The winner of the 2017 Miss Teen USA pageant is… Sophia Dominguez-Heithoff. This year’s pageant was held at Phoenix Symphony Hall in Phoenix, Arizona.
The top five contestants were Miss Oregon Vanessa Matheson, Miss Nevada Alexis Smith, Miss Indiana Paige Robinson, Miss California Jaanu Patel and Miss Missouri Sophia Dominguez-Heithoff.
In her the question round, Matheson discussed her work with Habitat for Humanity. Smith said she wants to be her own boss and create a product that helps people love the skin that they’re in. Patel has dedicated her free time to working with acid victims, inspired by her family’s own work to help victims and donate funds to charities that pay for their surgeries.
Robinson said she always starts her day with something positive, because you never know who you can help in a day. Dominguez-Heitoff talked about winning the top prize for Girl Scouts by taking on a difficult project. She lobbied lawmakers in her home state to pass legislation to help adults with developmental disabilities.
Dominguez-Heithoff is the 35th winner of the pageant, which began in 1983. The event is part of the Miss Universe Organization, and hasn’t aired on television since 2007. Instead, the pageant has been live streamed on Facebook and other platforms.
Here’s what you need to know about the winner of Miss Teen USA 2017.
1. Sophia Has a Passion for Justice & Lobbied Missouri to Pass a Law Helping Adults With Disabilities
As her Miss Universe bio notes, the 17-year-old Sophia has a passion for justice and hopes to major in political science and ethics in college. She also dreams to attend law school.
The Kansas City resident explained during the question-and-answer portion that her Girl Scouts project was lobbying the Missouri legislature to pass a law to help adults with developmental disabilities.
Sophia’s other interests include ballet, long-distance running and traveling. Now that she’s won, she plans on working with Best Buddies.
After winning the Miss Teen USA pageant, as ABC15 notes, she receives a $10,000 scholarship and a $5,000 cash reward.
The Miss USA winner is relocated to New York City, where the Miss Universe Organization is headquartered. According to the organization’s website, she’ll then work with the Miss Universe family to achieve her own objectives and goals on a national scale.
“The mission of the organization is to provide the tools which help women to be their personal best. Self-confidence is the key,” reads a statement on the site. “Every woman should have the confidence to stand up in any situation and declare, ‘I am secure and that’s what makes me beautiful!'”
Winners use their crown to help raise awareness for charitable causes. For example, last year’s winner, Karlie Hay of Texas, went to Mexico in April with Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber to visit Smile Train partners and patients. The charity provides surgeries for children born with cleft lip and palate. The charity is helping Miss Universe titleholders get involved in their global initiatives.
2. She Beat 50 Other Local Beauty Pageant Winners
The winner of the Miss Teen USA pageant has to beat 50 other teen beauty queens. The pageant also includes the winner of the Miss Teen Washington, D.C. pageant, which was won by Karis Felton.
Since Miss Teen USA began in 1983, there have only been two pageants were only 50 contestants participated. The 1988 pageant did not include Miss Teen Washington D.C. The 1992 pageant also missed Miss Teen Washington D.C. (Oddly enough, there was a Miss Teen Washington, D.C. in 1988, but there was no competition in 1992.)
The contestants in the pageant are ages 14-19. Most contestants are between 17 and 19, although this year’s Miss Teen Minnesota, Tori Trittin, is 15. Miss Teen New York Isabella Grifith and Miss Teen California Jaanu Patel are both 16.
3. Sophia Grew Up in a Military Family
Sophia is a Kansas City native and was born into a military family. She told the Mexico Ledger in 2016 that her mother served in the Air Force.
“I’ve been watching the Miss America pageant live on TV for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never competed in pageants and nobody in my family did either,” Sophia said in 2016.
This was the second Miss Teen USA pageant without the Swimsuit Competition. In June 2016, USA Today reported that the Swimsuit Competition was being replaced by an Athleisure Competition.
The decision to highlight the contestants in athleisure-wear instead of swimsuits is meant to highlight the athleticism of the contestants. Critics considered the swimsuit competition exploitative, especially since the Miss Teen USA contestants can be as young as 14.
“I have been an athlete my entire life. As a member of a softball team and a competitive dance team, I spend a lot of time in athletic wear,” Miss Teen USA 2015 Katherine Haik, who called for the elimination of the swimsuit competition, said in a statement in 2016. “This new direction for Miss Teen USA is a great way to celebrate the active lives that so many young women lead and set a strong example for our peers.”
However, the move had critics too. As The New York Post noted that Paula Miles, who oversees the Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina pageants was not happy.
“The girls are very proud of their bodies and work hard to get that way,” Miles told the Post. “We are in the South and have beaches everywhere.” However, she admitted that they will have to get used to the new activewear competition.
4. She Also Won the Second-Consecutive Miss Teen USA Competition Held in the U.S.
From 1983 until 2007, the Miss Teen USA pageant was held in venues throughout the U.S. But in 2008, the Miss Universe Organization moved the event to Atlantis Paradise Island, a resort in the Bahamas. The 2016 pageant finally brought the event back to the U.S., with The Venetian Las Vegas hosting the competition. This year’s event was hosted at the Phoenix Symphony Hall in Phoenix.
Phoenix didn’t have a long preparation time for the pageant. As The Pageant Planet notes, Phoenix was only chosen on June 28, a month before the competition started.
The site also noted that the Miss Universe Organization is making a habit of late announcements. The Miss USA 2017 pageant location was also announced a month before the event. Kára McCullough of Washington D.C. was named Miss USA 2017 in May.
5. She’s Already Thrown Out the First Pitch at a Kansas City Royals Game
Sophia threw out the Ceremonial First Pitch before a Kansas City Royals game in June 2016 on Girl Scout Day at Kauffman Stadium. Girl Scouts who sold over 300 boxes of the famous Girl Scout Cookies got two free tickets to the game and walked on the field before it started.
Sophia got the first pitch honors since she received the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive.
As the Miss Universe site explains, the winner of the Miss Teen USA pageant can take part in the Miss USA pageant, but only after her year as Miss Teen USA is over. She also still has to compete in her state title, which she will have to win her state’s Miss USA pageant.
Although Miss Teen USA winners typically go on to compete in the Miss USA state and national pageants, no Miss Teen USA winner has ever won the Miss USA crown.
When asked to give advice to the Miss Teen USA 2017 winner, Karlie Hay told Just Jared Jr., “Make every moment count! Use your title and platform to impact your community and those around you.”