Elise Stein Hopes To Become The First Woman Of Color In Miss America History To Be Crowned Miss Tennessee

For those of you old enough to remember, it was Sept. 18, 1983 when Vanessa Williams, a college student at Syracuse University bested 50 other contestants to become the first black woman to win the pageant. Even more significant was the fact that the first runner up and eventual Miss America herself, was another 20-year-old black woman named Suzette Charles. They were not the first black contestants to compete in the national pageant. That historical distinction is given to Cheryl Brown who was Miss Iowa 1970.

Since the historic crowning of Williams, seven other black women and one Asian woman have won the Miss America crown. However the Miss America Organization has never crowned a woman of color in the Miss Tennessee Pageant. Elise Stein's goal is to become this very first woman - "Young girls of color need a role model in the community, and I'm most certainly someone they can look up to. I want to break the stereotype of what Miss Tennessee typically looks like — a blonde or brunette, with blue eyes" - she explained.

To be Miss Tennessee Elise thinks you must be very tenacious - "It takes daily and weekly effort. You have push yourself to be on a regimented schedule: eating healthy, going to the gym every morning at 6 a.m., volunteering in your community and working on yourself and platform. To say the least, it’s a job, but it’s worth it."

If she wins the title Elise Stein will have the opportunity to represent her state in the prestigious Miss America Contest later this year. Did you know ? The state has won the crown 2 times; in 1947 with Barbara Jo Walker and in 1987 with Kellye Cash.

What inspired you to walk on the course of beauty pageants?

I was inspired by the enormous out reach you gain in the community. The outreach I could have to talk about my platform really inspired me the most. When I was a sophomore in high school (I’m now a sophomore in college), I created and implemented the first anti-bullying organization at my school. I knew winning a title would help me reach more people to talk about my platform. I now work with the Move 2 Stand organization, an anti-bullying nonprofit, where I travel across the state of Tennessee talking to student about bullying. I’m now the Nashville brand ambassador of the International Bullying Prevention Association.

I believe having a title has helped me accomplish some of the things I have done. I really love that I can talk to students about bullying, an issue I have personally been affected by. Did you know nine out of 10 students will experience bullying in their lifetime? Well I knew I never wanted anyone to ever feel the way I once felt. That's why I started an anti-bullying organization at my former high school.

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Photo by Sheri Angeles. Hair and Makeup by Madison H Dennis

Tell me something about yourself and your work. What do you actually do, and have done in the past?

A fun fact about me is I’m currently a Sonic carhop. I’ve worked with SONIC Drive-In  for four years now —and no I don’t skate (laughing). I tried once, and I almost fell. It’s never happening again. I also model for the Block Agency. I was featured in Luke Bryan’s Light it Up music video and in a CMA 2017 promo video with Brad Paisley. I most recently, did some promo stuff for Jason Aldean, where the video will be played on HD screens during his concerts. A lot of the time, I feel like Cinderella at the ball when I do modeling, and then I get up the next day and go back to work at Sonic and then — poof! I’m back to reality. It’s a very humbling experience, but I’m just grateful to have a job. I also work with Move 2 Stand, an anti-bullying nonprofit, where I travel across the state of Tennessee talking to student about bullying. 


Photo by Sheri Angeles. Hair and Makeup by Madison H Dennis

Many misses have said that their dream since a child was to participate in a pageant as prestigious as Miss World (or Miss Universe). It this your case ? And if so, why ?

When I was younger I would always watch Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe. I always wanted to be one of the girls walking across the stage with the confidence and determination to win the crown.  I love both pageant systems and a chance to win either one has always been a dream of mine.

Social media seem to play a major role in pageantry nowadays. Do you think this is advantageous to you? Why or why not? 

As a journalism major with a concentration in public relations, social media is one of the key elements to my success. There are, of course, pros and cons. As the Nashville brand ambassador for the International Bullying Prevention Association, I know that nine out of 10 students will experience cyberbullying in their lifetime. However, I believe it’s all in the way you use social media. For someone like me, I love social media because it allows me to show the world the good I’m doing in my community. Hopefully, if other people see the good I’m doing then they will be inspired to do something inspiring as well.



Photos by Sheri Angeles. Hair and Makeup by Madison H Dennis

Did you face any moment of disappointment with yourself during the pageant journey, and how did you overcome it?

Every time you don’t win, of course, there’s disappointment, but it’s all about how you overcome it.  The worst thing you can do is give up on yourself. It’s all about self growth and improving yourself to be the best version of yourself you can be. One of the things I always love to say out loud to encourage myself is, “No one is better at being me, than me.” There is only one me, and God made me in his image. Knowing that I don’t have to worry about other contestants, I have to worry about being the person God created me to be. That’s what keeps me going, and why I never give up.


What would you advise any young girl out there who has a dream of being a queen one day?

My advise would be to never give up. It’s so easy to be discouraged by not winning on your first, second or even third try. The most important thing is to always believe in yourself, stand up for you believe in and never default to societies’ standards. 


Photo by Lindsey Allen. Hair and Makeup by Julie Garcia

Who is your ideal beauty queen and why?

My image of the ideal beauty queen is someone who is confident and acts with integrity in every situation they encounter. My ideal beauty queen is someone who never defaults to what society is telling them they should be. My ideal beauty queen is someone who moves to stand for what they believe in and advocates for what they believe in.


Photo by Krisna Goodwin (Goodwin Photography). Hair and Makeup by Sherri Jessee

Thanks to the beautiful Elise for the interview. Pageants News wishes you all the very best for Miss Tennessee pageant.