After two decades, the city of Shreveport-Bossier rolled out the red carpet and true southern hospitality for the 2018 Miss USA Pageant and its 51 state representatives vying for the illustrious crown before a live television audience and Fox broadcast viewers. In true pageantry style, it would be an historic night. As poignant vignettes from the delegates’ childhood played, the 2018 Miss USA state titleholders commanded the massive runway. The new digital stage wowed the crowd with its custom lighting for the opening production number and contestant introductions.
With husband and wife emcees Nick Lachey of 98° and Miss Teen USA 1998 Vanessa Minillo Lachey expertly guiding the show, the top fifteen delegates as chosen by the Miss USA selection committee and Miss Universe Organization were introduced. Fulfilling lifetime dreams were: winner of the hometown vote Miss South Dakota USA Madison Nipe, and Finalists Miss Georgia USA Marianny Egurrola, Miss Maine USA Marina Gray, Miss Texas USA Logan Lester, Miss New Jersey USA Alexa Noone, Miss Nebraska USA Sarah Rose Summers, Miss Florida USA Genesis Davila, Miss Nevada USA Carolina Urrea, Miss Massachusetts USA Allissa Latham, Miss Maryland USA Brittinay Nicolette, Miss Tennessee USA Alexandra Harper, Miss Oregon USA Toneata Morgan, Miss North Carolina USA Caelynn Miller-Keyes, Miss Michigan USA Elizabeth Johnson, and Miss California USA Kelly Johnson. The Miss USA stage was now set for the final competitions in determining who would take the crown of Miss USA 2018.
The first televised competition of the night to winnow the field from fifteen to ten contestants would be the iconic Swimsuit Competition. Displaying an abundance of commitment to a healthy and fit lifestyle, the initial competition did not disappoint in bringing the live crowd to life. However, the time had arrived to narrow the field, with Miss California USA, Miss Maine USA, Miss Nevada USA, Miss Tennessee USA, Miss New Jersey USA, Miss Nebraska USA, Miss North Carolina USA, Miss Georgia USA, Miss South Dakota USA, and Miss Florida USA continuing the quest for the Miss USA crown.
Elegance, poise, sophistication, and glamour, all hallmarks of pageantry, were on display as Evening Gown commenced, and contestants were serenaded by two-time Grammy winner Lee Brice. As the live audience voiced their support for each delegate, the women of Miss USA were resplendent as they walked the runway in their personal choice of gown. It was breathtaking and beautiful and always the crowd favorite. And now, it was time to announce the top 5: Miss Nevada USA, Miss Florida USA, Miss Nebraska USA, Miss North Carolina USA, and Miss South Dakota USA.
With the final five confirmed, it was time to advance to the Final Question. In a new twist to the competition, all of the presented questions were submitted by their fellow contestants, adding more pressure to one of the most anxious and tense competitions, especially in front of a live and television audience. Miss Nevada USA addressed a question from Miss Nebraska USA about a time when she felt unworthy and how she overcame it. Miss Florida USA spoke of sexual assault on college campuses in response to a question from Miss North Carolina USA. Miss Nebraska answered Miss Florida USA’s question on the effect single parent households have had on views of marriage and family on this generation. Miss North Carolina USA replied to Miss South Dakota’s question, giving her views on the recent decision of the Boy Scouts to accept girls and the value of single gender associations. Lastly, South Dakota gave her views on the concern presented by Miss Nevada USA, regarding the fact that one-third of women did not exercise their right to vote in the last election. The selection committee was now in the unenviable position of choosing the remaining three delegates and the eventual Miss USA 2018.
Emerging from the high pressure and high-stakes Final Question round were Miss Nebraska USA, Miss North Carolina USA, and Miss Nevada USA. The Final Word, the same question presented to each finalist, would decide the fate of these finalists. What would they address? The question: “You are on your way to a march and someone hands you a blank sign and marker. What do you put on your sign and why?”
