Miss D.C. Kára McCullough became the 66th Miss USA during Sunday night’s pageant, with Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg named the runner-up and Miss Minnesota Meridith Gould the second runner-up.
As she joked earlier in the competition, McCullough hoped to win the crown to give D.C. “back to back” wins “like Drake.” Miss D.C. 2016 Deshauna Barber won the competition last year. Before passing on the crown Sunday night, Barber shared an emotional story about her mother’s death shortly after she won Miss USA.
Among the top five — Minnesota, Illinois, South Carolina, New Jersey and District of Columbia — four were women of color, which didn’t go unnoticed, with social media celebrating the #blackgirlmagic on the Miss USA stage. The contestants’ diverse backgrounds included Miss D.C.’s work as a nuclear scientist and Miss Illinois’s guest role on Fox’s Empire and position dancing for the Chicago Bulls.
The Miss Universe organization has worked to incorporate women’s empowerment into their pageants in the years since its split with its former owner, President Trump. For their last question, District of Columbia, New Jersey and Minnesota were all asked about their definitions of feminism. Their answers touched on the fight for equality, with McCullough saying she wouldn’t call herself a feminist, but an “equalist,” in her winning answer.
Other political topics popped up throughout Sunday night’s competition, featuring voice-overs where contestants talked about issues including student loan debt and the American Dream, and a taped segment featuring the participants discussing the White House’s proposed travel ban and the administration’s stance on immigrants.
While its sister competition Miss Teen USA replaced its swimsuit portion with athleisure outfits, Miss USA hasn’t made that leap. But the swimwear seen on the contestants showed a greater range of styles than the once-dominant bikinis, with several women wearing one-pieces, jackets and suits with sleeves.
One change the competition did make was in its Q&A portion, which featured user-submitted questions in partnership with the Skimm, instead of the usual pre-scripted prompts. In an interview before the competition, co-host Julianne Hough said she hoped the new format would help the women navigate through tough, politically-oriented questions. “I’m just hoping with the questions, instead of trying to stump someone, (the Q&A) gives them an opportunity to have a voice,” she said. With topics including women in the workplace, healthcare and America’s place on the global stage, the Q&A hinted at social issues without venturing into more controversial issues, and the five contestants all emerged flub-free.