I went behind the scenes at the 71st annual Miss USA pageant this week, and I learned there’s a lot you don’t see on TV.
I’ve been covering pageants for years, but have never attended Miss USA — until now.
Current Miss USA president Crystle Stewart gave me an exclusive peek behind the curtain to see how the pageant came to life, and I was sitting in the audience as Miss Texas R’Bonney Gabriel took the crown.
Here’s everything you missed at the 2022 Miss USA pageant.
The judges all have lunch together before the show.
I sat down with this year’s judging panel — fashion designer Aaron Potts, Tony Award-winning producer Ashlee Clark, Dogpound founder Kirk Meyers, fashion designer Nicole Williams-English, model and social-media influencer Olivia Ponton, and South Korean table tennis champion Soo Yeon Lee — a few hours before the show began at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada.
Along with some fun get-to-know-you chatter (like Ponton excitedly discovering that Williams-English used to be on the reality show “WAGS”), the judges chatted with me about what they were looking for in the next Miss USA winner.
“I’m rooting for a revolutionary,” Potts told me. “What is the most modern, forward-thinking Miss USA but to say, ‘I’m going to stand for truly helping people across the spectrum.’ If she got up and said, ‘Fight the power,’ I would probably cheer.”
“I think far too many people are standing on the sidelines trying to be politically correct,” Clark added. “I think that’s just absolutely damaging to our world. I think you have to be not afraid to insert yourself in conversations when you have a title like that. I want someone that is not going to stand on the sidelines, because we do have to fight for ourselves as women.”
The pageant queens have special tricks that help them stand in those heels for hours on end.
I ran into a few Miss USA contestants while I was backstage before the show, and they were more than happy to spill their secrets for walking in high heels like a pro.
Numbing spray, wearing socks with heels during rehearsal, and using blow dryers to stretch the ankle straps are just some of the ways these pageant queens get ready for the stage.
The contestants also told me there’s a lot of sharing behind the scenes.
“One girl forgot a cocktail dress so I gave her one of mine. One girl forgot a lipstick so they threw it down the hallway — it’s very collaborative,” Miss Arizona Isabel Ticlo told me.
Family members bring signs to show their support for the contestants.
One of my favorite things about going behind the scenes at Miss USA was meeting so many proud family members. I chatted with multiple moms who had flown across the state to cheer on their daughter’s best friend. And many people that I talked to had never even watched a pageant before.
“We’re new to the game and I feel like I’m part of it already,” the brother of Miss Hawaii Kiana Yamat told me. “All I’d seen was those TV shows like ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and ‘Miss Congeniality.’ But it’s not a joke, it’s very welcoming — it can be any type of woman competing in your own way and they’re recognizing it in so many positive ways.”
The Miss Teen USA contestants were having a blast — especially when they saw Jason Derulo.
Some Miss Teen USA contestants were seated together during the show and they were the best cheering squad for winner Faron Medhi when she had her moment onstage during the Miss USA pageant.
During a commercial break, the Miss Teen USA contestants also joined forces to sing Jason Derulo’s name when they spotted him in the audience on the other side of the theater (he stood up and gave them a wave).
There was an impromptu moment of silence during the tribute for former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst.
Kryst, who was crowned in Reno in 2019, died by suicide earlier this year. FYI correspondent Christian Murphy gave a speech about Kryst’s impact on the pageant world during the show, saying she “embodied love and served others.”
“If you’re lucky in life, you get the chance to know someone who lights up a room, makes every moment seem better, and makes you feel important with a simple gesture or a word,” he said. “That was Cheslie Kryst.”
While the telecast cut to a commercial after Murphy’s speech, the live audience was completely silent for two minutes. It was unplanned — no one told us to take a moment — but the theater was completely still. It was a stunning and sobering moment that brought me to tears.
And yes, there’s an official Miss USA after-party.
Right after the competition ended, those with after-party tickets went right next door to keep the celebrations going.
There was a DJ, two bars, and an atmosphere that felt straight out of a Vegas club. The contestants were having a blast as they danced together at the DJ booth, sang along to Beyoncé, and partied with their families after a long week of competing.