Miss Kentucky Elle Smith has been crowned as 2021's Miss USA.
The University of Kentucky graduate, who currently works as a news reporter for WHAS11 Louisville, won the title Monday night at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Miss Illinois Sydni Bennett came in fourth place, Miss Florida Ashley Carino came in third, and Miss North Dakota Caitlyn Vogel came in second. Smith succeeds Asya Branch, who won Miss USA in 2020.
In an Instagram post before being crowned the winner, the model and journalist revealed that it had been a dream of hers to compete in the pageant.
"A little over a year ago, I sat in bed and watched Miss USA," Smith captioned a headshot of herself. "I remember watching @andreiagibau @sthephaniemariemiranda @mariahclayton_ and so many more incredible women grace the stage, and thinking, "I want to be on that stage. I want to be like them." Crazy to think this is my official Miss USA headshot and I made that dream reality."
Smith will now represent the U.S. in the Miss Universe pageant on Dec. 12 in Eilat, Israel. The event is set to continue despite a contestant testing positive for COVID-19. This comes as Israel imposes travel restrictions following the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant.
Tourists have been barred from entering for the next two weeks; however, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov on Sunday said that Miss Universe participants would be granted waivers, according to Reuters. They may however be required to undergo PCR testing every 48 hours and take other precautionary measures.
"This is an event that will be broadcast in 174 countries, a very important event, an event that Eilat, too, is very much in need of," he told reporters. "We will know how to manage this event. So, by using the waivers committee, we will have events like this, to which the country already committed itself and cannot cancel."
In a statement to CNN, the Miss Universe group revealed that it would be working with Israeli officials to continue to get contestants and staff into the country safely for the competition.
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