(LEX 18) — Elle Smith is the new Miss USA 2021!
Smith represented Kentucky Monday night in the Miss USA pageant which celebrates the unique beauty of women across cultures.
Smith currently works as a journalist at WHAS11 in Louisville and is a 2020 graduate from the University of Kentucky with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Political Science.
Her former professor, advisor and NABJ advisor at UK described her as organized, poised, confident on and off the stage.
"I thought maybe I'm just being biased because I know her, and she was my student. We liked her so much, but apparently, the judges thought the same," said Associate professor Kakie Urch.
Urch says she and Smith grew close during her time in school and stayed that way into her early career.
She text her before the competition to let her know her UK journalism family was rooting for her.
"I texted her as she got on the plane from Louisville to Oklahoma. And I said just shine Dear Elle'," said Urch.
That's exactly what Smith did, and she wowed the judges to win the title.
Miss Kentucky USA 2009 Maria Montgomery flew to Tulsa to be with Smith at that very moment.
"To see it actually happen was just so surreal," said Montgomery.
She tries to be there for all Miss Kentucky contestants and this year she was extremely grateful to have been there for the history-making moment.
"Our first Miss Kentucky to win Miss USA was Tara Conner, she was in 2006 I believe. Then I placed in 2009, and since then no one's even made it to the top five. So, for her to surpass that like I said, we all saw it coming. It was no surprise to any of us," said Montgomery.
Montgomery says this was really Elle's first experience in the pageant world. She thinks, on top of her captivating personality, being a TV journalist also helped.
"It's perfect. It's helped her prepare for this role, but she said now she referenced it and your onstage question. They asked her, do you think sneakers should be allowed with dresses and she was like, 'Absolutely. As a reporter my feet have to be comfy'," said Montgomery. "She knows who she is and she's true to herself and like I said that's why she's everything a Miss USA should be."
A former UK classmate and friend, Akhira Umar said she always knew Smith was going to win because of how smart, beautiful, confident, and well-spoken she is. Umar mentioned having class with Smith before she became the Hooters' calendar centerfold and that she’s enjoyed watching her transformation.
“I featured her in my story for the KRNL student magazine. A couple months after that, she won Miss Kentucky USA and I was interviewing her for UKNow. And now she’s Miss USA,” said Umar. “Her journey has been so quick and full of success—and all of it well earned. Her growth has been amazing to watch, and I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.”
Elle is already prepping for her next stop, Miss Universe.
"She is in fittings all day long today. She said for her dress for Miss Universe. So she's still taking it in, immediately doing interviews all the press, and then she leaves tonight to fly to Israel where Miss Universe is," said Montgomery.
Smith will compete in the Miss Universe pageant on Sunday, December 12, 2021, in Eilat, Israel.