From a Miss USA: The Difference Between Miss America & Miss USA

In Inspiration by Kristen Dalton Wolfe9 Comments


Editor’s Note: This is not a commentary on either winner pictured in the cover photo. This is strictly a commentary of the overall purpose of each organization.

One of the most commonly asked questions during my year as Miss USA was, “What is the difference between Miss USA & Miss America?” My pageant friends, whether competitors, supporters or friends/family in either program have experienced this question too and reasonably so. Over the years, I have noticed that rather than using this innocent question as an opportunity to empower women by highlighting the benefits of each program, it has served as a source of division. A defensive tone is taken while each party tries to prove that one program is better than the other.

This past week, I spent 5 days judging the Miss NC America pageant. I competed in the program myself, so I was aware of the invaluable benefits and ideals it affords young women. But, as a former Miss USA that has been heavily involved in the Miss Universe Organization for years, this past week turned on a light switch.

We are all in it for the same purpose. Although different, the ultimate goal of each program is to enrich the lives of young women. Why don’t we uplift and support each other?

I was so impressed with the Miss America program, especially how it operates in North Carolina. The calibre of young women blew me away. They are top of their classes, Student Body Presidents, published authors, internationally traveled performers and founders of organizations. I was judging the Teen program and was practically mind-blown by their sharp, intelligent, diplomatic, well-spoken interviews, which are conducted like a press-conference. I had to keep reminding myself that they were teenagers!

Each one of them are truly leaders of their generation and it is largely in part due to the empowering standards & ideals of the Miss America Organization that these women have learned the benefit of rising above the status quo.

As I sat there conducting the interviews, I thought to myself, “I hope my daughter will look up to someone like her.”

I was impressed to learn that Miss South Carolina 2012 Ali Rogers, who judged alongside me earned $63,000 in scholarship money. The women who compete in the Miss America program win thousands of dollars in scholarship money, not only at the national and state levels, but at their local levels too. These women are able to further their educations, obtain Masters degrees and have the freedom to start their careers debt-free.

Being surrounded primarily by Miss America enthusiasts for the week, many people wanted to know what the Miss Universe Organization is all about and what my experience as Miss USA was like. I excitedly explained that I got to live in New York City for a year, represent our country in the Miss Universe competition, had Donald Trump as my first boss out of college and traveled the nation speaking in schools. I was also privileged to raise awareness and funding for breast and ovarian cancer research and volunteering with the USO. I also won a full scholarship to the New York Film Academy.

The prestige of the title led to great relationships and opportunities after the crown as well. A fantastic career has developed with a company I have been with for 5 years. I’ve been in several national commercials, Super Bowl commercials and have been the National LA Fitness Spokesmodel for the past two years. The interpersonal, mental strength and public speaking skills I gained have prepared me for my ultimate career goal, which is operating my own company and motivational speaking.

Miss USA may have originated as a swimsuit competition and they may still place an emphasis on beauty in the actual competition, but the life skills gained in the preparation process and in the actual job of a titleholder are immeasurable and enriching. Ultimately, involvement in the organization can cultivate and lead to successful careers and financial independence for young women. Just look at Ali Landry, Shandi Finnessey, Rachel Smith, Susie Castillo and Kimberly Pressler. They are all incredibly intelligent, driven women.

A common belief is that USA girls are pretty and America girls are smart. As a matter of fact, when I won Miss NC USA, someone said the answer I should give when asked the difference between the two is this:

Miss America is the girl who lives next door, Miss USA is the girl you wish lived next door.”

I remember feeling so off-put by that off-putting definition. After this week, I whole-heartedly understand why.

It is because at the end of the day, both Miss America and Miss USA are programs that promote and cultivate the empowerment and success of young women. They are both aiming to be relevant and fresh while being good role-models, so that young girls have someone truly honorable to emulate.
When a supporter of one program bad-mouths the other, they are essentially defeating the entire purpose of being involved in their respective organization.

Yes, each program has a different approach and thank goodness! They both provide an outlet for a wide range of young women to participate with their individual strengths, interests and career goals. Competitors in both organizations are beautiful and smart.

