More than 50 of America’s most glamorous girls competing in The Miss USA Pageant on Sunday at Mandalay Bay Events Center and airing on Fox arrived in Las Vegas over the weekend, and they went directly into orientation sessions, swim shoots, makeup sessions, preparations and rehearsals.
They worked out and climbed rock formations at Valley of Fire State Park, posed in Yandy swimwear at Moorea Beach Club and Mandalay Bay Pool and hit Libertine Social, all at Mandalay Bay, for a photo shoot.
After being assigned their new roommates, the 52 beauties boarded a bus for the swank and luxurious Ridges community in Summerlin where they were hosted at a USO event in saluting our troops. Located at 45 Painted Feather Way, the 14,000-square-foot host mansion was built by Growth Luxury Homes and is listed by Bob and Jill Barnhart of Luxurious Real Estate.
2016 Miss USA Deshauna Barber, who will relinquish her crown, sash and title on Mother’s Day, was besieged by the blonde and brunette bombshells with questions about her reign. She passed on advice and acted as a mentor, but I was privileged to sit in on a quieter, more personal Q+A that our Miss Nevada Lauren York of North Las Vegas had with her.
Here’s videographer Richard Corey’s YouTube video of the girls’ arrival, festivities with Las Vegas pop singer Zowie Bowie and my conversation with the two of them as The District of Columbia’s Deshauna answered Lauren’s questions amid my prompting:
So, Lauren, what’s the one question that you would want to ask Miss USA in preparation for a year of service, and what’s the one thing that you, Deshauna, would tell Lauren she has to be ready for if she wins over the next 12 months?
I would just want to ask Deshauna what her best advice would be to get through the year. I know that there’s a lot of busy things going on and a lot of time spent away from your family, and there’s a lot of eyes watching you. Just asking her advice on how to handle it and how to handle all the pressure and the people watching you, that would be great.
So, Deshauna, you were an Army Corps officer who became a captain when we met you last year. What have you learned over the year that you can pass on to Lauren and all of the other contestants?
I think the main thing that I learned is that you really have to thicken your skin. I thought I had thick skin being in the military, but I don’t think that there’s anything that can prepare you to be in that type of spotlight and have so much judgment cast on you 24/7.
If there’s one thing I would say is that you have to remain very centered in who you are, remain very centered in being a positive representation for women, and do what you can just to continue to inspire and be who you are because there are going to be so many people out there that just don’t like you because they just don’t like you, and there’s nothing that you can do to change that.
When I first started off as Miss USA, I was doing all these things, very calculated decisions, because I wanted people to like me, and I realized that there are people who are never going to like you. So you have to focus on the people that support you, and if there’s gonna be haters, there’s gonna be haters.
There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s nothing you can do to change their minds. So you have to focus on loving yourself, believing in yourself and inspiring other women to do the same.
Tell Lauren what was one of the most unexpected parts of the job, because it is a job, that you experienced that she should be ready for.
The most unexpected part of the job, because I am a very no makeup, glasses, ponytail-type girl … what I realized is that people capture moments, like paparazzi. I didn’t have any paparazzi, but there were moments where people would capture me where I’m not full-faced, I’m not makeup, I’m not all these things.
… When I’m not in that Miss USA mode, and those moments, all they focus on is that moment. They’re like, “What does she look like that for? Oh my gosh, she’s the worst Miss USA ever.” And, it’s like, “Come on, guys, I’m just going to the neighborhood store.”
What I realized is that when the camera is on you, have to be at 100 percent all the time, when the camera is on. 24/7. You have to be together 24/7. If there’s someone that wants to take a photo of you, and you’re not at 100 percent, and you don’t want that backlash, you tell them, “No photo. I’m not really ready for that right now.”
You have to kind of put your foot down on some of those moments, and I realized that being Miss USA, where I didn’t put my foot down, I just, you know, let me take a picture, I got my glasses on, I look OK today, and next thing you know, everyone in all these countries are like, “She’s going to flop at Miss Universe. Look at how she looks on a normal day.”
But in a sense, you’re always wearing the crown.
You are always wearing the crown. Thank you. That’s a very condensed way to say it. You are always wearing the crown. For the next 365 days, whoever wins will always be wearing the crown, 24/7.
Lauren, your thoughts?
I think that pressure is something I’m already experiencing and think some days I’m really strong, and I feel really confident. Then some days I get a little bit down about what people are saying, and I think that just hearing from another woman, hearing from another Miss USA, that it’s so important to just continue to fight through that and love yourself, and continue to try to be an example.
