Crowns and sashes weren’t the only accessories on display Monday as 51 masked hopefuls assembled in Memphis to compete for the title of Miss USA.
Broadcast live on FYI, the refreshingly self-aware pageant kicked off with some banter between hosts Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Allie LaForce, who joked that Miss USA has been “dominating the news cycle” this week. “You can’t even turn on the news without hearing about Arizona, Michigan — all fierce competitors,” LaForce noted.
The two-hour event began by culling the initial 51 competitors down to just 16 semifinalists: domestic abuse survivor Gina Mellish (Miss New Jersey), veterinary student Kim Layne (Miss Idaho), dancer Kelly Hutchinson (Miss Alabama), adoption advocate Mariah Clayton (Miss Louisiana), prison reform advocate Asya Branch (Miss Mississippi), aspiring lawyer Megan Renee Kelly (Miss Missouri), Alzheimer’s awareness advocate Stephanie Miranda (Miss Ohio), former Obama intern Cierra Jackson (Miss D.C.), proud Native American Mariah Jane Davis (Miss Oklahoma), volleyball player/model Alexis Lete (Miss Indiana), public speaker Andrea Gibau (Miss New York), gymnast/choreographer Alyssa Beasley (Miss Georgia), new U.S. citizen Allyshia Gupta (Miss California), biochemist Olivia Pura (Miss Illinois), adrenaline junkie Victoria Olona (Miss Nevada) and military daughter Samantha Neyland (Miss Hawaii).
Following a swimsuit parade set to Elvis Presley’s “Bossa Nova Baby,” the top 10 were revealed: Mississippi, Illinois, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Alabama, California, Indiana, Idaho, New York and New Jersey. “You all deserve an elbow bump!” Gbaja-Biamila remarked.
Then came the evening gown portion, which brought back all 51 contestants for a special walk, backed by Haley Reinhart’s easy-breezy cover of Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” After a brief check-in with this year’s Miss Teen USA winner (Hawaii’s Kiʻilani Arruda), the final five Miss USA hopefuls were announced: Oklahoma, Mississippi, Indiana, Idaho and Alabama.
The dreaded question portion was, as always, illuminating: Miss Oklahoma admitted to downloading TikTok despite knowing that her data could be shared; Miss Mississippi suggested that the key to fixing our country is in restoring our faith in the government and media; Miss Indiana called out Americans for being “entitled” and unwilling to face difficult issues like systemic racism; Miss Idaho acknowledged the need for police reform; and Miss Alabama argued that news sources have a responsibility to spread fact-checked, unbiased information on social media.
As always, Miss USA saved the realest s–t for last. The “final statement” portion put each remaining contestant on the spot, requiring them to speak about hot-button American issues like voter suppression, gun laws, climate change (which Indiana found… funny?), mental health reform and prison form.
After the “final look,” as well as Cheslie Kryst‘s final walk as the reigning Miss USA, here’s how things shook out for this year’s top five:
5. Kelly Hutchinson (Miss Alabama)
4. Alexis Lete (Miss Indiana)
3. Mariah Jane Davis (Miss Oklahoma)
2. Kim Layne (Miss Idaho)
That left Asya Branch (Miss Mississippi) as this year’s winner, and your new Miss USA. Watch footage of her big win below:
— Miss USA (@MissUSA) November 10, 2020
This year’s judges panel included businesswoman and hairstylist Carolyn Aronson, Miss USA 2000 Lynnette Cole, Fox News contributor Abby Hornacek, motivational speaker Gloria Mayfield Banks, Miss USA 1999 Kimberly Pressler, and businesswoman and YouTuber Susan Yara.
Your thoughts on this year’s socially distanced Miss USA competition? Drop ’em in a comment below.