MANCHESTER, NH – In less than two weeks Alexis “Lexi” Chinn will take center stage, along with women from around the country, all selected to represent their home state in the Miss USA pageant, precursor to the Miss Universe Pageant.
Chinn, who lives, works and goes to school in Manchester after growing up on the West Coast, has a chance to be the first Miss New Hampshire to win the title. Over the history of the pageant, New Hampshire has had four contestants place in the top 15 – Vanessa Bissanti in 2004, Eva Dyer in 1980, and Sandralee Kay in 1967 – with one contestant, Bridget Vezina, achieving first runner-up in 2000.
At 5-foot-11 without heels and her megawatt smile, Chinn is a natural, although she says her experience in the world of pageantry for the most part was in the wings, as a “little sister.”
“I would shadow the girls in the pageants and go to parades, and we’d get to go on stage,” says Chinn, “it was a way of dipping your toe in the pageant system.”
Ten years later, she’s on her way to the big stage, which has been set for May 2 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada. The pageant will be televised on FOX, with Nick and Vanessa Lachey as hosts, and Carson Kressley and Lu Sierra as commentators.
At 22, Chinn is currently attending Southern NH University as a biology major. One thing that differentiates Miss USA from Miss America is that Miss USA is not a scholarship pageant. Instead, winners move to New York City and their prize package includes modeling contracts and other related perks.
In high school Chinn ran track and played soccer, and then moved to New York City at 18 to pursue a modeling career while attending St. John’s University. Chinn decided to take two “gap years” from school to save up money to pay for her education. She made the move to New Hampshire and enrolled at SNHU, and began working at Ignite Bar & Grill – she took Saturday off to pack and, and flew out to join the other contestants April 21.
“So many things have happened in last few years, and since I hadn’t competed before, I wanted to make sure I was 110 percent vested in the process. This past year I felt like my best self, and while there’s so much mental preparation for stepping on that stage, I feel ready,” says Chinn.
Among those who will be rooting for Chinn are Joede Brown of Manchester and her teenage daughter, who had a chance encounter with Chinn at the mall back in February.
“We were shopping and it was her hair that caught our attention. My daughter has a big puff, but Lexi’s is bigger. It is beautiful, and amazing, and so I struck up a conversation with her,” says Brown.
“We got to talking and when she told us she was Miss New Hampshire I was floored. I never anticipated for Miss New Hampshire to be black, but she was so gracious. We took a photo with her and we’re so excited for her to succeed,” Brown says.
In addition to her beautiful natural hair, Brown was also impressed with Chinn’s overall poise. She learned that Chinn’s platform for the pageant is domestic violence within teen dating, and that she aspires to be a neonatal cardiologist.
“I don’t know how I’m going to watch [the pageant] because I don’t have a TV, but I will find a way to watch it,” says Brown, who admits she’s never been interested in the pageant world before.
Chinn says If she should win the Miss USA crown she’ll relocate to New York City as home base, but will be present in New Hampshire to do a lot of community events, and continue to lend her voice to the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, an organization she volunteers with.
“In my life I’ve gone through so many different obstacles, moving across the country for school and taking risks,” Chinn says. “I’m not afraid of the future. It sounds a little intimidating to move to New York City and be without friends or family, but for me it will be another chapter, and ultimately, completing a goal that not many girls can say they have done before.”
Also off to Reno is Jadyn McDonough, 19, of Bedford, who will compete on April 28 as Miss Teen NH. McDonough is a freshman at the University of South Carolina and is double majoring in finance and risk management with a minor in aerospace. If chosen to be Miss Teen USA, McDonough says she hopes to use her reign to encourage young people to volunteer. The Miss Teen USA pageant will be streaming live at 8 p.m. via missteenusa.com.