Competition · Miss USA 2017

MISS USA Recap + What They Got Right (and horribly wrong)

All photos from and


Kára McCullough was crowned Miss USA 2017 during a two-hour telecast that was largely uneventful and free of scandal (a rarity it seems in today’s pageant scene!) No one fell. No one flubbed her answer. No one crowned the wrong girl or messed up names. But there’s still plenty to talk about – namely what Miss USA is doing right, and wrong, in one of the nation’s most prestigious and well-loved pageant systems.

I was admittedly in the midst of Mother’s Day festivities when the pageant began, so I missed the first part and TiVo-ed the rest. I did manage to see all phases of competition, though, and have plenty of commentary!


  • It was, as usual, a seemingly very liberal panel, which is interesting considering who they crowned. More on that later.
  • I was very surprised to see Miss Minnesota semi-finalist Halima Aden as a judge! I’m shocked this was allowed and know it was a controversy for some. My takeaway? Be nice because you never know when your competitor is going to end up being your judge. 😉

Phase 1: Swimwear


  • What’s Trending: Fewer traditional two-piece bikinis and more cutting-edge, fashion-forward, sporty swimwear. We saw one-pieces and monokinis, our eventual winner included. In fact, all of those who advanced to the top five had non-traditional swimwear choices. While not all of the styles worked for me, I appreciated the diversity (there were 20 to choose from), the personality of each contestant, and that less skin was shown! My takeaway: if you don’t think outside of the box you will go unnoticed, and less fabric ≠ higher placement. Overall, swimwear trends were a WIN for the pageant as a whole.
  • Made Her Mark: DC and MN were my favorite presentations. I loved DC’s bold print monokini! Combined with her hair and her walk, she dominated the ss presentation and was memorable for the right reasons. And even if I wasn’t convinced about Minnesota’s sleeves, I loved the coverage, the presentation, and her confidence.
  • Missed the Mark: Illinois’ jacket didn’t work for me. While I wasn’t 100% sure I loved Minnesota’s sleeves, you could argue it still looked swimwear-appropriate, like a wet suit or surfing attire. The jacket stepped too far out of the realm of true swimwear. Alaska was also a miss, but not because of her suit. She was by far the fittest contestant with muscles for days, but girl looked scared! She was awkward, didn’t appear to have practiced posing, and was less than confident in her presentation. I’ve never stood on a nationally-televised stage in a swim suit! But her lack of confidence and preparation ultimately cost her advancement.
  • Production Points
    • I loved getting to hear snippets about each contestant. The one that stood out to me was New York, who bested 200 other young women to get to the national stage! Wow!
    • I hated how briefly we saw each contestant. Miss USA has so few phases of competition and a two-hour telecast; it would be so easy to slow down and allow more time for each girl to shine onstage.
    • I know everyone wears the same tippy-top whatever shoes…I hate them for swimsuit. It is one thing to wear platforms for gown where you feet are largely hidden; for swimwear, I think it highlights big, clunky feet and looks disproportionate.

Phase 2: Evening Gowns


  • What’s Trending: We saw a couple standouts, but overall gowns felt very safe and predictable. We saw a lot of custom gowns and plenty of sparkle.
  • Made Her Mark: Once again, Minnesota and DC stood out in their gowns and presentations. They both had memorable gowns and amazing stage presence (could have done with less boobage from MN). California looked amazing as well in the white with long sleeves, and I loved New York’s green gown. She looked like Ariel with her long red hair and bright green gown – a very smart branding choice. I really liked Tennessee’s simple, elegant, classic beauty look…
  • Missed The Mark: …until she put her hands on her butt. I don’t know, it seems to be a new trend, but I hate hate hate it. Nothing kills an amazing presentation like a dramatic hand crawl up to your waist or butt. If you are going to move your hands, do it and be done – don’t make it a dramatic thing and don’t land your hand on your butt! Who knew I could feel so passionately about hand movement, lol! South Carolina was too tiny for her gown and got lost in it. When people say the gown wore her, this is what they mean. New Jersey looked amazing in her “off-the-rack” Sherri Hill, which I appreciate as a frugalista. Illinois’ gown and styling looked too similar to Deshauna Barber, and it isn’t wise to be compared to last year’s winner. But again, the biggest MISS for me was Alaska. I didn’t like the dramatic wrap cape thing. It was outside the box for sure – but she was swallowed up by the gown. And for all the fuss of a reveal, there wasn’t much to be impressed about when she unveiled what was under the cape.
  • Production Points:
    • Kudos to Brett Eldridge for singing live! But I don’t like how Miss USA consistently focuses on the entertainment at the expense of the contestants.
    • I did, however, love the song choice and walking pace. It was contemporary but still classy, and the background firework graphics were terrific. It was a nice moment in a pageant that was about ready to lose all sense of class…

Phase 3: Top Five Onstage Questions

While we were cut to five after gown, I felt like it was a formality as there were three clear front-runners who really dominated the entire evening.

  • What’s Trending: while staying largely away from politics, they did focus on current events. I thought it was a brilliant partnership with The Skimm and is a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Made Her Mark: Again, Minnesota started things off with a bang! She was asked about the global view of the USA, and she nailed it. She was confident, powerful, impactful, and articulate. She provided real substance in her answer. I loved it. DC was asked if healthcare was a right or a privilege. She seemed to recognize that her answer was perhaps not popular opinion, and backed it up with substance, but she was reemed on social media for her answer and for being “too conservative and a step backward for women.” In pageantry, you don’t have to agree with a person’s opinion, but you need to evaluate how they articulate and defend that stance without alienating the other side or appearing an ignorant bigot. It is also easy to succumb to the idea in pageantry that you just need to say what you think the judges want to hear instead of staying true to your beliefs. I felt like she took an immense risk with a liberal panel, but she was respectful and articulate in her reply.  I’m a HOW person, and I felt like she told me why it was a privilege and how we can get better healthcare for our citizens – job creation and retention.

