Her rapid ascent from first-time beauty pageant contestant to winning the Miss USA title may seem like a fairytale, but Elle Smith, a 23-year-old former news reporter at WHAS TV in Louisville and graduate of the University of Kentucky, had a clear vision that led to the crown.
Several days before her scheduled move into a luxury condo in Los Angeles (provided by the Miss USA pageant,) Smith returned to Louisville to pack up her apartment and say "goodbye" to friends and co-workers. The 5-foot-9-inch beauty queen also made time to sit down with The Courier Journal at the newly renovated Bellwether Hotel.
The historic Highland neighborhood building, with its vaulted ceilings, art deco furnishings and expansive windows, once housed the Louisville Ballet and the Highland Police Department. Its new elegant interior provided the perfect location to talk about transformation with the TV reporter turned beauty queen.
"It still feels surreal, but I am savoring the moments of each step along this journey," Smith told The Courier Journal. "The variety of the experiences I've had already as Miss Kentucky USA traveling the state is what I have enjoyed the most. I have always said 'people are my passion' and I love talking to people as a reporter, as Miss Kentucky USA and now Miss USA."
Relaxing into a soft velvet sofa in The Bellwether lounge, the newly crowned beauty queen's green eyes sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight. As she described what it means to be the third consecutive Black woman since 2019 to be crowned Miss USA, Smith gently fluffed the blonde spirals of her hair.
"I felt bold and powerful walking out on stage with all these curls," Smith said referring to her unprocessed naturally curly hairstyle. "I hope I can inspire little girls and other women of color to embrace their own natural beauty in that regard. It's important to represent."
Smith said she was inspired to try for the Miss USA crown while watching the success of contestants like Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst of Charlotte, North Carolina and Mississippi's Asya Branch in 2020.
"I saw Cheslie competing with her natural curls and I thought 'I look like her, I can do this,'" Smith said. "I just had to wait to get out of school and start making money so I could afford to go after the dream."
How Miss USA used a vision board to achieve her goal
For a long while, Smith kept her dream a secret. She created a vision board which she kept next to her bed. On it, she placed a magazine photo of Cheslie Kryst being crowned Miss USA. She also included pictures of travel, modeling, romance and books.
"It made a huge difference having something visual to remind me each day," Smith said. "The vision board kept me focused and made me think about what I would accomplish that day to get to the goal."
A vision board is a tool that represents your goals and future plans. Plenty of successful people who hope to achieve a specific objective create vision boards to keep their aspirations top of mind. Before he was president, Oprah Winfrey's vision board included Barack Obama and the dress she would wear to the inauguration. Popstar Katy Perry made a vision board of her “hopes and aspirations” in music. Ellen DeGeneres and Steve Harvey have used them, too.
Less than a year after carefully clipping that Miss USA picture and gluing it into the middle of her vision board, Smith entered the Miss Kentucky pageant. In May 2021, she competed as Miss Germantown, the Louisville neighborhood where she lived at the time. Six months after winning the state title, she was on her way to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Smith admits she was stunned when she heard her name announced as the next Miss USA.
"I definitely had made it my goal to make it as far as Miss USA but did I think I would win? Let's just say when I heard them say 'Kentucky' it was a surreal moment and I didn't know what to do with myself," she said. "The first person I wanted was my mom, who was out in the audience."
What's next for Miss USA 2022?: Here are 5 rapid-fire questions with Elle Smith
What's next for Miss USA 2022?: Here are 5 rapid-fire questions with Elle Smith
Smith's time to celebrate with her family was brief. Soon after she was crowned, she was swept off for official Miss USA portraits and back-to-back media interviews which lasted until dawn. The whirlwind continued and by mid-morning, she was on a plane to Houston, Texas to be fitted for her wardrobe for the Miss Universe pageant held in Eilat, Israel on Dec. 12. Smith competed with 80 women from around the world, and the beauty queen newbie made it to the Top 10 of the international pageant, competing in the swimsuit and evening gown categories.
"I was absolutely exhausted when it was all over," Smith told The Courier Journal. "To be in competition mode for so many months was a lot of pressure, but I made sure to be grateful for everything that was happening because I realized I had never wanted anything more in my life and I had achieved it. This Miss USA title is something that will change my life forever."
