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Miss USA 2017: Highlights, Head-Scratchers, and a Winner

It’s Mother’s Day in the USA, and Miss District of Columbia had a lot to say.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

At one point early in the Miss USA 2017 competition, host Terrence J instructed the viewers to “Give it up for yourself!” And you know what, I’m going to go ahead and take him up on that now because not only did I endure two hours of watching Miss USA contestants without attacking my teeth with a year’s supply of Crest Whitestrips or joining 18 gyms at once, the pageant itself was also… a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

For one thing, it aired on Mother’s Day, which meant there were about 18 different montages of sweet moms with sweet mom-haircuts encouraging their beautiful daughters as they tried not to weep off three pounds of false eyelashes. So sue me if women declaring their pride and love for other women gets me emotional every. single. time. Which brings us to the other roller coaster of the evening: our Miss USA 2017, Miss District of Columbia…

Her white evening gown that caught the air like a beautiful, black-tie parachute — flawless. Her job as a scientist at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission — irrefutably badass. Her platform to encourage and inspire women and children in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — necessary. Her answer during the question portion of the pageant that healthcare is not a right, but a privilege that comes with having a job… controversial to say the least. Her answer to a pretty softball question about feminism that she prefers to call herself an “equalist” because she’s not one of those “diehards” who “doesn’t care about men” — a stone-cold bomb. And immediately following that…

She won! See? Emotional roller coaster. These are the highs and lows of the Miss USA Cyclone 2017:

Best Alphabetical Recitation of 51 States: In the Other Pageant That Must Not Be Named (okay, it’s Miss America), each contestant gives a quippy statement about their home state, which has given us such butt-sniffing gems in the past as, “Representing the Dairy State, come smell our dairy-air — I’m Miss Wisconsin.” But on Miss USA, the 51 contestants cruise out on that stage so fast, you could sing the alphabetical portion of “The Fifty Nifty United States” along with the announcer’s calling of the states (California, Colorado, Con-nec-ti-cut — clap, clap, clap!).

Best Brief Moment Where It Seemed Like The Contestants Were on Unicycles: The Fifty(-One) Nifty contestants first sprinted onto the stage during a performance from the Cirque du Soleil show Michael Jackson ONE. That meant that a bunch of people on motorized unicycles rolled out… and it seemed like they might be the contestants. Then a bunch of dancers with face paint and sassy moves rolled out… and it seemed like they might be the contestants. Then a bunch of dudes started throwing their fedoras 100 feet in the air… and it seemed like THEY might be the contestants! But no, the actual contestants just walked out in a straight line amid all the chaos (Idaho, Illinois, In-di-ana—clap, clap!).

Best Argument That Miss USA Should Have a Behind-the-Scenes Reality Show: At one point, we’re treated to a short behind-the-scenes montage showing all the hard work the women go through in the preliminary week leading up to the televised pageant. From the pandemonium emerges a hero, a Miss USA coach that a little research tells me is runway expert Lu Sierra; she’s part Michael Caine from Miss Congeniality, part Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms, part terrifying, part inspirational. She barks at the 51 bug-eyed women, “If you’re counting on your beauty to win this, that’s a bad idea. ‘Cause you’re real cute in your hometown — here? Not so much.” They quiver in fear, these scientists, these law students, these entrepreneurs. “And the thing you’re going to really hate to hear me say: We only need one of you.” Someone give Lu Sierra a damn show! (Goodness knows there’s an opening…)

Most Diversity on One Miss USA Stage: Once the top 10 were announced — Miss Missouri, Miss New Jersey, Miss New York, Miss South Carolina, Miss Tennessee, Miss Alaska, Miss California, Miss D.C., Miss Illinois, and Miss Minnesota — that it was a beautifully diverse crew was hard to miss. Miss Alaska is a member of the Alaska Native Tlingit tribe; Miss Missouri was the first African-American contestant to win Miss Missouri USA ever; Miss California’s montage included a look at her multicultural background; Miss New Jersey showed off her traditional Indian dance moves and spoke in Hindi; and so on.

Most Under-Utilized Judges: The dynamic crew of Emmy-winning personality Carson Kressley, advocate and best-selling author Janet Mock, founder and CEO Nancy Lublin, groundbreaking model Halima Aden, fashion expert Jeannie Mai, and former Miss USA/Universe Brooke Lee were assembled, introduced… and never heard from again.

Most Dreaded 30-Second Round, Sponsored (Appropriately) by The Skimm: And finally, it’s time for the top 5 to engage in some meaningful 30-second dialog.

Miss Minnesota goes confident but vague; Miss Illinois goes oddly specific but inoffensive; Miss South Carolina is not happy about high teen suicide rates; Miss New Jersey gives a well-rounded answer to an impossible “is social media good or bad” question. And then… Miss District of Columbia (who was certainly one of the top fan-favorites at this point) was asked if healthcare in America should be a right or a privilege: “I’m definitely going to say it is a privilege. As a government employee, I am granted healthcare and I see firsthand that to have healthcare, you need to have jobs.” We can give her this: She certainly did not toe the line.

Most Persuasive Argument to Add a Talent Portion: Does Miss America have a patent on the talent round at beauty pageants? Why won’t Miss USA just add a talent instead of making the top 3 give another rushed 45-second answer in “The Final Word”? Miss D.C., Miss Minnesota, and Miss New Jersey are each asked the same question while the others wear noise-cancelling headphones — and this year, it’s a softball: “What do you consider feminism to be, and do you consider yourself a feminist?” Surely they would have prepared for this exact question…

Or not. As previously mentioned, Miss D.C. says she’s been replacing the word “feminism” with “equalism” lately because she doesn’t “like to consider myself a diehard, you know, like I don’t care about men.” Miss Minnesota, and especially Miss New Jersey go on to refute that misinformed definition of feminism, despite having not even heard D.C.’s response, with New Jersey saying explicitly, “It’s a misconception when people believe that feminism is women being better than men… It’s a fight for equality, and we need to realize that if we want a stable society for every single individual, we need to be equal.” So let’s just leave it that and pretend the rest (and that ill-advised Pitbull performance) never happened.

Most Likely To Ruin Your Makeup Before the Crowning: Before Miss USA 2016 — the uber-accomplished Deshauna Barber, another former Miss District of Columbia — comes out to crown her successor, she gets her own Mother’s Day montage. Three months into her reign as Miss USA, Deshauna’s mother passed away from lung cancer. Not only was it beautiful to hear Deshauna talk about how glad she was that her mother saw her win her crown before she passed, but it also served as a reminder that Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for a lot of people, even Miss USA. Deshauna says that her mother had an afro, and she loved when her daughter wore her hair naturally as well, so she’ll be making her final walk wearing an afro in honor of her mother.

And, my goodness, she looks gorgeous in her natural hair and yellow eyelet gown as she makes her way onstage to crown another curly-haired beauty…

2nd Runner-Up: Miss Minnesota, Meridith Gould

Runner-Up: Miss New Jersey, Chhavi Verg

MISS USA 2017: Miss District of Columbia, Kára McCullough! Despite a few controversial steps in the Q&A portion, Kára had the right stuff (beauty, brains, and some serious Black Girl Magic coming out of the District of Columbia) to sweep the rest of the competition. What are they putting in that D.C. water?