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Karlie Hay, an 18-year-old high school graduate from Tomball, Texas, was crowned Miss Teen USA 2016 last July 30. The self-professed roller coaster fanatic beat 50 other teen queens at the pageant’s 34th edition, held at The Venetian Theatre in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

A favorite from the get-go, Hay sealed her frontrunner status after reciting excerpts from the US Constitution Preamble in the final round. When asked about which teen issue should presidential candidates address, she cited peer pressure, saying that “…the next president needs to confront this issue and really just let teens know that you need to be yourself and you need to be a leader.” “Of course, the next Miss Teen USA should be a leader as well“, she emphasized.

Hay is the third Texan to capture the title, following the footsteps of Christie Lee Woods from 1996 and Danielle Doty from 2011. Texas now earns the distinction of being the most successful state in both the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants. Note that while Oregon also has three previous winners, the Lone Star State boasts far more placements.

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Rounding up the all-blonde final five were Emily Wakeman of North Carolina (1st Runner-Up), Marley Stokes of South Carolina (2nd Runner-Up), Erin Snow of Alabama (3rd Runner-Up), and hometown girl Carissa Morrow of Nevada (4th Runner-Up).

Rhode Island‘s Malia Cruz won Miss Congeniality, while the aforementioned runner-up from Alabama also won Miss Photogenic.  

Surprises normally come aplenty in this pageant. The biggest one this year was South Dakota‘s Makenzie Falcon, who advanced at the expense of Nebraska, New York, Mississippi, and Florida. On a positive note, her placement sustained a strong comeback year for her oft-ignored state, which also ended its Miss USA drought last month thanks to Madison McKeown.  

There were two other welcome surprises and both happen to be of Eastern European descent. Vermont scored its first back-to-back placement with Tammy Vujanovic, the daughter of Yugoslavian transplants. IllinoisOlivia Pura, on the other hand, is a first generation Polish-American. 

Completing the Top 15 were California‘s Athenna Crosby, Georgia‘s Bentley Wright, Missouri‘s Dallas Ezard, Louisiana‘s Ellie Picone, Delaware‘s Emily Hutchison of Delaware, and Tennessee‘s Savanna Chrisley, who appears in the reality show Christley Knows Best. All of whom were expected to perform well from the beginning.

The overall lack of diversity in the Top 15 was rather jarring, considering how Miss USA 2016 transpired. Ohio‘s Olivia Turk was the sole semi-finalist of color, sacrificing the likes of Oklahoma‘s Hellen Smith and Alaska‘s Nneamaka Isolokwu, the first Nigerian to represent the Last Frontier. Candidates with Asian roots, namely Minnesota‘s Sophia Primovich and Hawaii‘s Filipina-born Joahnnalee Ucol, were also unplaced. One can’t help but wonder if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were involved in preliminary judging.

The pageant may have taken a backslide in terms of diversity, it still made a huge leap towards empowerment. This year marked the debut of the activewear competition, which showcases the contestants in more age-appropriate fitness gear. It can be recalled that the Miss Universe Organziation eliminated the swimsuit segment from Miss Teen USA as part of WME-IMG‘s new imaging.

The rationale behind the re-branding was echoed by Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach during her quick onstage appearance. When asked to give her advice to the new titleholder, Pia responded “Don’t rush into growing up! Enjoy being a teenager!”

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“Besties” Reunited: Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan interviewing Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach onstage

Miss Teen USA 2016 was streamed via Xbox Live and the pageant’s official Youtube channel. Cody Johns and Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan served as hosts, with American Idol Season 14 winner Nick Fradiani providing a guest performance. The winner was selected by a five-member judging panel, three of which were former titleholders, namely Hilary Cruz (Miss Teen USA 2007), Keeley Sue Sanders (Miss Teen USA 1995), and Lu Parker (Miss USA 1994). The other two judges were WWE Diva Eva Marie and singer Savannah Keyes.

This year also marked the pageant’s return to American soil after a curious eight-year stint in the Bahamas. Whether or not it will ever mark its return to TV airwaves remains to be seen.

 

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