She Is All She Can Be

Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber makes being “Army Strong” look better than ever

How do you define “beauty”? The delegates competing for the title of Miss USA 2016 proudly declared their definitions with vernacular such as confidence, intelligence, compassion, strength, power, fitness, harmony, adventurousness, integrity, caring, tenacity, wisdom, diversity, competitiveness, freedom, dedication, and fearlessness. With the 62nd Miss USA title awaiting one of the 51 titleholders, the night was a testament to their definitions of beauty.

Rolling the dice and returning to Las Vegas was another winning bet by the WME/IMG and Miss Universe Organization team. Settling into the new Miss USA home of MGM Grand and the state-of-the-art T-Mobile Arena, the excitement intensified throughout the two-week preparation for the Fox Network telecast showcasing these confidently beautiful women. With cameras rolling and the raucous audience on its feet, the Miss USA pageant, hosted by Julianne Hough and Terrence “J” Jenkins, with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model Ashley Graham providing backstage insights, had arrived.

The festive competition kicked off with a humorous cameo by Miss Universe host Steve Harvey imploring Miss USA host Terrence Jenkins never to utter the infamous word “Colombia” (in reference to our nation’s capital) under any circumstances.

The state introductions, backed by Australian sister DJ duo Nervo, set the up-tempo vibe for the competition. As each delegate took to the stage, a deafening roar emanated from the zealous live audience. The quest for Miss USA had commenced, and it was time to announce the final 15: Miss South Carolina USA Leah Lawson, Miss Ohio USA Megan Wise, Miss Georgia USA Emanii Davis, Miss Arizona USA Chelsea Myers, Miss Alabama USA Peyton Brown, Miss West Virginia USA Nichole Greene, Miss District of Columbia USA Deshauna Barber, Miss California USA Nadia Mejia, Miss Missouri USA Sydnee Stottlemyre, Miss Connecticut USA Tiffany Teixeira, Miss Hawaii USA Chelsea Hardin, Miss South Dakota USA Madison McKeown, Miss Arkansas USA Abby Floyd, Miss Virginia USA Desi Williams, and Miss Oklahoma USA Taylor Gorton.

The Swimsuit competition, set to the music of Nervo, would narrow the field from fifteen to ten. In swimwear of their choosing, the delegates showcased a commitment to a fit and healthy lifestyle. Styles were as varied as the delegates’ individual personalities, and the task of winnowing the original fifteen was becoming more difficult for the judges. However, a decision was rendered and the top ten Miss USA finalists representing Virginia, Alabama, California, Georgia, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Missouri, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Hawaii welcomed the opportunity to continue the journey to the crown of Miss USA 2016.

With the competition as hot as the desert heat of Las Vegas, the ever glamorous Evening Gown competition featured each state representative in a graceful and visually aesthetic presentation, accompanied by country music artist Chris Young. As the final wisp of chiffon and beaded accruements exited the stage, the field was winnowed with the announcement of the remaining top five. Advancing to the Question Round were Miss GA USA, Miss HI USA, Miss DC USA, Miss AL USA, and Miss CA USA.

The questions put forth would determine the fate of these beautifully confident young ladies, as only three would continue on the Miss USA 2016 stage. Although paraphrased, the contestants were asked the following: Miss Alabama USA was asked what should be remembered most as Muhammad Ali’s legacy; Miss District of Columbia USA addressed the decision to open combat jobs to women; Miss Georgia USA spoke on the subject of states making it too difficult to vote; Miss California USA ventured an opinion on how to narrow the gap of social inequality; and Miss Hawaii USA deftly answered the question of her voting preference between presumptive nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Standing on a worldwide stage with millions watching, addressing concerns that many of our elected officials have difficulty explaining, the Miss USA definition of Confidently Beautiful was becoming much clearer.

There were now three women awaiting the moment to hear their name announced as Miss USA 2016. But first, each would have to answer the same question: How would they define Confidently Beautiful? As each took center stage to assert her definition, the crowd again roared its collective approval and support of each young woman. With the final question concluded, the ultimate decision was put into the hands of the judges.

