Chanel Johnson is the First Black Miss Michigan USA in 15 Years

The Southfield native, crowned in September, prepares for the national stage in April.

Miss Michigan

Chanel Johnson hit a homerun her first time up to bat – and she did it with a poise, grace and a perfectly beat face. Approaching the cutoff age, the Southfield native competed for Miss Michigan USA in September, her first pageant competition, and won.

“I was very surprised; I was definitely not expecting to win my first pageant. I went in thinking, ‘OK, this year, I’m going to learn everything I need so that next year, maybe I can win.’ But, I guess I won’t get that opportunity,” she says, laughing.

Johnson says she’d been wanting to compete for a while and went for it this year, with a promise to herself that she wouldn’t be just “a pageant girl.” She’s a probation officer for Oakland County, graduating from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s in criminal justice in 2017.

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As she delves into her Miss Michigan duties and prepares for the Miss USA pageant in April, Johnson says it’ll be her versatility and ability to connect and empathize with people that’ll guide her and help her to stand out in the crowd of beauties.

She’s the first black Miss Michigan in 15 years. “When I was up there being crowned, Carole Gist actually handed me my flowers, and she’s the first black Miss USA ever, in history, and she’s the first one from Michigan,” Johnson says. “So, it’s extra special for me that I get to be a little piece of history here in our state.”

She thinks that next year will see a record number of black women competing for the national title. “It makes me feel like, OK, we are meant to be here as well, and it definitely is a move in the right direction as far as our country and inclusivity, and just being reminded that black women are eligible for these opportunities as well. I’m going to have some of my sisters there with me and we’ll be doing our Miss USA thing.”

When we speak, she’s fresh from Birmingham’s annual Little Black Dress charity soiree and the Miss Ohio USA pageant in Cincinnati. She’s also planning a tour of metro Detroit schools. And she’s already started prepping for the national stage.

“My diet is going to get a little more intense (and) my workout schedule is definitely going to get a little more intense. And it’s not about being skinny when you go to Miss USA – it’s about looking healthy and the way that you carry yourself. In the past, people thought of it to be where you have to look like a supermodel. But, you don’t.”

Johnson says, “They want you to be in shape, and they want your overall health to look good. So, that’s one of the main things I’m working on, because I like cookies and I love fried chicken.” And of course, there’s the hair, the makeup, the all-important outfits, and – cue the ominous music – the interview questions. Johnson says, “I’m taking everything up about 38 notches. So, things are about to get real, real fast.”

Beauty pageants have been a point of contention for feminist groups since the women’s lib movement, and, especially now, in the midst of the modern-day #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, parading young (only young), beautiful (only beautiful) women on stage to be judged feels, to some … #problematic.

Still, Johnson contends that her experience thus far has been a beneficial one during which she’s made friends, gained confidence and learned lessons. “I think that pageants are one of the most positive things that a young woman can get into if she’s looking to build her confidence,” Johnson says. “If she’s looking to surround herself with positive young ladies who are doing things within their communities, it’s just a really easy way to better yourself and become a better version of yourself.”

Root for our Miss Michigan Chanel Johnson when she competes in the Miss USA pageant in April.

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