newsweek, after majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Kentucky’s (UK) College of Communication and Information—where she was vice president of the campus chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) during her senior year—an NABJ conference landed the 2020 grad her first job as a reporter for Louisville’s WHAS11, an ABC affiliate.
For the pageant haters, this is where we note that Diane Sawyer (America’s Junior Miss) and Oprah Winfrey (Miss Black Tennessee) were also pageant contestants—and Halle Berry (Miss Ohio) was first runner-up for Miss USA in 1986. And of course, Vanessa Williams’ come-up following her historic 1983 Miss America win—and subsequent dethroning—is legendary. You love to see it.
Smith’s first pageant was competing for Miss Kentucky in May, recalling during a subsequent interview: “I never walked in wanting to win....I wanted to do the best that I could but also know that I had put in the work to be there, put in all the work I needed to do to be on that stage, and I could say that. That’s why I would’ve been happy no matter what.”
But Smith did win—and reportedly continued to work full-time as a journalist during her reign as the state’s representative. Putting her incisive mind to work at the Miss USA pageant along with turns in the swimsuit, evening gown, and costume categories (hers inspired by a jockey in honor of the Kentucky Derby), she “spoke on sustainability and encouraging businesses to be more environmentally conscious,” according to Insider.
“We’ve got to look at it from a macro and also a micro level,” Smith explained. “So at the macro level, companies need to switch to green energy—I think that’s something we can all agree on.”
“But then, at the micro level, we all know how to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and those are all things we can implement in our daily life,” she added. Insider also notes that “in her spare time, she advocates for cervical cancer awareness and prevention to honor her late grandmother.”
Sounds like a winner to us—and we’d be lying if we said we weren’t tickled by the succession of Black excellence that has taken over a pageant once owned by Trump.
“A little over a year ago, I sat in bed and watched Miss USA,” wrote Smith in an Instagram post prior to the pageant. “I remember watching [several contestants of color] and so many more incredible women grace the stage, and thinking, “I want to be on that stage. I want to be like them...Crazy to think this is my official Miss USA headshot and I made that dream reality....Now, it’s game time.
We may not be pageant fans, but we’ll definitely be curious to see who takes the crown at the Miss Universe pageant on December 12. Good luck, Elle Smith!