For the first time ever, all four beauty pageant winners are black
For the first time in history, Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA are all women of color simultaneously.
Potayto, potahto. Tomayto, tomahto. Miss USA, Miss America?
The Miss USA competition returns Monday night (8 p.m. ET, A&E’s FYI and Hulu Live TV) to make another young woman’s pageant dreams come to life. Kentucky journalist Elle Smith was crowned Miss USA in November.
The winner of Miss USA 2022 will receive a luxury prize package, which includes a six-figure salary, a condo in Los Angeles, a “fabulous car” and a wardrobe filled with designer garments, according to the Miss USA official website.
But while on the surface these pageants may seem like an indistinct swirl of megawatt smiles, glamorous outfits and effortless charisma, each pageant has its unique identity, including Miss USA, which is forging its own spirit of diversity.
Here’s how the two differ.
Miss USA 101
The Miss USA franchise was acquired by former Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart in 2020.
Stewart, the franchise’s first African American president, told the Reno Gazette-Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, that the organization seeks to redefine the focus of pageantry to reflect current issues. This includes elevating the narrative of inclusivity and diversity of young females nationwide, Stewart said.
The Miss USA 2022 contest also marks the pageant’s first competition since the death of Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, who died by suicide in January. The organization says it plans to honor Kryst at this year’s pageant.
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Miss USA actually originates from the Miss America contest, and there are key differences between the pageants, such as contestants’ ages, pageant attire and performance requirements.
Where did Miss USA originate?
Miss USA got its start thanks to the defiance of an Alabama woman named Yolande Betbeze.
Betbeze, who had been educated in a convent school, won Miss America in 1950. Due to her conservative background, Betbeze refused to pose in a swimsuit after she won the title, which was a problem as one of Miss America’s big sponsors was Catalina Swimwear.
The Miss America pageant organizers, under pressure from Catalina, urged Betbeze to reconsider but she refused and held her ground. As a result, an enraged Catalina went off and started a competing event, and thus Miss USA was born — launching its first pageant in 1952 in Long Beach, California.
Catalina would also create the Miss Universe pageant, which has become the world’s most watched beauty competition, airing in 190 different countries annually.
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Who has previously owned Miss USA?
Miss USA has been owned and operated by a variety of corporate interests since the Catalina company founded the event.
Other owners have included Gulf & Western and ITT Inc. In 1996, Donald Trump purchased rights to the pageant from ITT and operated it — along with the Miss Universe competition — until 2015.
Hollywood mega-talent agency WME/IMG acquired the Miss Universe Organization from Trump in 2015.
What does the Miss USA competition consist of?
In terms of the competition, Miss USA features a swimsuit portion and evening gown presentation (there is no talent competition).
The top six contestants then participate in a question-and-answer round. Participants are between the ages of 18 and 28.
Once a winner is crowned, the victor of Miss USA goes on to compete in the Miss Universe contest.
Miss Teen USA 2020: Hawaii’s Ki’ilani Arruda crowned during pageant at Graceland
Which celebrities have competed in Miss USA?
Past Miss USA contestants include Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry (a 1986 runner-up) and model-actress Ali Landry, who won Miss USA in 1996.
Now, when did Miss America start?
Miss America was established in 1921 as the “Inter-City Beauty Contest” and took place on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
A century later, the event has become a familiar staple of Americana and, as its official website notes, has been “at the center of everything from national trends to social movements to the birth of television.”
Originally created by a group of Atlantic City businessmen in the 1920s, the evolution of Miss America would see the event ultimately operated as a nonprofit. The Miss America Organization brands itself as the “nation’s leading advocate for women’s education and the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women in the United States, awarding millions of dollars annually in cash awards and in-kind tuition waivers.”
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What does Miss America consist of?
Miss America contestants partake in a live interactive session with judges, in which they can speak about their achievements and how they will use their talents to perform their duties as Miss America.
Miss Alaska Emma Broyles, who was crowned Miss America in December, used the interview portion of the competition to speak about her mental health.
“I am real. I have flaws. I have ADHD. I have dermatillomania, which is a form of OCD. I’ve struggled with all of these things and because of that, I am a better person,” Broyles said. “During COVID, it was an incredibly difficult time for me, being isolated in my college dorm for so long. It was that point when I hit rock bottom when I realized I can be so much more than that.”
With regard to fashion, Miss America contestants get to choose what they wear for the evening portion.
Miss America contestants also participate in a talent competition, which Miss USA does not have. Women competing in Miss America are between the ages of 17 and 26.
And while the winner of Miss USA advances to the Miss Universe contest, the conclusion of Miss America is the final stop for winners of this competition.
Which celebrities have won Miss America before?
Miss America has been a launching pad for a number of celebrities and media figures over the years, including “Catwoman” actress Lee Meriwether (1955), actress Mary Ann Mobley (1959) and actress-singer Vanessa Williams (1984).
Williams, who went on to star in “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives,” became the first African American Miss America with her coronation. Williams was later forced to step down from the position after past nude photos of her were published in Penthouse magazine.
From 2019: Miss USA pageant gets political with questions on immigration, gun violence
Contributing: Bob Mehr, Memphis Commercial Appeal; Joe Jacquez and Jason Hidalgo, Reno Gazette-Journal
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