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In a year where elegance, pomp and even tradition have pushed social distancing into the background, we have two local women fighting for Miss USA.
With COVID-19 approaching, it's been a strange year wearing the Miss Kentucky USA and Miss Indiana USA crowns, but nonetheless, our defending champions are still on their way to the 69th annual Miss USA 2020 competition at Graceland, Memphis.
Alexis Lete, 23, from New Albany will take the stage as Miss Indiana USA, and Lexie Iles, 24, who is from rthern Kentucky but lives in Louisville, will wear the Commonwealth crown and sash.
Before the national competition, I sat down with Miss Indiana USA and Miss Kentucky USA on Zoom to hear what it was like to wear the crown in a year without a fanfare.
I wondered what our local Miss USA contestants were up to this year when the parades, parties, school gatherings, and sporting events they normally attended were largely "canceled" sacrifices.
Lete and Iles have been wearing their individual state titles for months and rule in a world where galas have been replaced by zoom calls and yoga pants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The social events that all predecessors of Miss Kentucky USA and Miss Indiana USA traditionally attended just don't exist this year.
Lete was crowned in late vember 2019 and moved to Indianapolis to have a more central launch pad for the entire state, only to encounter social distancing three months later. Iles won Miss Kentucky on February 1, and she had less than six weeks in the role before it all closed in mid-March.
But they have dreams, goals and platforms and in the midst of this chaos they try to be socially distant role models for young women everywhere. However, you cannot cancel a reign, even if like everything else this year, it may need to be adjusted a little.
Right now they're both crouching at home so they can safely enter some sort of Miss Universe Organization bubble when they get to the show. Neither of them took any chances for the next few weeks. If they tested positive for the virus before the show, they would be disqualified.
They will fight live on stage in front of a capacity-reduced, socially distant audience for the swimsuit and evening dress competition. For the first time in the history of the parade, the interview part will be carried out digitally in advance. If either of them wins, they will be crowned Miss USA and have the opportunity to compete for the Miss Universe crown on an international level.
Miss Indiana USA Alexis Lete virtually speaks to a class in Evansville, Indiana. The native New Albanyer will take part in Miss USA 2020 in vember. (Photo: Courtesy Alexis Lete)
Such was the life of our local beauty queens preparing to represent Kentucky and Indiana on the national stage. The competition will air on vember 9th at 8pm on the FYI cable channel. and stream it live on the Miss Universe Organization social channels.
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Miss Kentucky USA Lexie Iles
Lexie Iles, an accountant for Jim Beam, currently holds the Miss Kentucky USA title. She has dedicated her term in office to educating young people about financial literacy. (Photo: Courtesy Miss Universe Organization)
Lexie Iles had been fighting for the Miss Kentucky crown for four years when she finally got the title in February.
Six weeks later, the world as we know it changed and the lifelong dream she had since childhood watching Miss USA with her mother looked very different.
She remembers quitting her job as an accountant for Jim Beam to work from home the second week of March, and thought she would be back in two weeks.
w it's seven months later.
Like many of us, Iles spent the first few months staying away from older families for fear she might infect her stepfather, who had kidney cancer a few years ago. Miss Kentucky worked from her dining room table making spreadsheets for Jim Beam, doing crafts in her free time, and keeping in touch with friends by playing Xbox. She's a self-proclaimed math and video game nerd, and that's how she largely got down to it during the pandemic.
As Kentucky's beauty queen, she attended the Twisted Pink gala in Louisville back in February, but beyond that, almost every appearance in the books fell victim to being canceled. She had been looking forward to her first Kentucky Derby with the crown, and now she would no longer be able to attend our state's signature event, or nothing at all.
She had barely got used to complete strangers approaching her, and she had a sweet moment with a young girl who made her wear her crown before anything about the pandemic became totally taboo.
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"I've never seen a bigger smile," she said, remembering the moment. "And it's those little things that I wish I could have had more of this year."
She planned to partner with Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana to promote their financial literacy platform. Iles wanted to speak directly to students about their lives, how to graduate from college debt free, and the importance of saving money. She recalls intense conversations with her mother about how scholarships and home life managed to keep bills in check and set them up while studying at rthern Kentucky Universityfor long-term success.
Lexie Iles, an accountant for Jim Beam, currently holds the Miss Kentucky USA title. She has dedicated her term in office to educating young people about financial literacy. (Photo: Edwin Shaw)
"One of my best friends graduated with $ 120,000 in student loans," she told me. "It's just crazy how much student loans there are in our country."
Hoping her crown would help other young people make smart and doable decisions about education, she started a finance blog two years ago with posts like "Loan Use and Why Does It Matter?" and "Establishing a Monthly Budget".