Let’s make it black and white. Let’s stop saying beauty defines one and intelligence defines the other. Next time you are asked the difference between Miss America and Miss USA, here is a response that empowers both organizations:

Miss America is the leading provider of scholarships for women in the nation and Miss USA is a salary-based position that represents our nation at the Miss Universe competition. The preparation that goes into each competition fosters self-confidence, excellent communication skills, a resilience in regards to rejection and constructive criticism, drive, goal-setting, poise, self and global awareness.

I’ll end on this note. It was my platform title when I competed at Miss NC America:
United We Stand, Divided We Fall Behind.

If this message enlightened you, enlighten others by sharing.

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  1. Great article! I was a competitor within the Miss America Organization and now judge at the local and state level, and you are SO RIGHT about the caliber of women of all ages that compete. Many of the women I competed with in the MAO went on to compete in Miss USA state pageants, and won. When people asked me what the difference was, I simply told them MAO has a talent competition and USA doesn’t – to me, that seemed to be the only significant difference. It amazes me how there are so many people in the MAO at the local levels who will remark – unkindly – on the USA program, even if those young women are or were once MAO competitors. (I’m sure it happens at USA, too, though I can’t comment on that.) Why such division? Who knows – but maybe your blog will bring us one step closer to supporting each other the way we should 🙂

  2. This is beautifully written Kristen. And gives great insight. You’re completely right in saying both organizations should uplift and support women and have a better attitude about supporting each other.

    I competed once for the Miss IA USA Org and spend the rest of the time competing for Miss America Org, there are differences obviously but you’re so right the end goal is to help women further their dreams.

    You were by far my fave Miss USA in a long time, and I think that totally has to do with you as a person and who your character is. I loved your year! I can’t wait to see what this year’s Miss USA does, she seems to have the same characther strength as you!

  3. This article was wonderfully written and l couldn’t agree more except for one thing. Donald Trump. He’s the ego no one wants to put up with, and if it weren’t for his money and his constant reminding us that he has it, he’d just be another big mouth who can’t even keep a decent woman himself, but yet runs the show. Back home we call that a chump with change.

  4. One of the most beautiful articals I’ve read about the two systems! Thank you for this! As a competitor in both systems it’s a wonderful way to explain the difference in the two systems! They are both wonderdul peograms along with the many other pageant systems out there. With all the Pageants, they all do the same thing, empower young women and thank goodness for it because its a beautiful thing! Thank you again for such an wesome artical Kristen!

  5. I loved your article but really wonder why some states are so corrupt. I have stories and have witnessed the Miss TN MAO involved in many dishonest acts. They tend to pick their girl way before the pageant even begins. They help certain girls while leaving those that are not helped with hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel if they return 3 and 4 times. The powers that be run the city where the pageant is conducted and nothing seems to be done about it. I bet Mr. Trump would love to hear the stories that goes on just to give his organization a better name than the MAO These people should be ashamed of taking advantage of young girls and saying it is all for scholarship.

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  7. Thank you so much for writing this article. I appreciate that you have taken the time to write about the strengths of the organizations rather than judge them negatively or bash them like many others do. As a former pageant contestant myself in the Miss Universe organization, I agree with you on some of your points and disagree on some. I agree that pageant contestants have more than beauty and that we can learn a lot from them. When I competed there were business owners, engineers, medical students, teachers, and women who gave their time, energy, and resources to help their communities. I learned a lot from these girls and it empowered me to be the best I can be. While I believe that both organizations empower women, I believe that they also bring women down and lower their self -esteem. Both the Miss Universe and the Miss America organization promote a very narrow idea of beauty that not all women have. Although both organizations have embraced different ethnicity like Asians, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics ect..(I’m glad of the progress) the that have not embraced different body shapes. I have seen pageant contestants eat cottage cheese for weeks for the pageant, get surgery, partake in extreme physical activities, starve themselves, and go through extremes to attain the body standard that both organizations have set ( More so the USA system). Every year in America young girls watch these pageants and feel like they are not beautiful because no one on stage looks like them. I know because I was one of them. As a Latina female I don’t see women shorter than 5’5 and I don’t see women higher than a size 4 even though that is also healthy. Even though I am a size 2, weigh 120 pounds, and am 5’6, I was told I need to get rid of my “big butt” to win the state pageant. I was also one of shortest contestants even though I am 5’6. Until both organizations embrace all types of beauty will they really empower women.

  8. Love this!! Everything you say is sooooo true!! I met equally amazing girls at Nationals for both MAO and MUO. Each so beautiful inside and out.

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