Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Cara Mund gets crowned as Miss America
Cara Mund, Miss America 2018, is Meredith Boyd’s client.
Photo: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions

Filed under:

A Pageant Makeup Artist on Mascara Tears and Mink Lashes

As Miss USA gears up, a makeup artist and former contestant reveals what happens behind the scenes at pageants.

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Meredith Boyd holds 12 pageant titles, including having two top-five national finishes under her belt. Now, 20 years after her first pageant, she is a go-to makeup artist and hairstylist for contestants in the Miss America and Miss USA pageant systems. (The Miss USA competition, which airs Monday night, is run by the Miss Universe organization, formerly owned by Donald Trump.)

There’s a thriving pageant mini economy, including a tight-knit network of pros who work with contestants behind the scenes. Boyd is one of these, though she also has a robust business working with celebrities, brands, and brides. Last year’s Miss America, Cara Mund, was a client of Boyd’s.

Makeup artist Meredith Boyd poses next to 2016 Miss America Betty Cantrell, who is wearing a tiara.
Meredith Boyd with Betty Cantrell, Miss America 2016.
Photo: Mike Boyd Photography

Boyd started competing in pageants herself in 1997 to earn some scholarship money for college after her dad was forced to retire from his job. She went on to a career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news in coastal Savannah, Georgia. After that, she transitioned to PR (“I was tired of making minimum wage and chasing the police scanner at midnight. I needed to pay my bills!”), before deciding that she wanted a career as a makeup artist a few years later. She even has an eponymous makeup line. Her first celebrity client was Jeff Foxworthy; she still works with the comedian.

Boyd has a roster of high-level pageant contestants, including 11 Miss Americas. Several contestants in this year’s Miss USA pageant took makeup lessons with her to prepare for the competition. Contestants come to her for makeup and hairstyling lessons, as well as to hire her and members of her five-person team to get them ready on competition days. Boyd is consistently one of the most highly rated artists on Pageant Planet, a resource for all things pageant.

In recent years, pageants have been accused of being anachronistic at best and exploitative at worst, a view not helped by last year’s Miss America scandal. After HuffPost published a trove of internal emails in which executives spoke about contestants in degrading terms, CEO Sam Haskell was forced to step down.

The New York Times reported this week that the pageant has replaced upper-level executives with three women, including Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America and the former Fox anchor who filed the sexual harassment lawsuit that helped bring down Roger Ailes. While ratings are down for pageants, there is still an enthusiastic community of participants and viewers.

Boyd spoke to Racked on the phone from Georgia for a look behind the scenes of a system that is still an American institution.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Kara McCullough, Miss District of Columbia, winning the 2017 Miss USA title surrounded by other contestants.
Kara McCullough, Miss District of Columbia, winning the 2017 Miss USA title.
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

What is a typical pageant look?

You really need to look like your headshot. That’s something I really impress upon these girls. Whether you’re having someone do your makeup or you learn, you’ve got to look like your picture. When you walk into an interview, the judges need to be overwhelmed with, “Wow, that’s exactly what I was expecting.” It’s meeting and then exceeding their expectations.

[There will be clients who have trendier signature looks], but part of it is transitioning to a more classic look. For me, that’s part of the mentoring for that client. I can’t tell you how many state boards have approached me and said, “Get rid of that,” and, “Make her stop that.”

I want my clients to look back at their pictures 10 years from now and say, “Wow, I look hot,” instead of, “Oh, man, I shouldn’t have done this certain technique, what was I thinking?” You have to think about your judges. They may be in their 70s and one could be in their 20s. You want to look like you but not over the top.

Do you work with them for their headshots too?

I do. That’s something that evolved over time too. Two years into doing makeup, I conned my husband [Matt Boyd] into getting a camera. He was like, “Oh no, no, no, no, I don’t want to talk to these pageant moms.” And I was like, “Listen. I’ll do all the talking. You just do the technical part.” He was a graphic designer. Within two years, we shot our first Miss America, and now we’ve shot 10.

Meredith Boyd applies makeup to Savvy Shields, Miss America 2017.
Photo: Matt Boyd Photography
Meredith Boyd applies makeup to Cara Mund, Miss America 2018.
Photo: Matt Boyd Photography

Are there rules or guidelines regarding hair and makeup that are absolutely set in stone or understood?

There’s really no rule. It’s to just make sure that you look like yourself, first and foremost. You need to keep that branding consistent. If you constantly change things up, you’ll confuse the judges. What if there are 53 contestants onstage and you keep changing it up? You’re not doing yourself any favors. Your brand represents you, so that image is what you want to project, always. If you love a certain look, make that your look, but tweak it so it has appeal to a mass audience.

What appeals to a mass audience in 2018?