After the Miss Universe contest, Smith traveled to her childhood home in Springfield, Ohio where she enjoyed the holiday season with her family, watched lots of Netflix and took plenty of time to rejuvenate before her reign as Miss USA begins Jan. 22.
How Miss USA honed her pageant interview skills as a journalist
As spectacular as it all sounds, a whole lot more went into Smith's rapid rise to the top of the pageant world.
"It was hard, very hard to juggle a full-time job, the role of Miss Kentucky and prepping for Miss USA," she said. "I don't think I would have been able to accomplish this without the supportive work team at WHAS. I was getting up at 5:30 a.m. to work out, then hop into a morning editorial news meeting, then I'd spend the day reporting. At 7 p.m., I'd do another workout, eat dinner at 9 p.m. and then until 10 p.m., I was doing interview prep for Miss USA."
Veteran news anchor Doug Proffitt interviewed Smith when she first applied for the reporter position at WHAS in 2020.
"I could see in examples of her work from UK and internships that Elle understood the complexity of producing a solid, well-rounded report and the importance of including diverse viewpoints for a complete news story," Proffitt told The Courier Journal. "When Elle joined our staff in October 2020, she was immediately thrown out on some very difficult assignments and she rose to the challenge. She never failed to come through with quality work."
While launching her new career, Smith kept her beauty pageant dream private but soon realized some of the skills she used on the job would serve her well on the beauty pageant stage.
"As a journalist, you need strong communication skills. You also need those skills to stand out in pageant competitions," she said. "When I was out in the field delivering a live news report, Doug Proffitt would ask me random questions from the anchor desk and I had to be ready to think on the spot. It turned out to be incredible training for the questions I would be asked at Miss Kentucky, Miss USA and Miss Universe."
Proffitt admits he had no idea he was helping a future Miss USA prepare for competition, but in hindsight, he can appreciate the cross-over.
"I listen closely to each report in a newscast and if I think it will help clarify the information, I'll often ask the reporter a question," the news anchor said. "Elle could always think on her feet when responding to my questions. If that part of her job helped her in competition then I would have to say 'I am glad I could help.'"
What's next for Miss USA Elle Smith?
Smith stopped by her former workplace during her recent trip to Kentucky. Her proud WHAS colleagues hung a large congratulatory banner on the building with Miss USA's photograph facing Chestnut and Sixth streets. She also revisited her alma mater in January.
Smith was thrilled to be asked to perform the "Y" during halftime during the Georgia and Kentucky basketball game. The "Y" is a longstanding tradition at Rupp Arena where University of Kentucky cheerleaders spell out the first seven letters of Kentucky and someone “important” and “popular” comes out on the floor to make a “Y” with their arms.
"I absolutely loved being a student at UK and I had seen people do the 'Y' the entire time I was in school," Smith said. "I always thought, 'I want to do that one day.' And when I did get to be the 'Y,' I have to admit I was actually nervous."
There is also a serious side to her title. While back in the Bluegrass state, Smith visited with families impacted by the deadly December tornadoes in Western Kentucky. She helped Santa hand out Christmas gifts and wrote on her Instagram, "My thoughts and prayers go to those impacted by the tornadoes in western Kentucky. These pictures only show a small part of the damage in this community. Over 70 people are dead, and many more are still missing."
As Smith fully steps into her role as Miss USA, she will advocate for cervical cancer education and awareness. It's a cause near and dear to Smith's heart — her grandmother passed away from the disease in 2015.
Her first official duty will take Smith to Peru. Later this month, she'll represent Miss USA to advocate for Smile Train, a nonprofit organization and charity providing corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates.
Until she crowns the next Miss USA, Smith will enjoy plenty of perks including a full salary, her condo in Los Angeles and a Porsche, lots of travel, plus entré into some of the most prestigious events in the world.
"This has changed my life. I am Miss USA 2022 but I will be a Miss USA forever," she said. "Little did '2021 Elle' know when she made that vision board that everything and more would come true."
Reach Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @kirbylouisville.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: How Miss USA Elle Smith nabbed the 2022 crown: Behind the scenes
Source : https://sports.yahoo.com/behind-scenes-miss-usa-elle-112319525.html2556