Olivia Jordan Is Not Your Typical Miss USA
Olivia Jordan isn’t your typical Miss USA.
For one thing, she’s from Oklahoma — no one from her state has won the Miss USA pageant before. Also, she’s 27 and has only been on the pageant scene for four years.
But more deeply than that, she’s also a UCB-trained comedic actress and a devoted champion of the Alzheimer’s Association who used her title to help pass legislation on Alzheimer’s patients’ behalf in Washington, D.C.
We talked to her about misconceptions of pageant culture, as well as her future plans.
How have you seen the perception of pageants change over the years?
The Miss Universe organization has been around for 65 years and it’s something that’s changed over the years. For me personally, it has empowered me. Before the pageant world, I was modeling and I really didn’t feel like I had a voice. I felt like I was representing brands and I was on set doing what I was told to do and I just didn’t really feel like I was having a chance to really use my voice and share my thoughts with others and with the world. I felt that pageants were a great way to do that. Now, I’ve found more of my voice and learned public speaking and interview skills I hadn’t had before. I’ve been able to rally behind causes like the Alzheimer’s Association.
What made you choose the Alzheimer’s Association?
My dad has been a volunteer with them for 20 years and it’s something I grew up around. He owns senior living properties so that’s his business. He had seen the problem up close and personal and been affected by it. He had learned from his parents and taught us that when you see a problem, it’s your responsibility to be part of positive change. He really took on that responsibility and instilled that passion in all of us. So having a real platform through this title, I was able to talk about it and lobby in Washington, DC, with the Alzheimer’s Association and help work towards getting a bill passed on the Hill, which was exciting and totally outside of anything I had ever been part of before.
What do you think of the way people criticize pageant culture?
I understand where people are coming from, but I feel like the people who criticize pageant girls or pageant competitions are people that haven’t met anyone [who participates in pageants] firsthand and don’t know a lot about it. I meet people on a daily basis that say, “Wow, I would have never thought you’d be a pageant girl.” People have a picture of what this role should look like and the reality is girls from all different backgrounds and all different passions and interests sign up for local and state pageants each year and compete for this role.
People think it’s restrictive, and it’s not. I’ve been able to use my voice and speak to things that are meaningful to me and it’s sort of a beautiful thing because I think I’ve tapped into a market and really inspired a lot of young people to follow their dreams and hopefully spread awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. Next year, it’s gonna be a different girl and a different mission and she’s gonna tap into a totally different group of people.
Do you find it offensive at all when people assume pageant participants wouldn’t be aware of real issues?
People underestimate the people who compete in pageants. To compete, you have to be intelligent. You have to be driven. You have to be incredibly goal oriented and persistent, and all of those things drive you to be a better person. I find it so interesting that people underestimate these women. Most women I’ve competed with have or are currently pursuing a college education. Many have degrees in law or medicine. We have so many different women represented and definitely, we’re underestimated. There are perceptions that need to broken.
You’ve only been in the pageant world for four years — what made you want to start?
At the time, I was new to LA and I wanted to meet people and get involved. As I mentioned earlier, my dad had really instilled in my sister and me a need to give back. I was pursuing acting and modeling and in a lot of ways, I felt I was making all these choices that were really self-focused. When you’re modeling and acting, it’s, “What job am I gonna book? How can I be better in my craft?” And it is a self-focused career. I wanted to have an outlet where I could get involved in the community and give back. I saw pageants as a great way to get involved. I wasn’t a public speaker before and I found that through training and through having a platform like this, I could really work on that. Now I’m able to host events and speak at Alzheimer’s functions. I feel like I’ve learned so much on this journey and it’s crazy to look back on where I started.
I can’t believe you’ve already become Miss USA after only four years!
I think that’s another misconception — not all of us have been doing this since we were toddlers. There are some people that have, but a lot of women have pursued other paths. They’ve gotten their degrees and then afterwards, decided this has always been something they’ve looked to and wanted to do.
What was it like being the first Oklahoman to win?
It’s been so incredible I can’t even put it into words. When I got to go home for my homecoming, after I won, I wasn’t able to go back to Oklahoma until a couple months later. But it was so amazing to go home and be welcomed by the community and celebrated. Oklahoma is a place that’s full of amazing people, people who are truly focused on giving back. Tulsa, where I’m from, has been listed as one of the cities with the most dedicated philanthropy in the whole US. It’s a very generous city.
