Miss USA, a Charlotte lawyer, places top 10 in Miss Universe title

Miss USA, a Charlotte lawyer, places top 10 in Miss Universe title
Miss USA Cheslie Kryst visits WBTV studio. (Source: Matt Chandler | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Christina Bolling/Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte lawyer Cheslie Kryst, the reigning Miss USA, was edged out of the Miss Universe pageant during the competition Sunday night.

Kryst made it to the Top 10 in the 90-woman contest, but was knocked out of the Top Five. The winner was Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa.

The three-hour show aired live from the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

Kryst earned huge applause each time she was announced during the program, and she both cracked jokes and made poignant statements when she was given the mic.

“I almost failed kindergarten. I was such a quiet child, my teachers didn’t know if I was ready for first grade,” she told the crowd. “I have since found my voice.

“No matter where you start, the possibilities for your future are limited only by the depth of your own imagination.”

Early in the evening, emcee Steve Harvey asked her for advice on hosting, and Kryst drew laughs with her answer. (Kryst has become a correspondent for Extra TV since moving to New York to become Miss USA.)

“I pin my hair back so it’s out of my face, but I don’t think you’ll have that problem,” she told the really bald Harvey.


Until her Miss USA win last spring, Kryst, 28, was a civil litigation attorney with the uptown Charlotte firm Poyner Spruill. (Among her clients was Miss America, Nia Franklin, whom she helped with contracts.) Kryst’s passion for fashion and for helping career women dress professionally led her to create a fashion blog, White Collar Glam.

She was raised and educated in the Carolinas: She graduated from Fort Mill High School in South Carolina, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, and law and MBA degrees from Wake Forest University.

And while it seems like her high-heeled ascent up the pageant ladder was swift — she was crowned Miss N.C. USA in November 2018 and won Miss USA on May 2, 2019 — it actually took grit to keep herself on the path to pageant glory.

Kryst tried four times to take home a title as Miss North Carolina — twice in the Miss USA system, and twice in the Miss America system.

All four times, Kryst landed as a top 10 finalist, and getting so close made her even more determined to keep competing, she said. Finally, last November, she was awarded the Miss NC USA honor.


Pageantry is in her bloodline: her mom, April Simpkins, was Mrs. North Carolina US in 2002.

Since becoming Miss USA, Kryst has forged a new career in TV. In October, she was hired as a correspondent for “Extra TV,” splitting time between her Miss USA duties and performing red-carpet interviews with celebrities including Tom Hanks and Lizzo.

Kryst would have been the first Miss Universe to hail from North Carolina.

The closest the crown has come to Charlotte was in 1980, when Shawn Weatherly of Sumter, S.C., was named Miss Universe. (Weatherly became an actress who appeared in “Police Academy 3: Back in Training” and the first season of the TV show “Baywatch.”)

The last woman from the United States to win Miss Universe was Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island, who wore the sash in 2012. She’s now a supermodel and fashion influencer with a North Carolina tie — she’s been romantically linked to Carolina Panther running back Christian McCaffrey since May.