When she's not working with Jim Beam, however, she's building her recently launched online fashion boutique, Mag + Oak. It is a pandemic project that promotes fashionable but conservative clothing that can transition smoothly from the workplace to a social setting.
Iles always took pride in "keeping it noble," she told me.
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She was enough on TikTok to know that kids shouldn't record everything they see on it. So she tries to use her social media presence to show that you don't have to objectify and that there is more to life than just building an image.
"With my social media platforms, I try to show the younger generation that you don't have to do inappropriate things or show your body to get followers or likes," she told me. "You should be able to show your life and your accomplishments."
Miss Indiana USA Alexis Lete
Miss Indiana USA Alexis Lete always tries to have a microphone with her when attending large events. She doesn't just want to be there to take pictures. She always strives to educate or entertain people. (Photo: Courtesy Brian P Drumm)
Alexis Lete was ready to take her crown on tour, and she wanted to speak in as many IndianaHigh schools and college campuses as they could.
The native South Indian, aspiring model and actress, had just returned from performing in Los Angeles when she packed her bags and moved into an apartment in Indianapolis. She knew that if she stayed in New Albany, the bulk of her volunteer opportunities would actually be in Kentucky, and you can't be Miss Indiana in Kentucky. It just doesn't work that way.
She had an entire press kit ready for her inspirational "Break the Mold" tour as Miss Indiana USA. For Lete, apologizing to yourself is a motto.
"I never thought that I could be a model or an actress or all of these things that I am now," she told me. "People told me I couldn't do it, and often people tell young children that there is something they can't do."
Your big message to children is pretty simple.
"You can do whatever you want to do and just be nice to each other," she told me.
We live in a world where society tries to divide our talents and personalities, she told me. She played D1 volleyball for George Washington University, but she also graduated from New Albany High School as a valedictorian. Today she's performing as a stand-up comedian and now she's a beauty queen. You can't fit them in a box, and for them society must stop trying.
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Miss Indiana USA Alexis Lete had about three months in her role before it closed, and she had big plans to attend as many schools as possible. Your message to the children is very simple: "You can do whatever you want to do and just be nice to each other." (Photo: Courtesy Alexis Lete)
Lete is a newcomer to the festival world, and even with this lonely Miss Indiana competition, she's proud to be fully on the stage in vember in Memphis. That means everything – including the quirky and weird sides.
So often, people think they know what to expect depending on which hat – or now a crown – she's wearing.
Therefore, early in her reign, she always tried to have a microphone in hand when she showed up. She is never just anywhere to pose for pictures and smile, she is there to educate or entertain.
Lete has a knack for grabbing an entire room's attention and an ambition to be a game show host.
Of course, in the middle of a pandemic, commanding a room looks a little different.
That spring, she created a podcast called InPowher, interviewing women in positions of power to empower others. From her apartment, she made up stories about Christie Valdiserri, a model with a rare condition that causes baldness, and introduced her audience to an Indiana friend who is a commercial airline pilot in a largely male-dominated area. Women make up less than 10 percent of the aviation industry, according to Women in Aviation International.
That summer she even brought her mom, an assistant principal at duPont Manual High School, on the show to talk about how schools were preparing for the new normal.
Miss Indiana USA Alexis Lete started a podcast during the COVID-19 shutdown that interviewed women in positions of power, which in turn aims to empower other women. (Photo: Courtesy Alexis Lete)
In addition to the podcast, she also creates content on fitness and healthy eating on social media. In a recent episode, she's dancing around her kitchen in a chef's coat and making meatless tacos for less than $ 5. You don't need anything special, she says as she holds up some branded products and a cooking pan that she bought from Dollar Tree.
"Chef-Boy-R-Lete, that's my alter ego who's also a chef," she said, laughing at the call. "I have a mustache from one I shot last night."
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She is wildly entertaining in front of the camera, but what she enjoys most is making people feel special. t interacting with people in person was the hardest part of the reign for her.
A few weeks ago she met a young girl, probably no more than 5 years old, when she was making footage for a television show. When the little girl asked if they could race, Lete didn't hesitate and the two ran down a short piece of pavement together.
"It's little moments like this that make me really appreciate this title," she told me.
"I always think about what people are going to remember about me? They won't remember my face or how I look or how I dress, but they will remember how I made them feel and what I said . "
Columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, southern Indiana, and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and occasionally a little strange. If you have something in your family, town, or even your closet that fits this description, she wants to hear from you. Say hello at email@example.com or 502-582-7137. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieMenderski. Support strong local journalism by signing up today: courier-journal.com/maggiem.
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