All phases of competition were complete and the Miss USA nation awaited the final decision of the selection committee. Second runner up was bestowed upon Miss Nevada USA. It was center stage time, where the pressure was amplified exponentially. With the declaration of Miss USA, Miss North Carolina USA claimed first runner up. In an historic moment, Sarah Rose Summers captured the crown, title, and accolades of Miss USA 2018, the first woman from Nebraska to earn the Miss USA crown.
Pageantry magazine: When you hear “Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers,” has the enormity become a reality, or is it still surreal?
Sarah Summers: It’s absolutely surreal. There are little moments that it’s feeling more and more like a reality. For example, it’s the little things. Miss Universe, Demi, is my roommate here in New York City, and she was explaining the heating and air to me one night, one of my first nights, and she said, “Well, in the winter it gets really cold here, so you’ll have to turn up the heat.” And I paused for a second and thought, wow, I’m gonna be here a whole year at least! So it’s those little moments that I have to sit and realize, wow, this is my reality.
PM: Is it your first time there?
SS: No… I… really funny, my first trip was when I was in eighth grade. I’m born and raised in Papillion, Nebraska, right outside Omaha, and we do a junior high trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City in the summer time. And my first Friday here in the city, my same junior high was doing their eighth grade New York, D.C. trip. I was able to see them, so that was really, really surreal, bringing it full circle.
PM: That night was historic, as Miss Nebraska USA had never advanced to that point. What were you thinking about center stage as everyone anxiously awaited the announcement?
SS: Well, usually I would listen for an “N” to be announced, but funny enough, it was myself, North Carolina, and Nevada in the three. So you really couldn’t listen for an “N”, which was really funny. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. But in the top two, Caelynn, who’s Miss North Carolina, she and I just really hit it off on day one of Miss USA. And our two weeks there we just got closer and closer. I call her my bestie now, and in the top two it was like a dream. Never anticipated being in the top two, period. But also, to be up there with your bestie, that’s just a children’s book. It’s a dream come true. So, at that point all of the competition is done. And it wasn’t necessarily stressful or anxious, I was just moreso excited and ready. You know, they always do the big dramatic pauses before they announce it. Those moments felt like an eternity waiting for them to announce.
PM: In observing you throughout the competition, you truly exuded confidence and a relaxed persona. And it seemed that you were enjoying and living in the moment. Is that a correct statement?
SS: Absolutely. And I’m really glad that that could be portrayed through to the audience, to the viewers at home. That’s my favorite compliment to get since becoming Miss USA, because I want to be relatable. I am a real woman from Nebraska with dreams, just like everyone else.
PM: Your first press conference was amazing, and you spoke very eloquently. As many know, you’ve competed in pageantry for many years. What are some of the personal benefits that you
SS: I gained confidence. I was a really shy little girl. I wouldn’t make eye contact with strangers. If my mom dropped me off at dance class, I would cry. When I first competed, I held my dress. I bunched it with my hand and stared at the ground, but I made friends. It took me five years to win my first state title. And when I did compete at Miss Teen USA, I did not place, but I gained great friendships and I learned about my body and my health and what foods worked for me and what workouts I enjoy. There are just so many things that you can gain. Other than confidence on a stage, you learn interview skills. I would be able to walk into interviews excited to converse with my future employers, rather than be nervous.
PM: What does the title of Miss USA mean to you?
SS: Wow. You get asked that before it happens, but now that it’s real, I have my face in my hands right now because it’s all just still so astonishing. I know you mentioned that I made history as the first from Nebraska to win, and that means the world to me because it means that young girls, no matter what state they’re from, they won’t view whether their state has won something or earned the title before as an obstacle. Because it’s not. It’s all about you and connecting with the selection community. Or if you have a different goal that isn’t pageantry and you have certain obstacles that you perceive, whether it’s your career or your size or how long you can run, no matter what it is, get rid of that obstacle in your mind, because I’m a great example. Nebraska isn’t necessarily in the forefront of everyone’s mind when you think of Miss USA. But now, hopefully it is.
PM: Miss USA is not just a title. It’s actually a job. Almost immediately, you begin your media tour. Can you tell us a little bit about your initial tour?
