Miss Hawaii USA 2016 Chelsea Hardin fell short of acquiring the coveted Miss USA crown Sunday night in Las Vegas after being named first runner-up to Miss District of Columbia USA.
The preliminary competition for the pageant took place Wednesday night, but the winner was announced Sunday.
Shortly after the pageant, KHON2 spoke with Hardin who, despite coming in second, was just happy to go through the experience as a local girl.
“The whole thing was beyond anything that I could have imagined,” said Hardin. “I got to dance with the Backstreet Boys. Once I made it that far, I was happy. I was just thinking, you know what, whatever happens, happens, I did the best that I could and, honestly, I’m totally okay with first-runner up.”
KHON2 also spoke with Hardin’s mother, Chrissy Mitchell, who was in Las Vegas cheering on her daughter.
“She made it so far, and I’m just so proud that an island girl was able to compete with those veteran pageant runners that have done it over and over again,” said Mitchell by phone.
Mitchell jokingly adds that Hardin will probably eat some Korean or Chinese food now and not worry about the calories.
As for the newly-crowned Miss USA, Deshauna Barber, who is a 26-year-old Army officer, she gave perhaps the strongest answer of the night when asked about women in combat.
“As a woman in the United States Army, I think … we are just as tough as men. As a commander of my unit, I’m powerful, I am dedicated,” she said. “Gender does not limit us in the United States.”
Barber will go on to compete in the Miss Universe contest.
Barber is the first-ever military member to win Miss USA. In a press conference following the event, the 26-year-old lieutenant from Northeast D.C. said she plans to take a break from the Army Reserves and had already discussed with superiors the possibility of going inactive for a couple of years should she win the title. She said she currently serves two days per month.
“My commander should be watching right now,” Barber said. “Two days a month is definitely not active duty. It is an obligation that I signed up for but they are very flexible in the United States Army Reserves.”
Barber said she plans to use the pageant’s spotlight and her title to support veteran’s causes and tackle the issue of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder among military members. When asked what message she had for the presidential candidates – including former pageant owner and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump – Barber said they should focus more on veteran’s issues, including the backlog at veterans hospitals.
“I think that a lot of the topics that they discuss isn’t as important,” she said in a glittering gold gown.
Barber’s not the only contestant who had to address the election and the Republican candidate, who had a public break-up with the beauty pageant organization last year.
Trump offended Hispanics when he made anti-immigrant remarks in announcing his bid for the White House last June. He at the time co-owned The Miss Universe Organization with NBCUniversal, but the network and the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision quickly cut ties with him, refusing to air the show. Trump sued both networks, eventually settling and selling off the entire pageant to talent management company WME/IMG.
Hardin, who came in second Sunday night, punted during the question-and-answer segment when asked who she would vote for among the likely presidential candidates, Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.
She acknowledged that there was no way to correctly answer the question during the beauty pageant. The question was framed with Clinton’s likely status of being the first woman nominated by a major political party in the race for the White House. The 24-year-old college student from Honolulu responded that gender doesn’t matter when deciding the next commander in chief.
The other women in the top five were asked about voting rights, income inequality and the recent death of sports icon Muhammad Ali.
Fan favorite Miss California, Nadia Grace Mejia, had stumbled and paused when answering a question about social and economic inequality. The 20-year-old model, who is the daughter of the 1990s one-hit-wonder singer known as “Rico Suave,” had also talked about suffering from anorexia and wanting to promote body confidence earlier in the show.
The beauty pageant organization also didn’t shy away from addressing another controversy from last year – Miss Universe.
Steve Harvey made a cameo in a video at the start of the Miss USA show to poke fun of the Miss Universe crowning that he botched in December.
Harvey was hosting Miss Universe last year when he mistakenly named Colombia’s Ariadna Gutierrez Arevalo the winner before correcting himself on the stage. Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach of the Philippines was then given the crown. Officials later said it was due to human error. The talk show host said he had re-read the card and noticed it said “first runner-up” next to the Colombia contestant’s name before clarifying with producers his mistake.
He took to Twitter after Miss USA Sunday night to mock himself again by highlighting the similarity of the two locations, the District of Columbia and the country of Colombia.