Miss Kentucky Elle Smith crowned 2021 Miss USA: 'I made that dream reality'

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Miss USA has crowned a new winner.

Miss Kentucky Elle Smith, a broadcast news reporter for WHAS-TV in Louisville, took home the title of Miss USA 2021 at the annual pageant Monday night at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Prior to the pageant, Smith reflected on her journey from Miss USA viewer to competitor.

"A little over a year ago, I sat in bed and watched Miss USA," she wrote in a Nov. 14 Instagram post. "I remember watching (Miss New York Andreia Gibau), (Miss Ohio Sthephanie Marie Miranda), (Miss Louisiana Mariah Clayton) 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 graduated in 2020 from the University of Kentucky, where she studied broadcast journalism with a minor in political science, served as vice president of the school's National Association of Black Journalists chapter, and worked as a summer Fox News College Associate in the Washington, D.C. bureau, according to her WHAS-TV bio.

She will go on to represent the U.S. at the 2021 Miss Universe pageant, scheduled for Dec. 12 in Eilat, Israel.

WHAS11 multimedia journalist and newly crowned Miss Kentucky, Elle Smith, chats with children at the "To Love All Serve All in Unity" positive hip-hop festival event at Chef Space on Saturday. May 29, 2021
WHAS11 multimedia journalist and newly crowned Miss Kentucky, Elle Smith, chats with children at the "To Love All Serve All in Unity" positive hip-hop festival event at Chef Space on Saturday. May 29, 2021

Steve Harvey will once again return as host. The three-hour event will broadcast live on Fox in the U.S. and also in 180 countries and territories across the globe. It will end with the current Miss Universe, Mexico’s Andrea Meza, crowning her successor.

On Monday, organizers of the Miss Universe pageant said a contestant tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Israel, which is pressing ahead with plans to host the pageant despite closing its borders in the face of a newly detected variant.

Miss Universe host Steve Harvey returns for the 2021 pageant. He's pictured here in 2019 interviewing Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi, who would later take home the Miss Universe title.
Miss Universe host Steve Harvey returns for the 2021 pageant. He's pictured here in 2019 interviewing Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi, who would later take home the Miss Universe title.

They did not identify the contestant, and it was unclear if she had the omicron strain, which has raised alarm worldwide and was detected in a traveler returning to Israel last week.

The Miss Universe Organization said most of the 80 contestants have arrived in Israel and that the event will be held as planned with strict coronavirus protocols. The contestants will compete in national costumes, evening gowns and swimwear, and will answer a series of interview questions.

More: Miss Universe contestant tests positive for COVID-19, pageant will go on as planned

Israel closed its borders to all foreign travelers over the weekend, one of several measures taken to prevent the spread of the new variant after at least one case was detected, in a vaccinated traveler returning from Malawi. The variant was first identified in South Africa but cases have since been detected in several European countries as well as Hong Kong and Australia.

The organizers said the contestant tested positive upon arrival in Israel and was taken to a government-run isolation hotel. She was fully vaccinated and had been tested prior to departure, they said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Miss USA pageant: Miss Kentucky Elle Smith wins, on to Miss Universe