While many dream of making their way onto the Miss USA stage, only 51 get the privilege to do so every year (well, 52 this year) and compete in the long-running beauty pageant. Succeeding in the pageant circuit is not easy, especially if Toddlers & Tiaras is any indication. Many contestants spend years developing the skills needed to succeed in the world of pageantry with the end-game being getting the title of Miss America or Miss USA. What's tricky about this is the fact that Miss USA and Miss America are actually fairly different, and that the same approach can't be taken for both pageants. So what are the differences between Miss USA and Miss America, and what does that mean for the competitors?
Many aspects of Miss USA and Miss America are similar. They are both, at their core, beauty pageants. They both feature portions dedicated to interviewing the contestant and assigning points based on their answers to a variety of questions ranging from light-hearted to serious. They also both feature portions where the contestant are judged based on how they look and walk in evening wear, as well as swimsuits. Beyond those broad strokes, however, there are plenty of aspects of Miss USA that differentiate it from Miss America.
While the idea of a "talent portion" is often associated with beauty pageants, Miss USA actually does not critique their contestants based on their talents. The talent portion, however, is crucial to Miss America as it makes up 35 percent of the contestant's overall score.
The telecast judges for Miss America and Miss USA cover different fields of expertise for each pageant. Miss USA telecast judges this year include two former Miss USA winners, Ali Landry and Crystle Stewart, and two major fashion journalists, Joe Zee of Yahoo! Fashion and Laura Brown of Harper's Bazaar. Miss America, on the other hand, has featured a wide range of judges including former Miss America Vanessa Williams, country singer Brett Eldredge, Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy, and Shark Tank's Kevin O'Leary. Miss America may pull from a wider range of judges, but Miss USA knows exactly what they're looking for in a winner.
The biggest difference between the pageants is the prizes offered to each contestant. Miss America awards its winner a $50,000 scholarship, which sounds pretty amazing to anyone who loses a healthy portion of their paycheck to student debt every month. Miss USA, however, offers its contestant a temporary full-time job. According to the Miss Universe website, Miss USA winners "are whisked away to New York City and are prepped for a media tour where they make multiple appearances at media outlets, networks, charitable organizations, sponsor events, etc. The titleholders spend their reign representing their platforms, raising awareness and funds for charitable alliances, and traveling." With a prize that is basically employment, Miss USA is high in the running for the title of "Most Grueling Job Interview Process of All Time."
Miss America and Miss USA may seem similar, but their missions are subtly different. The mission of Miss Universe, who owns the Miss USA competition, is "to provide the tools which help women to be their personal best." Miss America, on the other hand, is focused primarily on serving as an educational aid, claiming to be "the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women in the United States." No matter what the differences between the pageants are, one thing is absolutely similar between both of them – they're both working to support women across the country in their own ways.