Because at the end of the day, I’m human, and you’re human, and you’re going to get hurt. Your feelings are going to get hurt, but you still have to put on a brave, strong face for other women to be an example to them so that they can come back and be stronger themselves. I think that that’s incredibly brave and hard to do, so I think that’s so inspiring for me.
Lauren, your campaign is Mothers Against Drunk Driving because there’s a family story.
Yes, at the age of 16, I was hit by a drunk driver. My brother was driving, and I was in the passenger seat. I shattered my elbow; I have pins in my elbow. I went through a couple different surgeries and a couple years of physical therapy, and at the time it was hard for me because I had to give up on a lot of the things that I loved.
Later, I watched one of my best friends lose her dad to a drunk driver. That’s when I decided, OK, I need to do something about this. This is affecting people every single day, and I became a victim speaker and advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The more I work with the organization, I have these opportunities to sit down with victims who have lost their children, or lost family members, and I’m up there sharing my story about how I shattered my elbow, and they’ve lost people that they love. Listening to their stories and their tragedies has helped me, has made me even more passionate about bringing awareness to this organization, and that’s why I keep doing what I’m doing.
I’m just really lucky for the title of Miss Nevada USA because it’s allowed me to reach a greater amount of people and have a stronger, louder voice to make a difference. I’m having so many different opportunities here at Miss USA to share my story, and I think that’s just so awesome.
Here’s a question that I thought you would have asked Deshauna. What did one year change about you?
I think one year made me love myself more. It made me embrace who I am because, again like I said earlier, I kind of walked into it maybe the first two or three months trying to be what I thought the world wanted me to be for a second.
And I censored myself, censored the things that I would say, censored the music that I’d post or show the things that I liked because I thought that Miss USA’s supposed to be like this, and then I realized, “Deshauna, you’re not being yourself. You’re really not being yourself.” I’ve learned more about who Deshauna is because I was forced to understand who she is or be somebody that she’s completely not.
I think that throughout the year, I learned exactly what it feels like to love myself, to embrace my humor, to embrace the way that I talk, the way that I look, the way my hair is, the way my skin is. All these little things I had a chance to fall in love with throughout the year because it was thrown into a spotlight, in an uncomfortable place that I’ve never been in before.
I’m so disappointed that you’re not in charge of the entire military. I honestly thought you’d be in charge by now!
I’m still a captain. You know I made captain three months ago, so I went up in ranks, so responsibilities definitely increase, but, you know, maybe one day. I’ve been thinking about it. I know that I want to do 20 years, but to make it to that general four-star level is something I aspire to be. So, you never know, like 10, 15, 20 years from now.
What about politics?
That’s what everyone keeps saying. I think that solider mentality for us is politics is a no-go for soldiers until you retire just because it doesn’t really matter what you think politically. Whatever they say is gonna go. If they tell me to go to this country, I’m going to go to this country.
I’m going to do what they tell me to do no matter my political views, and I think that that’s why being a soldier takes a certain type of person because you can’t allow your political views to impact the way you handle what you do on the day-to-day as a soldier.
So if the order came down for North Korea, you would go?
I would be in North Korea, absolutely. I really would, and as much as I would love to work on Capitol Hill and have an impact, I think that that’s something that has to happen after I get out. There’s no way to balance the two. There’s literally no way, that I think, for me.
Now, Lauren, you’re not going to North Korea, you’re not in the military, so where do you go after the pageant?
I visited South Korea, and I was at the demilitarized zone, the DMZ. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was just crazy to see Communism up so close and to talk with the people and hear their stories.
I visited the war museum, and they told me, a lot of them still have family members that are still there, that they’re not in contact with or that they’ve lost or have no connection to anymore, and it made me realize how lucky I am to be here and have the freedoms and opportunities that I have.
It also makes me so thankful for the people like Deshauna, and you know, my little brother just joined the Army. So, for the people who give their lives and their time to take care of us and protect us and keep us safe, we’re just so blessed. For me, this is now Day 3 of Miss USA, and I’ve had a great time here, and everything’s been going really well.
And then you have little times that you have, a moment where you’re struggling because you might have something going on at home or you had a hard time here or somebody said something really negative about you. When you’re going through a hard time, how do you put on a face? You have to always put on a face for everybody. How do you let go of, how do you put it aside to just be Miss USA?
Deshauna, how do you put your feelings aside and put your face on for everybody else?
It’s funny because I had to learn how to do that. My mom passed away in August, so three months after I won USA, and I had to learn how to be productive in such a grief-filled time, and if I had to give you any advice, I would say that you have to separate the two. So, I had, it was almost like on some bipolar stuff, it’s funny, but I had to separate Deshauna from Miss USA.
