What Makes Texas “Texas”? • Pageantry

Say what you will, the traditional notions of gentility and feminine grace are still appreciated and practiced in many places. Not just in Texas, but all over the South. And, while we’re not here to debate the relative merits of pageant systems in the modern, progressive world, we cannot deny the significant impact of Texas style on major pageant programs.

As it stands, southern states have always made good showings in national pageants, partly due to those feminine notions, but also because, with agriculture being so much a part of the… ahem… culture, there have always been plenty of harvests needing a Queen to help celebrate local prosperity.

Texas can be proud of its record in the Miss America and Miss USA contests over the years. The first Miss Texas to become Miss America was Jo-Carroll Dennison (below) in 1942; she did a vocal and dance to “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Jo-Carroll was also the first wartime Miss America; she traveled to visit defense plants, hospitals, and service camps, and sold war bonds. She later moved to California and signed with 20th Century Fox and became a successful actor. She was followed, at the national level, by Phyllis George in 1971, who played the piano. Phyllis  went on to be a CBS sportscaster and first lady of Kentucky. 

Texas last won the America crown in 1974, when Shirley Cothran played the flute for the win. 

Since 1937, there have been 18 other bright young ladies who emerged as top ten finalists on Miss America’s big stage. But… 


 Texas held its own for many years in the Miss USA pageant, and in 1977, Kimberly Tomes of Houston brought home the Miss USA crown. Then, in the mid-1980s, things really clicked. When Texas won Miss USA five times in a row; all five times landing in the top ten at Miss Universe, it seemed as though the state beauties might have discovered a secret. Just six years later, a Texan won it all; 1995’s Miss Texas USA, Chelsi Smith, became Miss Universe. To date, Texas has earned the Miss USA crown nine times. 


Some may argue that Texas, like New York and California, has tens of millions of residents, so, naturally, they have a larger pool of talent from which well-prepared contestants can emerge. But, even with many to choose from, there is no doubting the hard work and preparedness of every contestant and preliminary winner across the state. 

One such special lady is Brittany Tiner Deck, who was Miss Texas Teen USA 2002 and Miss Dallas USA 2010. Today, she lives in Round Rock, is enjoying a very successful career in finance, and is married with two beautiful children. 

Brittany explains that perhaps it is a lot about numbers, but only in the sense that Texas girls know they have to work harder for it. “It is statistically significant that national titles are won among approximately 51 contestants, and most Miss Texas winners will have already outscored more than 100 preliminary contestants to earn their state titles. Even at the first level, large pageants like Miss Houston USA often open with more than 200 contestants.”

Compare these numbers to smaller states like Hawaii and the District of Columbia; contestants there have better odds of winning a local crown but also, like less dense states like Wyoming or Alaska, they have a lower chance of being the best on the national stage. 

Brittany explains, “Fortunately, for ladies in the larger Texas pageants, the winner gets to go on to compete for Miss Texas, but the runners-up are also awarded ‘sister’ crowns, and invited to compete at the state level as well. For example, if the Miss Georgetown USA preliminary had 200 contestants, the four runners-up would also compete at the state level, under the Georgetown banner, as Miss Williamson County, or Miss Hill Country. This kind of participation is what has made Texas revered in the system as a top five contender every year.”

She adds that whenever she visits the Miss USA pageant, everyone is always looking at Miss Texas before the show even starts. Proof? When Brittany was at orientation for Miss USA Teen, the directors asked her to stand up, and told the assembled state winners, “We want our winner to talk and walk and look like Texas.” 

Still, after Texas’ run in the 1980s, competition in preliminaries was fierce. Some serious competitors applied to out-of-state colleges, or moved to other states where fewer preliminaries meant better chances of making it to the national stages and winning awards. Many of those ultra-dedicated and hardworking Texans gracefully walked away with other states’ crowns. Regardless of geography, many women still see the potential for career and life skills, and dedicate their time to honing their talents for the chance to pay for college, evolve in their adult identities, and have a voice as an advocate. 


As a top competitor for several years, Brittany shared insights about contestant commitment. “Texas is about football, but for women, it is pageants. And it is not just about ‘pretty princess.’ I really had no idea what I was winning at the time, but it is so much more than a title or a sash and my life is different because of it. Like many other Texas women, I dedicated a year of my life to the job, and it is no different than an athlete training to make a team, or elevate to the next level of play. I learned how to interview for any job, work with high-intensity people, and handle myself with poise in any situation. It’s not just something we say on stage, it’s about being well-rounded and, given the chance, I would do it all again.”  

Among the benefits of being a Texas winner is the prize package. Once crowned, the winner’s team includes an interview coach, nutritionist, physical trainer, stylist, makeup artist, and a photographer. These teams are known to be the best in the industry, and it shows in the finalist lineups. Many winners from other states come here to recruit Texas experts in everything from coaching to styling. “We keep the best for ourselves,” Brittany says, “and the other vendors may go out of state to work. But we are truly the benchmark because everything will always be bigger and better in Texas.” 

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