Miss Kentucky Elle Smith, a Louisville TV reporter, crowned 2021 Miss USA. What to know

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A Louisville reporter and University of Kentucky graduate has been crowned Miss USA 2021.

Elle Smith, 23, went to bed Sunday as the reigning Miss Kentucky USA and less than 24 hours later, she won the title of Miss USA 2021.

"I haven't actually been to sleep since I won," Smith told the Courier Journal. "I was still doing interviews at three in the morning and then we jumped on a plane for Houston, Texas, where I am getting fitted for my Miss Universe wardrobe."

Elle Smith is crowned Miss USA
Elle Smith is crowned Miss USA

Smith won the national title Monday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the 70th Miss USA pageant. She'll compete for the Miss Universe crown in mid-December.

"Last night was a surreal moment. When I heard them say 'Kentucky,' I didn't know what to do with myself. It was just an overflow of emotion," Smith said. "The first person I wanted was my mom, who was out in the audience."

Smith grew up in Springfield, Ohio, and is a 2020 graduate of the University of Kentucky. She served as vice president of her school's National Association of Black Journalists chapter and spent a summer as a Fox News College Associate in Washington, D.C., before starting work at WHAS-TV.

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Prior to winning Miss Kentucky in May, Smith had never competed in a beauty pageant. She was inspired to do so after seeing her former high school classmate win the Miss Ohio Teen USA pageant and later watching the Miss USA pageant a little over a year ago.

"It was a New Year's resolution. I told myself I would commit to this goal, I would put in the work and I would see what happened," Smith said. "I made a vision board and on it was Miss USA, my health and several other things, and because I committed to the work it would take, they have all come true."

In May, after taking the Miss Kentucky crown, Smith tweeted, "I am still in disbelief that tonight just happened. I am humbled and thrilled to be your Miss Kentucky USA 2021. It is a true honor and I will serve Kentucky to the best of my ability over the next year. Now let’s get to work."

Smith is the second Kentucky woman to be crowned Miss USA after Tara Conner won the pageant in 2006.

Pageant fans may remember Conner made headlines during her reign as Miss USA when reports of underage drinking, drug abuse and sexual indiscretions put the then-20-year-old in danger of losing her crown. After testing positive for cocaine eight months after her win, Conner was allowed to keep her title by then-pageant owner Donald Trump on the agreement that she enter rehab.

Now 35 years old, Conner has been sober for nearly 15 years and promotes addiction advocacy. “My life is really beautiful,” Conner said on the TV special "Oprah: Where Are They Now?"

Addiction speaker Tara Conner, former Miss USA
Addiction speaker Tara Conner, former Miss USA

From 1996 to 2015, the Miss USA pageant was owned by former President Trump. The pageant is now owned by former Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart. Stewart also owns Miss Teen USA pageants.

Many women spend years preparing and competing in beauty pageants. Smith has gone from competing first as Miss Germantown USA to winning Miss Kentucky USA and now Miss USA 2021 in a little over a year.

Time management, a vision board, and grit turned her goal into a reality in record time.

"It's been 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 such as supportive work team at WHAS because I was getting up at 5:30 a.m. to work out, then hop into a morning editorial meeting with WHAS, then spent the day reporting, then I would do another workout at 7 p.m., eat dinner at 9 p.m. and then until 10 p.m. I was doing interview prep."

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On Saturdays, Smith toured the state in her role as Miss Kentucky but made a point to rest and decompress on Sundays.

Leading up to the Miss USA pageant, Smith wrote on her Instagram page, "I made that dream reality. Now, it's game time."

As the newly crowned Miss USA, Smith will represent the U.S. at the upcoming Miss Universe pageant scheduled for Dec. 12 in Eilat, Israel, as she competes alongside 79 other contestants for the opportunity to become the next Miss Universe.

Steve Harvey will host the three-hour event broadcast live on FOX in the U.S. and in 180 countries and territories across the globe. It will end with the current Miss Universe, Mexico’s Andrea Meza, crowning her successor.

"I would tell anyone with a goal to just do it, nothing is going to come to fruition if you don't commit and are dedicated to it," said Miss USA. "Stay strong in your beliefs and who you are as a person. Yesterday I was Miss Kentucky USA. Today I am Miss USA."

CNN reported that the Miss Universe pageant is still scheduled to take place later this month, even though a contestant tested positive for COVID-19. Israel has travel restrictions as a result of the Omicron coronavirus variant and has barred tourists for the next two weeks.

Contact reporters Krista Johnson at kjohnson3@gannett.com and Kirby Adams at kadams@courier-journal.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Miss Kentucky Elle Smith wins Miss USA pageant, on to Miss Universe

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