Elizabeth Safrit did her first pageant as a favor.
Four years ago, a family friend needed five girls to compete, but had only four. As soon as Safrit stepped on stage as the fifth contestant, she caught the pageant bug.
The rest, she says, is history.
The Charlotte-born, Kannapolis-bred 22-year-old was crowned Miss United States last week in Washington, D.C., after reigning as Miss North Carolina United States in 2014 and Miss Kannapolis USA in 2013. Pageants have taken her around the country and come November, Safrit will travel to London as the first Miss United States to compete for the Miss World title.
“But I love being in North Carolina,” she said.
The path to London
For Safrit, it was all about finding a pageant circuit that was a good fit for her. Hundreds of women compete in several national pageants each year, but Safrit decided to compete for the Miss United States title because of its rich history and emphasis on inner and outer beauty.
As part of her platform, Safrit visited high schools across North Carolina to encourage students to register to vote. In her time as Miss North Carolina United States, she spoke to about about 1,000 students and got hundreds registered to vote.
When she’s not modeling evening gowns on stage or speaking on the importance of voting, Safrit runs, reads and travels. She recently went to London on what she assumed would be a once in a lifetime trip. Little did she know she’d be returning months later to compete in the biggest pageant of her life.
But she treats every pageant like an international competition. She prepared just as intensely for Miss Kannapolis USA as she plans to for Miss World, she said.
“I can’t prepare any less seriously for local competitions,” she said. “I put everything I have into all of them.”
The seventh-generation North Carolinian said Kannapolis was the ideal hometown – far enough from the city’s traffic but close enough to visit every weekend.
“Charlotte grew so much while I was growing up,” she said. “We went from a textile city to a biotechnology hub, and I’ve watched it grow over the last 22 years.”
She’s travels for pageants and modeling and left home for four years to pursue a political science degree at the University of South Carolina.
She’s getting ready to travel the country during her reign, starting with Miami next week. Her pageant coach is in Columbia, so she returns to Gamecock country fairly often.
As she prepares to embark on her international journey, Safrit said she still calls Charlotte home.
Getting used to the crown
She used to go to The Coffee Cup in uptown Charlotte with her family every weekend, and they’ve yet to find another joint to satisfy her country cuisine hankering since the restaurant closed in 2008.
“Sorry I talk about food so much,” she said. “I’ve been eating salads for a while.”
After months of three-hour workouts and a healthy diet, Safrit got home, took off her makeup, threw her hair into a ponytail and changed into her running clothes to get some Thai food.
“I thought I was being discreet,” she said, laughing. “But as soon as I walked in, they announced that I was there. I didn’t think people would recognize me.”
She’s still getting used to the recognition, she said, since she still can’t believe she won the crown.
And she’s not the only one; the rest of Kannapolis is still getting used to it, too.
“They all say ‘I can’t believe that little girl with braces and Coke bottle glasses is Miss United States,’ and I love to hear it,” she said. “It’s like hearing how far I’ve come.”