Kaliegh Garris Crowned Miss Teen USA 2019 While Wearing Her Natural Curls

The 18-year-old Connecticut native says she feels "more confident" rocking her natural hair

There’s a new crown in town!

Kaliegh Garris was crowned Miss Teen USA on Sunday, winning out over runner-up Miss North Dakota Kaitlyn Vogel. The 18-year-old Connecticut native showed off her natural curls as she tearfully accepted the crown.

Garris, who took home the title for Miss Connecticut Teen USA in January, held hands and swapped encouraging smiles with Vogel as they waited for the winner to be announced. When Miss Connecticut was named, the new pageant queen turned around in disbelief and cheered, holding her face in her hands and crying before jumping up and down in delight.

Garris’ hands shook as she accepted her sash and crown, which was placed atop her voluminous curls before she took her first walk as the official Miss Teen USA.

Kaliegh Garris Miss Teen USA
Miss Teen USA

In an interview with Refinery29, Garris said that she prepped her hair herself before the competition.

“The night before, I finger curled every single piece of my hair in the shower, which led to a very long shower, but it was for the greater good,” she shared. “I know what I look like with straight hair, with extensions, and with my curly hair, and I feel more confident and comfortable with my natural hair.”

According to the Miss Universe Organization, Garris attends two high schools: the Joseph A. Foran High School in Milford, Connecticut, and the Educational Center for the Arts, where she specializes in theater.

Also a competitive dancer, Garris founded the We Are People 1st initiative, which honors her older sister Chauntel, who has “multiple disabilities,” Garris shared in an Instagram post announcing the launch in February. The movement aims to educate youth “on how to respectfully discuss/speak to people with a health issue or disability,” in addition to combatting stigmas associated with disabilities.

Garris currently volunteers at Yale New Haven Hospital, and is set to enroll in Southern Connecticut State University’s nursing program to pursue her dream of becoming a trauma nurse, according to The New Haven Register.

Garris has worn her hair natural throughout the various stages of the regional and national Miss USA pageants, occasionally sweeping her tight curls into an updo. But she hasn’t always kept it curly — previously, she’d experimented with her look, as seen in photos on her Instagram account from 2016 and 2017, featuring longer locks that had been straightened or gently waved.

After taking home the crown, Garris expressed her shock and gratitude in a video shared by Miss USA and Miss Teen USA’s Twitter account.

“I’m like, Miss Teen USA,” she marveled as she walked off stage. “I’m Miss Teen USA. I am Miss Teen USA 2019,” she repeated.

While getting her makeup touched up backstage, she said, “I am doing great … it’s crazy because you know you have self-doubt during the competition, because there are so many great people,” she admitted. She went on to thank her family and fans, saying, “I am just so happy with the support system that I have — thank you!”

When asked in the video how she liked her new crown, she replied, “I love it!”

“Can you believe it?” the interviewer asked.

“Yeah,” she said before pausing and laughing. “No, I can’t,” she added, beaming. “Actually I cannot!”

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