All in all, I hope she ignores the haters because some people just can’t see past their own ideas and appreciate a well-crafted answer that may not be their favorite opinion.

  • Missed The Mark: Thankfully, we didn’t see anyone flub or bomb, which is always painful to watch. But the other answers didn’t stand out to me. Illinois looked like she was searching for an answer – it never flowed and she never got into a rhythm, even though her content about women’s rights was decent. South Carolina had a predictable answer to teen suicide prevention when I would have loved to hear more specific and direct solutions beyond “providing resources” and “their voices aren’t being heard.” Again, HOW? Get to the root of the issue, which is bullying and mental health in most cases, and offer up solutions there. She didn’t do that. And New Jersey is a classic “didn’t answer the question” case. I loved that she tied in the negative side of social media by addressing that people hide behind anonymity to say horrible things about all of the contestants, but she didn’t commit to an answer about social media being overall positive or negative. We have a trick to make sure that doesn’t happen to you 🙂

Phase 4: Top Three Onstage Question

  • What’s Trending: All three were asked to define feminism and declare if she was one, and not a single one referenced the women’s marches or Donald Trump. Probably smart.
  • Made Her Mark: DC was once again reemed on social media for her remarks and not knowing what feminism was. Again, haters gonna hate, and I actually thought she handled the question quite well. She was rattled by Julianne’s microphone snafu, and she did have a case of the “like, like, likes” with massive nervous blinking in there, but her content was solid. Since no one really nailed their answers in this round, I think she actually provided the best content, stating she wanted to get away from the term feminism, which has a connotation of hating men, toward the term equality, which is for everyone..
  • Missed The Mark: Again, no one bombed. But Minnesota said feminism was being any of the genders (pssst…there are only two) and just being yourself. Which, isn’t at all the definition of FEMinism. New Jersey was well spoken, but here’s the catch: her answer was exactly the same as DC’s idea about equality, but she wasn’t blasted on social media. I don’t know why the double standard.

Final Look

Ugh. This is the “what they got horribly wrong” part of the post. Ok, so you remember all of that less skin showing, intellectually-driven, fantastic, independent, classy, strong, equal, empowered women stuff? You could pick it all up and throw it all out the window the second Pitbull stepped onto the stage.

I mean, I get it. You are trying to appeal to youth, to people who don’t watch pageants, to bringing in money and sponsors…but any credibility you were gaining was thrown away when you let a guy make sexual gestures to his sexy dancers and your contestants, and sing about females as objects and what he wants to do to them or how he sees them…just, NO! A MILLION TIMES NO! If you are all about female empowerment and strong, independent women, then for pete’s sake, get a strong, female pop artist out there! I could belabor this point for ages – I won’t. I just feel like for all Miss USA did RIGHT the last few years, they continue to get this very, very, detrimentally WRONG. There is nothing – NOTHING – confident or beautiful about Pitbull and his dancers. #endrant

That ten minute nightmare aside, I think at the end of the day, DC had amazing, memorable confidence. She was gorgeous and radiant. And she had just enough unpolished, endearing qualities to her that she felt real, relevant, and relatable. When you do see a contestant crack her polished pose every once in awhile, especially when her name is called to advance, it makes her seem less robotic and more natural. She was the perfect balance of that where New Jersey and Minnesota fell a bit short.

Miss USA 2017

I loved that we actually got to hear from the outgoing titleholder, unlike what you see from Miss America! She had a great tribute to her mom, but I don’t entirely get the hair thing. It’s like, ok, you feel comfortable wearing your hair naturally NOW, but obviously didn’t feel you would be beautiful enough to compete and win with your natural hair. It’s definitely feels like a contradiction there.


Miss USA 2017

Did anyone else notice at the end that DC seemed to be praying and crying before the announcement, and New Jersey had a quick little eyebrow raise and looked annoyed about it all? It was a funny little exchange, and a good reminder that your face tells a story and you don’t want to come across as snooty 🙂

Final Thoughts

For a pageant that has traditionally been dismissed as superficial and lacking intelligence, I think the direction Miss USA has been going the last couple of years is wonderful. A lot of Miss America supporters are getting all bunchy because Miss USA is just trying to be like “us.” But why is that a bad thing? Competition in the field forces all parties to improve and get better. And if Miss USA wants girls who are more service-oriented and scholarly, more power to them! If you could just ditch the misogynistic dude performances, that’d be great.

But Miss America is going to need to step it up and learn from Miss USA as well. Miss USA seems to be much better at brand and sponsorship building. They have defined the direction of their pageant and they are running with it. And with a two-hour telecast and only two phases of competition, we are seeing more of the girls, learning about their hobbies, interests, and talents. I loved the round table discussions about their ideas and opinions on world issues. Or getting glimpses into their lives, even through product placement and sponsor ads that include the girls. And showing us that they are more than just a pretty face. The brand “Confidently Beautiful” is exactly what they are trying to build, and it is largely working.

Words to live by from Miss USA 2017: “Growth and comfort don’t co-exist”


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