Cheslie Kryst is the newly crowned Miss USA 2019.
The 28-year-old Charlottean is a civil litigation attorney who is passionate about pro bono cases that support clients with low-level drug offenses serving long-term sentences. Cheslie graduated from University of South Carolina where she was a Division I track and field athlete before getting both a JD (law degree) and MBA from Wake Forest.
Here’s how Cheslie works.
(1) What’s more nerve-wracking: litigating a major case or competing in a major pageant?
Litigating in a major case.
Obviously competing in pageants is very nerve-wracking, especially being on TV. But you’re representing yourself. If you win, that’s great. If you lose, that’s very sad, and maybe a little disappointing, but at the end of the day, it’s all about you.
But when you’re litigating a case, you’re representing somebody else. Somebody who is paying you and relying on you to represent their interests, and hopefully to get the results or the relief that they want. And that can be very scary sometimes, right? Especially when you go into a hearing and things don’t go the way that you expect, or you sit before a judge you know nothing about.
(2) How are you balancing your work as an attorney with your Miss USA duties?
I’m taking a leave of absence for a year while I serve as Miss USA. I’ve had to go on so many interviews this week. And I’ll be doing a ton of events and appearances and stuff going forward.
But I plan to return to the practice of law.
(3) How do you boost your confidence if you’re feeling not so great one day?
Everybody says, “Don’t read comments on social media.” I actually love reading comments on social media.
You know, there are some people who are unhappy, but there are also tons and tons of people on my social media who are just uplifting and encouraging.
People will send me messages and say that what I’ve done in my community inspires them to do the same. Me wearing my natural hair or wearing a particular dress or speaking in an interview motivated them to do some good. So that, for me, is incredibly helpful.
(4) Do you have any pre-pageant rituals?
Typically for interviews, I can kind of switch into attorney mode very quickly, which can be more intimidating and scary than friendly and relatable.
The person who can tear me out of that is my mom. So generally before interviews, I’ll talk to my mom. We’ll just laugh and talk and be giddy. That helps me switch from Attorney Cheslie to just, like, Regular Cheslie kickin’ back and talking to people.
(5) What’s the biggest misconception about pageants?
Many people think that women who compete in pageants are shallow, that we’re just thinking about wearing pretty clothes and showing up to be beautiful. But I think nowadays, pageantry has worked on celebrating the multi-dimensional women who compete.
This year, we had Miss Massachusetts USA, who graduated from Harvard, twice. We had Miss California USA, who worked at Google. We had Nebraska and Oklahoma who were both like me, college athletes.
The Miss Universe organization has really worked to celebrate that depth instead of just focusing on our beauty.
(6) In that moment where you were standing there waiting to hear who won the crown, what was going through your mind?
I was actually just saying a prayer.
I was saying, “God, please watch over us and whoever becomes Miss USA, please guide her steps.”
And then my mind went blank, and I waited.
(7) What happens when your name isn’t called and you aren’t the winner? What goes through your mind then?
Before I competed in the Miss Universe organization, I competed in the Miss America organization. I was first runner-up to be Miss North Carolina 2015. I know exactly what it feels like to be holding hands, waiting for them to call your name or your state, and for them to not do that.
You just go forward.
For me, I really believed that God had a plan for me. And if it wasn’t being Miss USA, then there was something else that was going to be really great, so I just tried to focus on that and I had to be excited about that.
(8) Who’s the coolest person you’ve gotten to meet since winning?
Barbara Corcoran from “Shark Tank.”
(9) Who’s one person you haven’t met yet that you’d like to?
(10) What apps can’t you live without?
I’m on Instagram all the time.
(11) What time do you go to bed and what time do you wake up?
Before the title, I would usually get sleepy around 9:45 p.m. and go to bed around 10 p.m. Then I would get up around 5 a.m.
I haven’t gotten back on that schedule yet, though. I hope to after we’re done doing our media tour.
(12) What’s your go-to outfit when you want to feel confident?
If it’s a business setting, I have this White House Black Market suit with a burgundy jacket that’s kind of long. I think it fits me really well.
If I’m going somewhere casual, probably just jeans and a black, long-sleeve turtleneck.
(13) What everyday thing are you really good at?
I’m good at dividing things up in my day and getting whatever I need done that day finished.
There’s this book called The One Thing that I read when I was getting my MBA at Wake Forest and it talks about how we all have this really long to do list and we get stressed out and don’t make it through it. But the most important thing you have to do is to think of the one thing you must get done every day. Get that thing done and you’ll be very successfully.
(14) What’s one skill they don’t teach you in high school that they should?
Balancing a checkbook. Actually, here’s a better one: how to get good credit — the real financial stuff you actually have to deal with.
(15) What percentage of people pronounce your name correctly on the first try?
I’d say 15 percent. It’s getting better now though since I won Miss USA. I’d say it’s shot up to like 80 or 85 percent. When they say it wrong it’s “Chelsea Christ.”
(16) What’s your exercise routine like?
When I was prepping for Miss USA, I’d go to the Dowd YMCA. That was my spot.
I’d do a yoga class two days a week in the morning, then I’d do a cycle class two days a week, and then there was an abs class there I’d do. I loved going to those classes.
But when I got closer to the pageant, I didn’t always want to take the time to drive there and park and drive home, so I’d just get on the elliptical or the bike at my apartment for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning and then 30 minutes again after work.
(17) What purchase of less than $100 has most improved your work output or life in general?
I used to have a PopSocket on my phone, but it fell off. So instead, I bought a phone case that has a ring attached to it on the back. It’s sort of the same purpose as a PopSocket.
I’m on my phone all the time, and it just helps me to make sure that if I’m running around town, I’m not going to drop my phone while I’m typing something into my Google Calendar and syncing it to the three other calendars that I have.
The ring is tightly attached, so I can set my phone up and if I need to watch a YouTube video that’s really instructional, I’ve got it right there. I got it on Amazon for like $15. I’m obsessed with it.
(19) Anything else you’d like to tell the Charlotte Agenda audience?
Yes, I have to share this amazing news. This just happened this morning!
A lot of people know that I’m an attorney and that I do pro-bono work for people who have received excessive sentences.
My stepdad is one of the people who inspired me to do that work. He’s been working with this client for I don’t even know how many years. Maybe ten days ago, he learned that the First Step Act, a recent piece of legislation, would entitle this client to release.
So he wrote a petition, worked with Brittany Barnett the of the Buried Alive Project and a few other people, and got his client released.
Today, my stepdad flew all the way down to Florida, where his client was in prison. He was there when his client walked out of prison for the first time this morning after being in jail for 18 years. He’s been there since he 21 years old.
Photos by Benjamin Askinas and courtesy of Miss Universe. Love learning how people work? Here’s the whole How I Work series including interviews with Gov. Roy Cooper, developer David Furman, elevator lady Cherie Berry, lawyer Michael A. DeMayo and Yafo, Midwood, Paco’s and Mama’s restauranteur Frank Scibelli.