As the judges’ pronouncement was rendered and tallied, the final trio of Miss Georgia USA, Miss Hawaii USA, and Miss District of Columbia USA took a final presentation walk while serenaded by crowd favorite, the Backstreet Boys. Resplendent and confidently beautiful in the knowledge that each one left nothing on the stage, the Miss USA finalists and the audience awaited the announcement. Miss Georgia USA Emanii Davis was announced as 2nd runner-up. Holding their collective breath, the two remaining delegates took center stage. With the announcement of Miss USA 2016, Miss Hawaii USA Chelsea Hardin became 1st runner-up; and Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber, a Logistics Commander in the U.S. Army, captured the coveted crown. How do you now define “beauty?” In total agreement with our confidently beautiful Miss USA representatives, we define it as Miss USA 2016.

Pageantry magazine: You’re standing there onstage. The eyes of the world are upon you. It’s just you and Miss Hawaii. What are you thinking?
Deshauna Barber: Well, I’m telling myself that I just feel so honored to have been standing there with her. I was glad to have made it that far. I just kept telling myself in my mind that no matter what happens, I am just excited to have made it that far, and regardless of what happens in 30 seconds, I’m still going to be Deshauna Barber. I’m still going to feel humble. I’m still going to feel very flattered that I even made it to the top two.

PM: I’m sitting right there at the stage, and your reaction was extremely emotional when you realized that you were Miss USA.
DB: It was, and actually, I didn’t know I would react that way. I thought I would react the way that most girls react, which just seems like, “Oh, my gosh”… so happy, smiling. But it was totally not the way I planned it. If I had planned the reaction, or if I had thought about it previously, I thought, “If I’m going to make it this far, maybe I’ll just smile and be happy.” I think every girl thinks about what type of reaction they’re going to have, and they envision a certain reaction, and what I envisioned was not what happened.

PM: Let’s talk a little bit about your media tour.
DB: I’ve been on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts. She is so awesome. I loved chatting with her. Her father is actually a Tuskegee airman, so she and I had a really great conversation before we went on air. I was also on Live with Kelly, and she brought me Krispy Kreme donuts, so that was pretty cool. I did Insider. I did Sway’s Universe, and Sway is amazing. He probably had one of the funniest shows in terms of the media tour, because he was asking extremely wild questions. I also did The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

PM: Of course with radio, television, and print people like us, what question is asked of you the most?
DB: How do you feel in that moment when you’re holding hands with Hawaii, what were you thinking? That was a question I’ve gotten a lot because I think everyone’s wondering what’s going on in your mind. It’s a very high anxiety moment. I know that any person who’s been standing there, where you’re the last two standing, it’s probably the most nerve-racking position to be in. Terrence J had probably a 45 minute pause after he said, “Miss USA 2016 is…” I swear I was waiting there for about 45 minutes before he said, “District of Columbia.”

PM: We know he wasn’t supposed to say “Columbia.”
DB: He wasn’t. He should have just said, “DC.”

PM: You’re in a unique position that you’re a service person representing our country. What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing our veterans today?
DB: The biggest challenge is absolutely PTSD [Posttraumatic Stress Disorder], and it’s a platform that I want to discuss throughout my reign this year. I definitely want to bring awareness. It’s been a topic that I’ve interacted with a lot in terms of the soldiers that I’ve had to take care of. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide each and every day, so I hope that one day that number will become zero. Right now my platform absolutely has been focused on PTSD awareness.
I’m also going to be pushing breast and ovarian cancer awareness, which is something that the Miss Universe Organization has already established as their platform, so I’ll be doing that, and also PTSD awareness.

PM: You’re in the reserves. Can you tell us, our readers, our listeners, what responsibilities you actually have as a quartermaster?
DB: Quartermasters, we supply everything. It can be different within each branch. The quartermaster covers supply, fuel, water, and mortuary affairs. There’re a couple other ones, but those are the main four elements that quartermaster covers. Personally, I’m in the fuel element of the quartermaster branch, so my unit is focused primarily on testing and approving fuel.