When I went back to my middle school and high school to talk to the kids and remember the moments of me as a six-year-old sitting on that gymnasium floor listening to speakers come in, it was really surreal to sit there and say, “You can be anything, you can accomplish any dream.” I accomplished this huge goal I’d had since I was a little girl. It was a really surreal and beautiful moment to go home and hopefully encourage more people to just chase their dreams and to represent Oklahoma and celebrate everything it has to offer.
Tell us a little bit about your acting aspirations.
I got into acting my senior year of college. I lived in Boston. They were doing some shoots there and I ended up becoming SAG-eligible and saw that I could really pursue this as a career, and that many people do. I moved to Los Angeles and didn’t really know anyone there or have friends there, but I threw myself whole-heartedly into learning and growing as much as I could as an actor.
I was taking classes and I started studying at Upright Citizens Brigade [a famous training ground for improv comedians] and got really involved in that. I love the comedy side. I love to laugh and to make people laugh for a living — that’s the ideal. So far I’ve had little parts in big projects and bigger parts in small projects and I’m really excited for the opportunities to come. My ideal life goal is to be the lead in a sitcom.
What made you want to train at UCB?
I was in the movie “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” It was just a little role, I had a few lines, but I was able to see some comedic actors working up close. I was in a scene with Gillian Jacobs and Adam Scott. I was on set with all these phenomenal actors, all of them had comedy backgrounds and major improv experience. I was so inspired.
I threw myself into UCB after that and I loved it. I did three levels and still have to take the fourth level, and maybe one day I could be on a UCB [improv] team. I think would be really fun. I was on an unofficial team with some girlfriends I’d met through class and it was just really fun. The couple of shows that I did in front of crowds were terrifying but incredibly rewarding. You put yourself out there, you’re prepared to look like a total idiot and you prepare yourself for failure, and if you can get through it and get laughs from the audience and learn and grow each time, it’s so rewarding.
What’s your advice for someone moving out to LA to be an actor like you did?
You have to put it all out there. You have to really be vulnerable and available and ready to fail. It’s really difficult, it’s against human nature to walk into agency meetings and manager meetings and be told you’re not good enough or you’re too old or the million things they tell you. But if you can suck it up and not let the failures get to you, then if you keep pushing forward, you’re gonna learn, you’re gonna grow. But just dive all in. I definitely dove in. I would make the terrifying phone calls, I would cold call agencies and casting directors and things I’ve now learned are not the correct or appropriate thing to do. I was so excited and so passionate. I wanted to make connections anywhere I could.
And it’s fun, you meet great people. There are so many people in LA who are just hustling and it’s just a very supportive community because of that. Find those people and ask questions. Everyone has good advice and feedback.
Everyone says Hollywood and the pageant world alike are competitive and cutthroat, but you’re saying the opposite.
When I was younger and I lived in a really fear-based place and I was insecure, I felt like people were out to get me and everything was so competitive. I changed my thinking as I got older. I’ve never looked at anyone as a competitor. It’s not that I don’t look at them as someone who could get the job — I’m just like, we’re all here, we’re all human, we all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and in a lot of ways I believe in destiny. If someone’s meant for the role, they’re gonna get it. I don’t need to compete with them.
In the pageant world that’s been my mentality, and that’s why I’ve been able to make friends. I’ve experienced a lot of support. My roommate at Miss USA was my most supportive, loving person. She helped get me through those two weeks of competition. We would do meditation every day, we helped spray tan each other in the bathroom, we were very supportive of each other and we wanted the other to do her best.
You don’t want people to fall on their face — you want everyone to do their best. I try to lift people up and not hold anything against them. It’s their destiny. You gotta celebrate your friends’ success.
Shortly after you won, Donald Trump started to run for president and everyone started questioning you about that. What was that like?
It was unfortunate because it was so unrelated to pageants. It was so unrelated to what we were trying to do there. And now, of course, Donald Trump is no longer in any way affiliated with our company. We’re with WME-IMG. It was unfortunate that we got sort of tied into this presidential race that thankfully, pageants have nothing to do with. So it was very bizarre and yeah, you don’t want to be tied in with someone that is making comments that you don’t agree with. It was a difficult time.
What are you planning for the future?
I’m really excited, I’m very lucky because I have an amazing family that has allowed me to follow my dreams and supported me every step of this process. It’s an awkward transition. I feel like I’m graduating again! I’m leaving something I worked very hard to achieve. I’m leaving a place I worked very hard to get to. I knew it was only gonna be a year and it flew by really fast and it’s bittersweet leaving. But I’m very excited for the next step and I’m excited to go all in to the acting world again, but it’s definitely bittersweet.
Header photo: WILDFOX sweatshirt and Chikimiki sequin shorts
Photographer: Marley Kate
Location: La Esquina Wythe Diner