Pageant of The Universe
Elle Smith is going from Miss Kentucky to Miss USA!
The pageant queen, who works as a broadcast news reporter for Louisville's WHAS-TV, was crowned Miss USA on Monday night at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As the newly crowned Miss USA, Smith will go on to represent the U.S. at the upcoming Miss Universe pageant, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 12 in Eilat, Israel.
Smith was crowned Miss USA by last year's winner, Asya Branch. During Monday's ceremony, Branch gave Smith the Miss USA tiara, officially passing on the title to her successor, who teared up and seemed overjoyed after the exciting news was announced.
Smith graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2020 with a journalism degree, according to USA Today. While there, she was vice president of her school's National Association of Black Journalists chapter, and spent a summer as a Fox News College Associate in Washington, D.C.
In the days leading up to the competition, Smith reflected on her journey to the Miss USA stage.
"A little over a year ago, I sat in bed and watched Miss USA. I remember watching @andreiagibau @sthephaniemariemiranda @mariahclayton_ and so many more incredible women grace the stage, and thinking, 'I want to be on that stage. I want to be like them,' " she wrote on Instagram.
"I made that dream reality," she added. "Now, it's game time."
Also competing this year were Miss Kansas Gracie Hunt — the daughter of Kansas City Chiefs owner, chairman, and CEO Clark Hunt — as well as Miss Nevada Kataluna Enriquez, the first openly transgender woman to compete for the Miss USA crown.
Enriquez, 28, did not finish in the competition's top 16, but made history with her turn in Miss USA. After winning the title of Miss Nevada in June, Enriquez posted on Instagram, "Huge thank you to everyone who supported me from day one. My community, you are always in my heart. My win is our win. We just made history. Happy pride."
Ahead of the pageant, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak shared that he was cheering Enriquez on.
Cheering on Miss Nevada, Kataluna Enriquez, tonight as she competes for #MissUSA!
Kataluna represents the best of her community and our state and when she takes the stage, she’ll make history! pic.twitter.com/Sfcr2FPkZe
— Steve Sisolak (@SteveSisolak) November 30, 2021
"Kataluna represents the best of her community and our state and when she takes the stage, she'll make history!" Sisolak tweeted.
Added Sen. Jacky Rosen, "Kataluna is making history as the first openly transgender woman to compete in Miss USA, and I couldn't think of anyone better to represent the Silver State."
RELATED VIDEO: Gracie Hunt, Daughter of Billionaire KC Chiefs Owner, Competes at Miss USA 28 Years After Her Mom
Gracie, 22, finished in the top 16 contestants in the pageant Monday night. She competed 28 years after her mom, Tavia Hunt, won Miss Kansas and finished as the second runner-up for Miss USA.
Gracie previously opened up to PEOPLE about all the work that goes into the pageant process, explaining, "Pageantry is a sport, there's so much that goes into it behind the scenes that you might not realize or know whether it's interview prep, walking prep."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
"Learning to walk on a stage in those heels is something that I did not realize the skill it took until I got myself into it, especially having come off of the soccer field, wearing cleats all the time," she added.
Miss USA's runner-up was Miss North Dakota Caitlyn Vogel.