I allowed myself to feel those feelings when I would walk into my room literally, and when I walk out of my room, and I have my hair, my makeup, my heels on, that’s Miss USA. When I walk in my room, when I’m on the phone with my boyfriend, when I’m on the phone with my family, that’s Deshauna. I had to learn to separate it because there’s no way that I can be Deshauna grieving and be Miss USA because I signed up for a job.
I can’t go to these community service events crying and upset. I can’t go to these galas crying and upset. I can’t allow the wonders of the world to impact who I am when the sash is on. So, when you’re Miss Nevada USA, you have to be spot on at all times, and then when you walk into your hotel room, then you can be Lauren. Does that make sense?
Lauren: Yes, that makes a lot of sense.
It’s literally the only way. So when you walk into your hotel room, allow yourself to feel what you need to feel. And then when you’re about to walk out to your chaperone, you put your face on, you get it together, you say, “OK, Lauren, it’s time for Miss Nevada.”
Lauren: But then you’re still brave enough to, as Miss USA, open up to the whole world about everything that you’re suffering through, which is really hard to do, and I’ve talked to a lot of the other girls, and they feel the same way. We all have to open up about our stories and our struggles and the things that we’ve been through. You have to get on camera and say, “I’ve been through this, I’ve been through that, and I’m OK now.”
That’s why I think that you’re so amazing, and all of these girls that I’m here at Miss USA with are so incredible because we’re all brave enough, even though it’s really scary, we’re brave enough to be open about what we’re going through and the ways that we’ve suffered and how we’re overcoming it. We’re allowing our situations to be an example for other people.
Deshauna: I think that’s what makes it, I don’t want to say easier, but that’s what makes my mind and my emotions understand how to get through interviewing and talking about my mom or talking about self-esteem issues, talking about all these things.
Because I think that when young girls listen, or when I think about the Instagram messages and social media messages, Facebook, all these women that said, “Thank you so much for talking about this because this is exactly what I’m going through right now.”
When you get into your interview, and when you get onto the onstage question, and if there’s a way to tie it back to what you’re going through, you want those judges to feel who you are. That is the only way to win. It really is in my opinion. If you’re just giving bland answers to everything, it doesn’t mean anything.
If you give something of yourself you’re able to tie it back to your experiences, the judges feel like, “Man, I feel like I know her.” Because I can think of what Lauren went through when she was younger. I can hear Lauren’s brother joined the military. There’s things where they can tie it back and be like I remember her in interview and this, this and this.
But if you’re giving just all these bland answers, they’re not going to remember that. Everything that you’re going through, including your elbow and all those things, you talk about that, and you show the power in overcoming those battles. You show the power, feeling sad that your brother’s joining.
I know with my siblings, my sister and brother both joined, it was hard for me, even being in, it’s very scary. Especially the way our country’s heading to a direction, we don’t know what’s about to happen next year, two years from now. We really don’t know, so it doesn’t hurt to talk about those things. Those things are what make the judges feel you and understand you and fall in love with exactly who Lauren is, you know?
Did you learn all of these qualities on the job? Were you thrown right in the deep end of the swimming pool or did you get some advice, some direction?
I feel like a lot of it I learned. Just because I had such a unique year, it was such a trailblazing year. I had to create a path for myself. There’s no Miss USA that, I think every Miss USA is going to have a different year, but I think that my year was one of the most up and down, good and bad, it was filled with all these things, and there were so many women that I turned to like Nia Sanchez (2014 Miss Nevada, 2014 Miss USA and first runner-up at Miss Universe), Olivia Jordan (2015 Miss USA 2015, second runner-up at Miss Universe).
They were the backbone of the women I would call, and I’d be like, “How do you get through this?” Especially Olivia Jordan, her year faced a lot of backlash not for any real reason. There was nothing wrong with the girl, but she faced so many issues — she’s too smiley, she’s too this, she’s too that. Even she’s too old. It’s like really, guys? She was 26, and I’m actually older than her.
I turned 27 during my year, and it’s like, “She’s too old, she’s too this, she’s too that.” And she faced backlash. I look at her and I’m like, “But girl, you’re so perfect.” If people can hate Olivia Jordan, if people can hate Pia Wurtzbach (2015 Miss Universe), if people can hate these people, then I know that I’m OK.
Because I’m looking at women, in my opinion, that are literally perfection. Sometimes you have to lean on other pageant girls that are experiencing that spotlight backlash. I’m telling you, I don’t know what it is with people and these blogs. They just hate people for no reason at all.
Our conversation with Deshauna and Lauren continues Tuesday.