MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Guesthouse at Graceland is hosting dozens of ladies vying to be the next Miss USA and Miss Teen USA; however, the competition will look very different amid the pandemic.
“I’m grateful all around that it’s just happening because it could have been canceled, it could have been postponed to next year, so I’m grateful that we were able to make it happen,” Asya Branch, Miss Mississippi USA, said.
Branch, an Ole Miss Grad from Booneville, says Mississippi has competed in several competitions but says this has been a unique experience.
“It’s hard because we’re so used to socializing with all the girls and getting to know them, but we’re kept in groups with our “host mom” so we only get to see a few girls regularly, and we don’t get to interact with everybody like we normally would,” Branch said.
According to officials with the Miss Universe Organization, they created a “bubble-like” atmosphere on Graceland’s campus. Each participant had to get tested for COVID before leaving their state and upon arrival. They also had to be quarantined for 12 hours while awaiting test results.
“COVID has definitely made it all much different, but I understand it -- if you’re going to have a live event, you’ve got to make sure that you’re safe and that you don’t put anyone at risk,” Branch said.
The audience will also be limited to about 300 people.
They, along with production staff members must wear a mask at all times.
Contestants will not have to wear a mask while competing.
The competition will also put Memphis on a nationally televised stage, something Kevin Kane with Memphis Tourism says will be great for the economy.
“We’re very excited about it. We’ve got two pageants going on, they’re televised - they get a lot of hype, a lot of exposure - it’s great for Memphis,” Kane said.
Kane says the Bluff City is expecting about 1,000 people including the 102 pageant participants.
While most of the weekend’s events are on Graceland’s campus, contestants were able to explore Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum this week before the competition begins.
“Memphis has been so sweet, all of the staff here at the guest house at Graceland have been so accommodating and nice,” Branch said.
Kane says we’ll have to wait until after the competition to see how the pageant impacted Memphis' economy, but he says he’s proud the country gets a front row seat at how to do a large event safely amid the pandemic.
“Everybody is so concerned as they should be about doing things the right way and the safe way - and we’re doing things the right way and the safe way during this pageant and obviously being on national television is going to show what Memphis' capabilities are,” Kane said.
Asya Branch made history as the first African American woman to become Miss Mississippi USA, and she hopes to make history again by being the first Miss Mississippi to win the Miss USA pageant.
“Mississippi has never won the Miss USA title, so hopefully I can make history twice this year, that’s the goal but I’m just truly PUMPED to get on the stage tonight,” Branch said.
Miss USA will air live on FYI™ Monday, Nov. 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. CST.
Miss Teen USA will stream live on the Miss Universe Organization social channels Saturday, Nov. 7 from 8 to 10 p.m. CST.