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UK grad, WHAS-TV journalist wins Miss USA crown, on first try; headed to Miss Universe pageant

Kentucky Today

A University of Kentucky graduate who captured the Miss Kentucky title earlier this year, has now won the Miss USA pageant and will be heading to Israel to compete for the Miss Universe title on Dec. 12.
Elle Smith, a 2020 journalism graduate, won the title of Miss Kentucky USA in May. While her winning performance may have had some people believing she was a pageant veteran, this was her first time.  And the road that led her to the pageant life started at UK.

Elle Smith, UK graduate wins Miss USA crown (Photo from Kentucky Today)

Her interest in writing and politics led her to the Communication and Information program. Once she got a camera in her hands, it wasn’t long before she fell in love with journalism. At UK, she participated in the UK Student News Network, the Kentucky Kernel, WRFL radio, and the National Association of Black Journalists, the latter of which she served as vice president during her senior year. It was through an NABJ conference that Smith landed her current job with WHAS-TV in Louisville.

“I felt so much support from staff, faculty, peers. And there are also so many different opportunities for journalism students,” Smith said. “I think those are what led me to get this job in Louisville right out of school.”

At WHAS-TV, she is responsible for finding, pitching, shooting and editing news stories every day.  Smith said her job was the kind you took home and was constantly on your brain. But thanks to her first “big girl job,” she was finally able to afford competing in her first pageant.

The juggling act her responsibilities as Miss Kentucky required, intensified with the preparations for the Miss USA pageant. She spent two weeks in Tulsa competing against 50 women on a grueling 4 a.m. to midnight schedule. Smith also designed her own gown, state costume, and self-branding on top of physically and mentally preparing herself.

She will now give her Miss Kentucky USA title to the Kentucky runner-up and move to Los Angeles on a full salary to represent the nation for a year.

Smith says all the effort is worth it, since she entered pageantry to grow as a person through all the life skills and lessons pageant life brings.

“There’s no balance right now just because I think you have one year to take full advantage of all the opportunities that are given to you,” Smith said. “So, I am full-fledged trying to go 24/7, which is exhausting at times, but it’ll be so worth it next year when I pass down the crown and I’m like I took advantage of every single opportunity that was given to me over the past 365 days.”

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