Elle Smith traded in her Miss Kentucky sash for a Miss USA crown on Monday night. She is slated to compete in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel next month. (Image credit: Felipe Espinal/Miss USA)
Published: 2021-11-30 12:40 pm
The new Miss USA is Elle Smith, a local TV reporter from Kentucky

Miss Kentucky Elle Smith was crowned Miss USA 2021 on Monday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Felipe Espinal/Miss USA

Readers, meet your new Miss USA.

Elle Smith traded in her Miss Kentucky sash after winning the pageant on Monday night and is set to head to Israel to compete for the title of Miss Universe in just a few weeks.

Louisville ABC affiliate WHAS11 — where Smith works as a multimedia journalist — reports that Smith is the second Miss Kentucky to become Miss USA. She reportedly shone during the swimsuit and evening gown competitions and drew "roaring applause" from the audience for her thoughts on how businesses can be more eco-friendly.

Smith joined the station in Oct. 2020 after graduating from the University of Kentucky with a B.A. in broadcast journalism and a minor in political science, according to her work biography. She served as vice president of the school's National Association of Black Journalists chapter, was a reporter and videographer for school publications and held multiple journalism internships in Arkansas and Washington, D.C.

The NABJ and WHAS11 News were among those who took to social media to congratulate Smith on her win.

In an interview with WHAS11 last week, 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. The Miss Kentucky competition that she won in May was her very first.

She talked about balancing her Miss Kentucky responsibilities with her full-time job, and the relationship between the two.

For example, Smith said most of her pageant-related sponsors are located outside the station's viewing area to avoid conflicts of interest, and pushed back on the idea that competing in a bikini might damage her professional credibility. In fact, Smith believes the communication skills she relies on every day at work set her apart in the pageant world.

"A Miss USA, her job is to connect with people," Smith said. "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 and then translate it to Miss Kentucky USA, which I hope I can translate to Miss USA."

As the winner of Miss USA, Smith is scheduled to travel to Eilat, Israel to compete in the Miss Universe pageant on Dec. 12. Organizers said the international pageant will take place as planned despite a contestant testing positive for COVID-19, CNN reported on Tuesday.

It is not clear whether Smith will stay in her job as a journalist, and she did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment. A recent profile by the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information said that if Smith were to win the Miss USA title, she would move to Los Angeles on a full salary to represent the nation for a year.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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