SS: After being selected on that Monday night, I went up and saw my family and friends. I had, as you mentioned, that press conference and photos with sponsors and amazing people from Shreveport-Bossier. And then the next day they flew me to New York City. I got in, I had some media training really briefly. I had my stylist appointment. That’s crazy! I’m Sarah Summers from Nebraska and I have a stylist!
The next morning, I was on Good Morning, America. That was my first stop as Miss USA, and it was really fun. And then I went straight to Live with Kelly and Ryan. And one of the things that I really want to do this year is utilize my skills from my career. I work in children’s hospitals, so I plan on using those skills to work with Miss Universe organization partners like Smile Train and Project Sunshine. But also, when I was with Kelly and Ryan, I wanted to take a moment to thank Ryan for what he had done through his foundation. He planted what they have named Seacrest Studios, so it’s essentially a radio station inside of about 10 hospitals throughout the nation.
In my first set of clinical rotations I was fortunate enough that I was in one of those 10 hospitals, and so I was able to see firsthand the impact that those studios make on these patients, because they get out of their room. They go down there. They host the show, or they record a song. It’s just beautiful.
PM: Which is a great segue into my next question. Can you explain what it means to be a child life specialist? And how this became your passion?
SS: Absolutely. I am now a certified child life specialist. Working backwards a bit, when I was about five years old I was hospitalized with something called ITP. It is a blood disorder, but mine was not a chronic diagnosis, so I’m very fortunate. But I’d never been in that setting. I have an older brother, but he was never hospitalized. I fed off of my parents’ energy and fear, and I remember it being very scary. My nurse was amazing. And then growing up after that point, all of my volunteering through junior high and high school was with kids in hospitals. And I knew that I wanted to work in that environment, but science was not my forte, and I definitely did not want to be on the medical side, per se.
So I went to college. I was gonna do PR marketing for children’s hospitals. So I completed my first degree at TCU, Texas Christian University, in Strategic Communications with a Business minor. But then I was introduced to the field of child life. And instantly I called my parents back home in Nebraska. I called my advisor. I said, “This is what I’m supposed to do.” I saw these women working with children to help them understand their diagnosis or to explain in child friendly terms by eliminating all medical jargon what their diagnosis is or what procedure they have upcoming. And then we also get to play with them and bring that normalcy to the hospital environment, so that these kids can continue to develop typically and normally as they otherwise would. That’s my passion, and I added a second degree. I graduated with a second Bachelor of Science in Child Development. Then I finished my clinical rotations and took my certification exam in April between Miss Nebraska USA and Miss USA. I love what I do, and it all stemmed from volunteering.
PM: As a strong supporter of children, it must have meant a lot to you during your recent Best Buddies Challenge appearance.
SS: Absolutely, it did. I mean my first week, my media tour was a ball. Do not get me wrong, I loved it. I had my first paparazzi experience. I never expected anything like that in my life, but being able to converse with people and get on their level and have great conversations, laugh, ride bikes with them, that’s more my passion and where I find the most joy. And so I was loving my first Best Buddies Weekend. Best Buddies is just such an amazing organization.
PM: Speaking of another organization, Memorial Day, the USO appearance.
SS: Well, my maternal grandfather was in the Navy, and my paternal grandfather was in the US Air Force, so military is really close to my heart and really important to my family and our country as a whole, obviously. I was really excited to have the opportunity to work with the USO. We did what they call Operation Max My Dress Event. It was Fleet Week here in New York City my first Friday. We were able to see all these local Army men and women, and their daughters were able to pick out dresses for their proms or their upcoming events or just to keep in their closet for when they do have an event. It was so fun getting to chat with them and help them pick out their dream dress and see a smile across their face and thank them for their service. That was a really rewarding day.
PM: What have you discovered about living in New York City?
SS: So much. I’m loving it. I was so proud of myself. I’m a little nerdy Nebraskan. My first time taking the subway alone, I called home afterwards and I said, “Hey, I can’t tell anyone else; if I told anybody in the city this they’d make fun of me. But I just got on, swiped one time, went right through, got off on the other end and I made it.” I’m learning all about the different parts of the city. There’s so much here to explore.
