Meet Olivia Jordan, 27-year-old Tulsa native and current Miss USA. You may recognize her as the beautiful blonde who, as second runner-up for Miss Universe 2015 last December, stood onstage next to Miss Philippines, patting the surprise winner’s back and presumably trying to keep her head from exploding as host Steve Harvey explained that he had crowned the wrong woman. But we know Olivia as a spitfire Oklahoma gal who put her modeling career on hold to pursue a four-year degree in health sciences. (Sorry boys, she’s taken.)
I first met Olivia when we were students at Boston University. Reconnecting four and a half years later — at Miss Universe HQ, a towering penthouse of an office in midtown Manhattan — I’m amazed at how little she’s changed. She’s bubbly; she’s kind. She tears up when talking about the immense pressure put on female appearance and then hardens when when it comes to Donald Trump. I’m also reminded that this girl is tall. At 5’11”, she’s a towering statue to my 5’2”. We laugh at our perennial height difference and start chatting.
You were onstage when Steve Harvey “dropped the ball.” How did that feel?
He came out and said, “I apologize,” but it actually took him a while to get out the words that Miss Colombia was not Miss Universe… that it was actually Miss Philippines. It was mind-blowing when he finally said it. I think it’s the most shocking thing in pageant history. I was up there on stage, and I was just as shocked as everyone else.
So what did you do?
I leaned over to Pia [Wurtzbach, Miss Phillippines] and said, “I think you’re Miss Universe.” I was so happy for Pia, because it’s amazing to tell someone, “All of your dreams just came true.” But then she started walking toward Ariadna [Gutierrez, Miss Colombia], and I panicked, because now Pia was going to have to take that crown from this other girl. It was horrible. Everyone says I was laughing on stage, but I was honestly just so uncomfortable. My mouth was hanging open. I’m already a very awkward person — people know I’m still not great at social interaction with other humans, although pageants have helped me work on that — and here was this situation out of a horrible reality show. It did not feel real.
Donald Trump, former owner of Miss Universe Organization, said he would never have let that happen.
I’m sure he did. To be honest, I don’t think much about Donald Trump. He’s so unrelated to the pageant that I thought it funny he felt the need to comment.
You graduated from Boston University with a degree in health sciences back in 2011. Are people surprised by that?
Oh yeah, people are surprised. When I moved to L.A., people would always tell me I was too old to model… and I was 21. But when I explained I was a bit “older” because I’d been finishing a degree, there were definitely people who started to see me as the full package.
Do people often make these kind of assumptions — that beauty queens are either stupid or shallow?
People only see this very small portion of the experience on TV, but almost everyone at Miss Universe has either graduated from a university or is pursuing a degree. Three of the contestants were doctors. Miss Spain? A surgeon. She took time off from her residency to compete. That’s the greatest misconception I’d like to dispel.
From where — other than the obvious bikini competition — do you think this misconception stems?
The final questions… those blooper moments the media loves playing over and over. But you have to understand, this is the highest pressure moment of our lives. We’re onstage, on camera, in an evening gown. We have no idea what they’re going to ask — it could be anything from the perfect date night to what we would say to the world’s terrorists. That was an actual question last year. My question was what should be done about gun control, and that’s something our best leaders can’t answer with all the preparation in the world. They only gave me 30 seconds.
Would you say you’ve developed something of a thick skin?
Someone once told me, “The media loves to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comforted.” And I think the media sees pageant girls as these really comforted people — these pretty girls who have had everything handed to them. But that’s just not the case. Miss Rhode Island USA, for example, had been homeless before the pageant, living out of a car with her grandmother. She was a product of rape. People don’t realize that many of the women in these pageants overcame a lot to get there.
Speaking of a thick skin, what’s the meanest tweet or Instagram comment you’ve ever received?
People are brutal. They say things that pick apart every insecurity that I have. A lot of people tell me I’m old, because I’m 27. I get a lot of grandma tweets. One of my favorites was someone who went on this long tirade against me — how I was undeserving to be Miss USA — and then ended the paragraph with, “Fuck Coldplay.” Coldplay? What do I have to do with Coldplay? Another favorite was when someone wrote, “Everybody on earth today will be dead in 150 years. Even you, @missusa. Think about that.” So, OK. Thanks. I’m thinking about it.
As you may have heard, Playboy will stop showing full frontal nudity with its March issue. What do you think about our rebranding?
Playboy is reacting to a shift in society toward equality. It’s not even about gender equality anymore. It’s about equality for everyone: women, homosexuals, transgenders…. People are more open now than ever before, and I think Playboy recognizes that.
On a final note, Miss Universe, Pia Wurtzbach, is rumored to be dating James Franco after some heavy media flirting. Who’s your celeb crush? Consider this your microphone to tell them.
Jennifer Lopez. I’m in love with her. I’m kind of kidding, but kind of serious. Can you imagine? She’s so gorgeous… the sexiest woman alive. I know how this is coming across, but I don’t think anyone would kick JLo out of bed.
But if you were on the market for non-pop stars, what would you look for?
Confidence. I like men who are confident and strong enough to handle a woman who is also confident and strong. And not everyone can do that.
And what should they not say to you?
I’ve had a lot of men ask to see me in only the crown. C’mon, guys: cheesy.
Photography by David Yellen
Shot on location at Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Stylist: Marquis Bias
Makeup: Wendi Miyake using MAC cosmetics
Hair: Altina Pekimezi