PM: Have you heard from anyone in your unit, and if so, what has been their reaction?
DB: I’ve heard from all my soldiers. I’m a commander right now, so all the soldiers that work under me have reached out to me and they’ve been outrageously supportive. Out of 150 phone calls, probably 125 were my soldiers blowing up my phone. They all watched the competition. They actually went to annual training in Fort Bragg, North Carolina not too long ago, and they said that a lot of people were walking up to them saying, “Oh my god, your commander is Miss USA, right?” They were getting special treatment and all these great things, so I’m glad that they’ve been so supportive up to this point. I look forward to showing all the soldiers, and really everyone that I’m able to inspire… pushing them to chase their dreams and not limit them because of their occupation.

PM: I was extremely impressed, especially so early in your year, that you were able to attend the Army Ball as Miss USA.
DB: Yes. It worked out perfectly. Actually, as soon as I got there, we started doing photos with everyone, and literally, I was doing photos for probably around five and a half hours of the seven hours that I was there. So many people at the Army Ball wanted to take pictures with me. It was just awesome to see all the support. Each soldier would walk up to me and say, “Oh my gosh, you’re such an inspiration,” and I would say, “You know what? You’re an inspiration. You are the reason why I’m standing here.” It’s great to show a different side of our service members, and it’s great to show them our appreciation, so being there was nothing less than an honor.

PM: You’re now officially recognized as Miss USA. Define confidently beautiful.
DB: It means the same as what I said onstage. It’s earning respect, regardless of what you look like. It’s recognizing that it’s about what’s on the inside. Confidently beautiful, to me, is always being confident in who you are, always understanding that you have to grow, always understanding that no matter what people think about you, you always stand very confident in who you are, and nothing about that is going to change.

PM: At this moment, what does that crown represent to you?
DB: That crown represents change. It represents awareness. It represents women of all backgrounds. It means so much to me to be able to say that I’m Miss USA 2016, and there’re so many elements to what I bring to my reign this year. I definitely hope, no matter what happens throughout the year, that the main thing that I push is to chase your dreams, and that crown to me represents a dream come true. It represents a possibility.

PM: Your new home base will be New York. Have you had an opportunity to meet your sister queens?
DB: Yes. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Pia, and I did meet Katherine, but it was prior to me being crowned Miss USA. I haven’t had the opportunity to really chat it up with her after my crowning, but Pia and I have had a couple of long conversations. We flew on the same private jet from Las Vegas to New York after I was crowned. She and I had the chance to really bond. We’ve only had maybe two or three opportunities to really sit down and chat. She’s so relaxed, and I like that because I’m a very relaxed person. She’s 26 and I’m 26, so on a maturity level, we definitely easily match up perfectly. She and I had a chance to really talk about the competition, and she was actually able to give me advice on Miss Universe, as well.

PM: Is there anyone that you would like to acknowledge?
DB: There’re so many people. My mother is one of my biggest support systems. She has been on board with pageantry since the day I first started, so my mom is someone I want to give a shout out to. My sister, both of my sisters, both of my brothers, my father… and my stepmother has been very, very, very involved. She actually conducted my send-off party for me.

Both of my sororities, Sigma Gamma Sorority Incorporated and the National Society of Pershing Angels Sorority Incorporated. They were a huge support system for me, as well.
My director, Carla Crawford, and the whole Miss DC USA team back in DC… they’re all amazing… Natasha and Kevin. My team has been a huge support system. Dylan Murphy with DC Teen USA, I can’t wait to see her compete with Miss Teen USA next month. I know she’s going to do awesome. She was sending me a lot of words of encouragement while I was at the competition, so a huge thank you to her. And I had an interview coach, a fitness coach, a walking coach, and a whole bunch of coaches, so that’s in a nutshell who I’d like to thank.