Mississippi's Asya Branch Wins Miss USA 2020
The competition aired live from Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, where organizers said they took precautions to keep people safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Better late than never! Months after the competition was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Miss Mississippi USA Asya Branch has been crowned Miss USA 2020.
Branch, 22, was awarded the coveted title on Monday in a competition that aired live from Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. She was crowned by her predecessor, Miss USA 2019 Chelsie Kryst.
Placing second runner-up was Miss Oklahoma USA Mariah Jane Davis, and just ahead of her was first runner-up, Miss Idaho USA Kim Layne.
Branch was the first African American to be named Miss Mississippi USA and comes from Booneville.
Prior to her win on Monday night, Branch shared her take on gun laws in her final statement.
"We should require people to pass training and safety classes" before attaining guns, she said.
This year’s winner was chosen by a selection committee that included Fox Nation host Abby Hornacek, entrepreneur Gloria Mayfield Banks, sports reporter and Miss USA 1999 Kimberly Pressler, businesswoman Susan Yara, Miss USA 2000 Lynnette Cole and Carolyn Aronson, CEO of It's a 10 Haircare and Be A 10 Cosmetics.
The night’s festivities — which were originally slated for spring, but got postponed due to COVID-19 — were hosted by sports reporter and Miss Teen USA 2005 Allie LaForce and American Ninja Warrior co-host Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, a former professional football player.
The competition also included a virtual performance by American Idol alum Haley Reinhart.
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With the crown now sitting pretty atop her head, Branch will move to New York City to represent the Miss USA brand and various philanthropic organizations, just as Kryst did before her.
“Being Miss USA has afforded me the opportunity to be an advocate for issues that deserve attention, including criminal justice reform and racial inequality,” Kryst said in a statement. “I am proud to continue the legacy of national titleholders who speak up and encourage change, and I look forward to supporting the next Miss USA and Miss Teen USA in doing the same.”
In August, PEOPLE exclusively reported that the show would go on in front of a live studio audience with a "significantly reduced" capacity and follow local safety guidelines. A spokesperson previously said "we are planning for all staff, contestants and crew to be tested before leaving for Memphis, and tested again when they arrive on site."
"We will also be conducting health screenings before every event, social distancing as much as possible and using working groups to keep the number of interactions low, all under the guidance of medical professionals," the spokesperson added. "Additionally, audience capacity will be significantly reduced, in accordance with local protocols."
To date, Tennessee has faced at least 287,770 COVID-19 cases and 3,610 deaths, according to the state's Department of Health. Shelby County, where Memphis is located, has had at least 40,577 COVID-19 cases and 588 deaths, the Department of Health reported.
Miss USA 2020 aired live on FYI.
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