Born To Wear A Crown

Miss Hawaii USA Brianna Acosta is beautiful, smart, athletic. But she also has a secret for MidWeek readers as she prepares to compete for Miss USA: ‘I’m a robotics nerd.’

Princess crowns are a common play accessory for young girls, but for grade-school student Brianna Acosta, wearing a crown became an impassioned goal. Not just any crown – the Miss Universe crown.


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After a send-off party May 19, Miss Hawaii USA Brianna Acosta heads to Las Vegas for the Miss USA Pageant June 16, but her real goal is Miss Universe. Photo by Nathalie Walker

“Ever since I was little, I would watch Miss USA and Miss Universe on TV with my mom,” says Acosta. “We’d pick our favorite contestants, and I always told myself that one day that was going to be me.”

She meant it.

At 14, she went to Miss Hawaii USA executive directors Takeo Kobayashi and Eric Chandler, who encouraged her to compete in the teen pageant. Acosta’s experience running in Miss Teen USA three times, placing as fourth runner-up the first year, then first runner-up the next two years, prepared her for an even loftier goal: the Miss Hawaii USA pageant. She entered last year and won. Now 21, Acosta is getting ready to head to Las Vegas, where she’ll compete for the Miss USA title June 16 at Planet Hollywood (watch it live on NBC).

Being onstage and in the public eye suits Acosta swimmingly, and all 5 feet, 10 inches of her – add another 8 inches or so if she’s in her crown and heals – turns heads in any room she enters. But this wahine isn’t all glamour queen. She exudes a contemporary flair that’s confident, competitive, hardy. Born on Oahu’s North Shore in Waialua, she was a standout athlete and young leader at Waialua High. She served as senior class president, was named female scholar athlete of the year her senior year for her prowess in soccer and volleyball, and she graduated as valedictorian. Through high school and college at the University of Hawaii at Manoa she has maintained a glistening GPA and just graduated May 11 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and a minor in political science.

“Hopefully, I get to serve as Miss USA and Miss Universe, but after my pageant life is over, my dream job would be to host a show on the Travel Channel,” she says in regard to her journalism degree. “I would love to host E! News, as well – anything in the broadcast industry.”

Travel to several countries, including the obscure village of Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia), sparked her wanderlust with its vineyards and stone buildings, especially after growing up in Waialua where, she says, the farthest she might venture for a special occasion was Pearlridge. Acosta attributes much of her success to her small-town upbringing.

“The great thing about Wailaua is it’s a plantation community, so everyone is (ethnically) mixed and everything is culturally intertwined. If you won an award at school, the whole town knew about it, which gave me motivation to be successful. Waialua is very nurturing and close-knit. When I was running for Miss Hawaii USA, the town gave me the support I needed, the extra push.”

The middle child and only girl, Acosta vied for her parents’ attention through sports. “You name it, I played it,” she laughs, as she recounts the multiple broken bones she suffered while trying to keep up with the boys. When she made it to the top 10 in the Miss Hawaii USA pageant, Acosta was asked what she’d like the judges to know about her and she responded: “I am my father’s daughter.”

“I was the only girl growing up,” says Acosta, “and everyone always asked if I was a daddy’s girl. I never really was. My dad treated me like one of the boys, but later in life I realized that was a great thing that he did because it made me a strong woman.”

Acosta lists the interview portion of the competition, which also includes a fitness and evening gown segment, as one of her strong points. A second question, when she made it to the top five, prompted Acosta to describe something unique about Hawaii.

“They probably figured I’d say something about the aloha spirit, but I wanted to make sure people knew about my background with robotics,” she says.

A self-professed “robotics nerd,” Acosta valued her own experience with robotics so much that she now mentors her alma mater’s robotics team.

“Waialua Robotics won the world championships two years ago,” she notes, “and there wasn’t a lot of media attention. What I wanted people to know about Hawaii is that we have motivated students and we’re world champions.”

While Miss USA and Miss Universe support breast and ovarian cancer awareness and research and HIV/AIDS research, respectively, the contestants aren’t expected to have an individual platform that they support.

Nevertheless, Acosta’s personal cause is FIRST Robotics.

“I’ve experienced it firsthand, and it’s one of the only programs that implements all the STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math). But it’s also more than that. It teaches literacy, business skills, public speaking … and it’s fun. It prepares students to be future leaders.”

Other interests include hula. She’s been performing from the age of 2. Her dad is a surfer, and that rubbed off on her while growing up, but lately she enjoys paddle-boarding, swimming and hiking as fun ways to spend time with friends and get exercise. Social media is another major hobby, says Acosta. Not only is it such a prominent aspect of the modern world, but it’s invaluable in the pageant world as a promotional tool.

A good chunk of Acosta’s time is spent at the gym. Even when she’s not training for the pageant, Acosta is a healthy eater, and she maintains her shape by working out a few times a week with personal trainer Matt Jones of Body Design by Matt. She does her cardio at the Punahou track, running up and down a side set of stairs between each lap.