Ladies from all 50 states (and the District of Columbia!) descend on Louisiana Monday for
an epic bachelorette party with their best smiles, gowns, and interview answers to compete for the Miss USA crown (and sash!).
Ahead of the big event, EW caught up with this year’s hosts and husband/wife Nick and Vanessa Lachey to find out what the competition has in store for the contestants and to, inadvertently, make them feel nervous about the hosting gig.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Are you nervous to work together? Excited? How are you feeling going into this?
VANESSA LACHEY: Nick and I have been talking for years about working together and it excites us and then it makes us nervous and then it excites us again. Then we think, “Do we want to be working together and living together?” But this year we’ve been talking a lot about working together and coming up with ways we could do that and this actually came about because someone was talking to me about it being the 20th anniversary of me winning Miss Teen USA in 1998 and I had to swallow and ask, “Oh my gosh, am I the old lady now? Twenty years ago?!” So then it just came together. We love hosting, we wanted to do something together and this pageant is near and dear to my heart. I believe everything professionally and emotionally good in my life has single-handedly come from this event. I even met Nick judging aMiss Teen USA in Palm Springs.
Nick Lachey: Yeah, that was the first time we ever, ever met each other, like, shake your hand ‘Hi, nice to meet you.’
So talk me through the competition. What’s required from each girl?
VANESSA: It’s three parts: evening gowns, bathing suits, and interview. Overall, everyone is equally weighed because they want to know about your health and your life and your physical fitness—it’s not about who has the best six-pack, it’s about how you’re carrying yourself, how you live your life in a healthy manner, and then there’s the interview portion. This woman’s going to go out and represent the country when she goes on to compete for Miss Universe so they want to make sure that she can handle herself in an interview segment and throw some questions and see how she handles politics, see how she handles life and love and see how she handles anything. Then there’s evening gowns because she’s Miss USA and there is just this really beautiful old school gracefulness that comes with this title and to be able to walk into a room and make everyone stop and turn their head, whether it’s the confidence you’re giving off or whether it’s the quirkiness of your smile, or the warmness in your eyes, they want to know that’s the girl who’s going to represent us. So all three of those factors define the next Miss USA and I’m just super glad I’m not judging.
Vanessa, how was your experience competing in the teen version of the pageant?
VANESS: I won 20 years ago and I don’t say this in a self-depreciating, confident way but I was not the prettiest girl on stage and I did not have the best dress. My parents made me feel beautiful for who I was, not how I looked. When I won I later asked the judges, “What was it?” And they said, “You acted like you were 17. You were just a fun, quirky 17 year old. You weren’t trying to be somebody you weren’t or answer the questions the way you thought the judges wanted them to be answered. You acted like you were 17 and that’s what we want, Miss Teen USA.” So I won by being me and not what I thought everyone wanted me to be, and it really gave me that full confidence boost that I needed for the rest of my life.
NICK: Authentic always shines through and that’s important for all these ladies to remember. Be yourself and be proud of who that is and go out there and show the world what you’re all about.
What’s cool about the competition this year is that it’s very diverse. Apart from being from all over the country, they’re all from different backgrounds and there’s some variation in ethnicities.
NICK: Diversity makes our country special and this is a chance to celebrate that. We have people from every other walk of life and it’s exciting for them to have a platform to show the world who they are and what they’re passionate about and do that proudly to represent where they come from.
Do you guys have to announce the winner at the end? And do you have any fears about it considering Steve Harvey’s faux pas?
NICK: I’m going to make Vanessa do it! My eyes are starting to go; there’s no telling what I’ll read.
VANESSA: Well, now I’m nervous. Thanks a lot!
Miss USA airs live Monday, May 21 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.