I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Nana Meriwether, aka Miss USA, and Olivia Culpo, aka Miss Universe! Miss Meriwether is originally from Maryland and is a two-time All-American athlete who captained the UCLA volleyball team. She graduated from UCLA and went on to complete pre-med studies at USC. She was actually born in South Africa, and she now runs the Meriwether Foundation which helps serve five impoverished South African nations. Meanwhile, Miss Culpo is originally from Rhode Island and was the first Miss USA in 15 years to win Miss Universe! In addition to being Miss Universe, Miss Culpo serves as a spokeswoman for numerous HIV/AIDS Awareness as well as YouthAIDS PSI.
Miss Meriwether and Miss Culpo chatted with me about what it was like to win the coveted crown, what their secret talents are, and, most importantly, their favorite ice cream flavor!
YH: Question for Miss USA: Tell us what it was like to be crowned Miss USA, and what that process was like?
USA: In order to become Miss USA, you actually have to win your state first, and it took me about six years to win my state. Olivia actually won on her first try, while it took me quite a while to win. It took a lot of perseverance on my part, and I got a lot of negative feedback and questions, such as “Why are you still doing this?” I wanted to win because you are given so many opportunities with the title. After I won my state, I went on to Miss USA, which was held last June. You actually live in the host city for three weeks, and you live with all of the other states. That’s 50 girls, all going to events and rehearsing. It was at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas this year, and they literally reserved a whole floor for us! There is security at the elevators, no one can come up (nor can you leave), and for three weeks you really get to know the girls. By the end, I was first runner-up (second place). And then, Olivia won Miss Universe in December. Miss USA hasn't won Miss Universe in 15 years, so that was a really great accomplishment. I then ascended up to become Miss USA. I got a really unique crowning. It was held at Trump Tower. Mr. [Donald] Trump held a big press conference for me. I don’t think that any other Miss USAs have been crowned by Mr. Trump!
YH: Question for Miss USA: You grew up in rural villages in South Africa, and you now run a non-profit helping impoverished South African nations. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up, and how you came to create your non-profit?
USA: My mom was born and raised in South Africa. Her upbringing was very violent because it was during Apartheid, and as a woman and a woman of race, there was not much opportunity for her. However, she was able to come to the USA and has an MBA, as well as a law degree -- she is now a lawyer. She’s a really big inspiration to me. She eventually met my dad, who is a doctor, and they got married. They moved back to South Africa, and they were originally only going to be there for a year. They were going to do a lot of community work in a small rural town, which is where I ended up being born. They were helping out the village while there was a war going on in Mozambique, so they were able to help a lot of the refugees who came over. My mom and dad helped over half a million people during that time, and they ended up being there for eight years. I was there until I was three. I think it was a blessing being born into that kind of lifestyle and giving back. I can understand three languages. My mom actually speaks nine! I was actually raised in the D.C. area, but I still go back and forth. I help out with a non-profit called the Meriwether Foundation that is based off of the work my parents did in the 1980s. We’ve opened schools, clinics, agricultural/water projects, and HIV/AIDS education centers. We are actually in five different countries. It’s something that I will do for the rest of my life, and it’s something that my children will do -- it's such a part of me.
YH: Question for Miss Universe: What was it like competing in Miss Universe? How does the process for becoming Miss Universe work?
UNIVERSE: Competing was a challenge, and I was really excited to be in an environment with so many different girls. I knew that I could learn from it, and that was the most important thing to me. The process to become Miss Universe (from America) works in that you represent your state first, then your country -- which, in this case, would be Miss USA -- and then you enter as the representative for Miss USA in the Miss Universe pageant. And to be the first Miss USA to be crowned Miss Universe in 15 years felt like a blessing. I couldn’t believe that it finally happened! And to me!
YH: Question for Miss Universe: I noticed that you do a lot of charity work for AIDS foundations (HIV/AIDS awareness). What inspired you to become involved with these organizations? And how will being Miss Universe help you to continue to do this?
UNIVERSE: Thankfully the organization has a lot of connections with a lot of AIDS prevention awareness non-profits. The title will help me to reach a greater audience. I will also be doing a lot of work with Breast Cancer Awareness.
YH: Question for Miss Universe: You have mentioned that you are interested in pursing a career in entertainment. Could you elaborate on that?
UNIVERSE: I really have no idea at this point. I’m so new to this whole industry. I'm only 20 years old and I still have 2 more years of college. I’ve had so much happen to me in such a short amount of time that I really have to step back and see what I’d like to do. I want to take it one step at a time. I really have no idea what will happen -- we’ll have to wait and see! [laughs]
YH: Question for Miss Universe: Olivia, during your interview you mentioned that you regretted picking on your siblings growing up. Could you elaborate on that?
UNIVERSE: That was actually my safe answer for what I regretted most. [laughs]I’m the middle child of five, and I actually grew up in a very full household! I have an older brother and an older sister, and a younger brother and a younger sister. It was fun growing up, but a little crazy.
YH: Question for both: Many pageants are known for having a talent section, while the Miss USA pageant does not. If the Miss USA did have a talent section, what would you have done as your talent?
USA: I don't really have a secret talent -- that’s why I chose Miss USA! [laughs]But I played volleyball in college, so maybe it could be me playing volleyball on stage.
UNIVERSE: The cello. I would have definitely played the cello. I've been playing the cello since I was eight years old. My family is all very musical. My dad began his career playing the trumpet, all of my siblings play instruments, my mom too. Music was a really big part of my upbringing, and it’s still a really big part of me.
YH: Question for Miss USA: You are one smart lady! (Having attended UCLA and USC and taking both the LSATs and MCATs) Have you decided on a particular career to pursue?
USA: I actually went to Duke first; my dad was the first African-American to go to Duke. I didn’t really care for it, so I transferred to UCLA where I played volleyball. I actually trained for volleyball for the Olympics. After I got my Bachelor’s, I decided to return to school and I was accepted into USC. And it’s funny, because USC and UCLA are rivals. I really have a background in medicine -- the program incorporated Biology and Chemistry. I actually took the LSATs right after college; I thought that I was going to be like my mom and become a lawyer. I can now apply to medical school, as I have all of the prerequisites. But then Miss USA hit, so I am just going to see where this journey takes me. I can always pursue school, but I’m discovering that there are a lot of opportunities in entertainment. But I do have a deep love for medicine.
YH: Question for both: What is your favorite ice cream?
USA: Cookies and cream with whip cream on top! It’s so good -- I want that right now!
UNIVERSE: I really love ice cream, but I really love mint chocolate chip. That’s my favorite!