Ellen "Elle" Smith is a woman with a plan. The 23-year-old journalist made history last month as the first Black woman to win Miss USA on behalf of the state of Kentucky. A newbie to the pageantry game, Smith trusted in herself after no prior experience and took the crown as Miss Kentucky and Miss USA.

The recent University of Kentucky graduate shares with us her journey to winning Miss USA, her pageant beauty tips, and her top tips for amping up confidence.

EBONY: Congratulations on your Miss USA win! What happened the next morning after processing that you won the title? 

Elle Smith: To be completely honest, I think I am still processing. It has been such a surreal experience. The morning after I won, I remember seeing the sash and crown by my bed and just thinking, “God is so good.” It is an honor to represent the USA on the international stage—even if I didn't win the Miss Universe title. 

Many people may not realize that there are a series of more local pageants that those who compete for Miss USA have to participate in before being eligible for Miss USA. What's your history with pageant life? 

In the pageant world, I am considered a "newbie." I had no previous experience before competing for Miss Kentucky USA. I was fortunate to win my state title and then win Miss USA. My journey has been short in length but long in regards to preparation. I don't believe the general public has enough knowledge of how much preparation, drive, and time is invested in competing. There are long hours of interview preparation, walking preparation, physical training, and a lot of meetings. In addition to this, I was holding down a full-time job as a reporter. 

My favorite part of the entire journey was traveling the entire state of Kentucky and meeting the diverse community. The Kentuckians welcomed me with open arms and am forever grateful for their kindness. 

What is your pageant-ready beauty routine? 

I prefer a natural look for the stage. I use Carol’s Daughter Goddess Strength Fortifying Shampoo and Conditioner in the shower. For me, I need added moisture and damage control, especially when a busy schedule means putting heat on my hair everyday. After my shower, I moisturize with SheaMoisture to keep my skin soft. For my hair, I use Carol's Daughter Coco Creme Curl Shaping Cream Gel with Coconut Oil. I love how the gel makes my curls look.

For my skincare, I always begin by cleansing my face with the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Exfoliating Cleanser. It’s a really gentle exfoliator so my skin always feels soft yet hydrated afterward. After cleansing, I follow up with The Ordinary’s hyaluronic acid. It’s really lightweight and it doesn’t leave my skin feeling sticky. Afterwards, I use the SeneGence SeneDerm DayTime Moisturizer to make sure I have a clean canvas for my makeup. 

Next, I apply a simple makeup look with SeneGence's MakeSense foundation as the base. It's perfect for the stage because it doesn’t look too heavy on my skin but gives me the full coverage I need. I always finish with a lip. I like using SeneGence LipSense. It sets and I never have to worry about reapplying.

What are your go-to tips that help you exude confidence for a big moment?

Tip 1: Look your best, so that you feel your best.

Tip 2: Dance out the nerves. I hype myself up with a Beyoncé track and then I hit the stage with boosted confidence.

Tip 3: Breathe and say a prayer.

What do you hope to accomplish with your new title of Miss USA, both in your community and nationwide?

When people hear my name, my goal is that they see a young woman who proudly represents the USA and is a role model to the younger generation. A strong female who made an effort to make everyone feel like somebody. During my title year, I will use my platform to educate and create awareness for Best Buddies, Smile Train, and a cause near and dear to my heart, cervical cancer.