PM: What do you look forward to most as Miss USA, and what do you hope to accomplish?
SS: Well, as a certified child life specialist, I’m really looking forward to working with Project Sunshine and visiting hospitals, because I get to utilize those skills. I miss kiddos so much, so I’m just really excited to see them. I mean, I went from holding children in NICU when I was in college and volunteering on a Med-Surg floor with kids, and babysitting and nannying, and I taught Sunday School to preschoolers. So now I’m in the city, and you just don’t see as many kids as much. So I’m really excited for those appearances where I get to interact with children and see their joy and maybe make some superhero crafts and some princess crafts.
PM: And how has the reaction been from back home? Lots of calls, texts?
SS: Oh my goodness. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all of my amazing friends and family from not just back home, but also from college, that have called and texted and I still have not gotten back to. I know. I’ve touched briefly that I’m trying to soak up everything going on around me and be in the moment. I’m not on social media a whole lot. I take a few photos everywhere to share with you guys, or a live video like we did yesterday. But then I’m just really being in the moment. And so I have an outpouring of love through text that I’m trying to get back to when I have a little bit of time here and there. But the sweetest thing is during media week, I watched an interview of some of my high school teachers and my friends from back home. I was in the car between media stops here in New York City, and I actually had to turn it off because I was about to start crying. It was just so much love that I felt, and I’m forever grateful for that.
PM: You touched upon social media, and we’ve had this discussion with many people over the years that sometimes it’s the angriest place on earth. But I really want to tell you everything that I have seen about you has been nothing but positive. You touched the heartstrings within our industry, so congratulations on that.
SS: Wow, thank you. That means a lot. I think that because it can be such a dark hole, you have to take the steps, and it’s not hard, to make it a brighter spot. So many people spend hours on it a day, and you might as well be one of the people that’s a bright spot on their feed.
PM: What words of wisdom, encouragement, or empowerment would you give to young women in today’s society?
SS: Follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone say no. Whether it was in my childhood, career, adding a second degree in four years, whether it was studying abroad without any friends, whether it was deciding that I really wanted to be the first Miss USA from Nebraska, there’s always unforeseen obstacles where, like you touched on social media, where other people, outsiders, are gonna tell you, “you can’t” or tell you that you should go in a different direction with your life. But sit down with those you love, who encourage you and that you know are going to be there for the long haul. Determine your goals, write them down, and tell those people, because they’re going to help hold you accountable. If you ask them to do that, and you do that for them, that’s so important. So shut out all the negativity. You don’t need it in your life. Smile at other people because smiles are contagious. I have loved doing that here in the city. Being from Nebraska, we all smile at each other on the sidewalk and wave. That’s not normal here in the city, but I was doing it the other day in Central Park. I got some funny looks. I got some ignoring faces. And then I did get a few smiles back. So just show love and be a positive light, because why be anything else? It takes just as much energy.
PM: Is there anything else that you would like to address today that I maybe did not touch upon, something that is close to your heart?
SS: Absolutely. I mean, I’m very passionate about balancing chilhood fitness, and that’s one thing that I am so proud of as a platform to stand on with the Miss Universe slogan of “confidently beautiful,” that I didn’t deprive myself of a thing before I went on that stage. I had no regrets. I had a true peace about it all, and I was eating Halo Top ice cream up until the point that I left for Miss USA. I indulged in all the yummy deserts that Shreveport-Bossier brought up for us, because in that moment I knew that that one sweet wasn’t going to determine if I was the next Miss USA or not. And like I said, I didn’t expect this. So just have the balance. Don’t let anything take over your whole mind and distract you from the end goal. That would be what I’d like to share with girls that are concerned about competing with the end goal of being Miss USA. As Miss USA, it’s your job to have those relationships throughout the year, bring joy to kids in the hospital. It’s not just your swimsuit body. It’s so much more than that. And remembering that through it all really helped me, and I don’t regret anything. I was able to just confidently be myself and be an example of an attainable body, an attainable mindset, and I’m really proud of that.