The classic look for 2018 is a smoky eye, a pretty pinky-nude lip, beautiful mink eyelashes. When Cara met with me last year in preparation for Miss America, she said, “Mer, these are the game changers, these mink lashes. They take you from ordinary to extraordinary.” [Note: Boyd sells 30 styles of lashes, all synthetic mink, silk, or sterilized human hair, and she says they are all cruelty-free.]

I know there are pageants where some contestants have to do their own makeup. How does that work?

Not every pageant allows the contestant to have someone back there doing their hair and makeup. Often they’re left on their own, or they’re smart and they have that practice ahead of time. For instance, Betty Cantrell — she was Miss America in 2016 — had five hair and makeup lessons with me. That year for Miss America, no one was allowed to touch them [during the competition]. Last year, I worked with Cara Mund, who’s the current Miss America from North Dakota. She flew here twice from Bismarck for hair and makeup lessons. I did her for her interview and prelims, but for the final night, she had to do it herself. There’s a little twist there.

The key is to keep their confidence up while they float out of my room onto the stage. Makeup carries over to the stage, that confidence. And that’s something that Cara said: “I couldn’t have done it without you. When I walked in, that confidence is what set the mood for my interview.” [Note: In that interview, Mund famously said that she thought President Trump was wrong to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord.]

Backstage at the Miss USA pageant in 2015.
Photo: Lee Celano/Getty Images for Miss USA

Over the last few years, there have been a lot of conversations about whether pageants are appropriate. Especially with #MeToo and Times Up, they’re going to continue to be questioned. What are your feelings about this?

I do think that pageants are modern and relevant. There’s no other avenue for young women to cultivate interview skills, fitness, talent, and poise in any other sport. Pageants help women to create and pursue goals. Having a platform to be a role model and champion of social causes is the most rewarding thing about pageants in my opinion. I’ve been an advocate for the Arthritis Foundation since 1997. I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis since I was a teen and today I’m a national spokesperson, and I emcee all their national events annually.

I think connecting with others, opening your heart for compassion and empathy, helping others in need, and listening to their needs are qualities that are timeless. We have the ability to create positive change, inspire others, and empower one another. These are life skills that make pageants relevant and appropriate in every way.

Do the women come to you very specifically and say, “I like so-and-so’s style”? Kim Kardashian, for example, has been very influential in the makeup world.

I believe when reality TV exploded and became mainstream — Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Dancing With the Stars, and America’s Next Top Model were the top shows at the time — they crossed over into pageant audiences. Prior to that time, the go-to pageant stage look was a coral red lip or a dark spice shade with a neutral eyeshadow, with thin plucked brows, silvery shimmer under the brows, and gloss on the lips. The ultra-thick “Instagram brow” trend is fading as well as softer contouring, which is a welcome shift.

Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé are known for exquisite glam but natural looks. So I think that does translate well. We start at ground zero. A lot of young women don’t know what looks good on them because they don’t know their bone structure. They don’t know what eye shape they have, nor their shading and coloring. I had a client recently who was very fair but she was putting on warm tones instead of cool tones. So she was always questioning, “Why doesn’t the red lipstick work?” or “When I spray-tan, it looks orange.” It’s educating them on the basic color wheel and understanding how it all connects together.

How much does it cost to hire someone like you for a pageant?

That’s a tough question because everyone has different needs, whether they want a hair lesson or just a makeup lesson. If they want several lessons in a day, then it’s a day rate. If you want to fly someone out personally, that’s another day rate plus travel. I also do Skype. If you can’t come to me, I can come to you virtually or in person. Those rates vary, but I think at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that these are life skills and it’s a good investment. You’ll take these skills past pageantry. It’s not like the beautiful dress — are you going wear it [again]? You might. I hope so, because you spent a lot of money on it and you look fabulous in it, but the makeup artistry skills will really go a long way.

How long do contestants have to do their beauty looks backstage?

When the girls are there doing it themselves, they need at least 45 minutes to an hour to do both, and I suggest they put in their headphones and jam out to whatever they want so they’re not busy talking to other contestants. Some years at pageants, I’ve had 20 minutes to do a few contestants, and luckily, I have a tight glam squad that knows to get down when the time is right. I always establish what the looks are ahead of time.

What is the environment like backstage at pageants? Is it calm or is it chaotic?

It is extremely chaotic working backstage the day of. Sometimes you’re given a hallway, sometimes you’re given a grand ballroom, sometimes you’re given half of a storage room with bad lighting and no ventilation. And the electrical sockets start popping and breaking!

Laura Kaeppeler and her mascara win Miss America 2012.
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

What are some of the beauty brands you use?

I use my makeup line for the bulk of everything I do. But my go-to mascara is L’Oreal Voluminous in carbon black. I do not like waterproof, just because it’s hard as heck to get off and it irritates the eye area.

Can you use that on fake lashes? And what if they start crying?

They shouldn’t cry! [Laughs.] That’s a very good question. I take the mascara first and I coat up their lashes, then I apply the mink lashes. Never, ever put mascara on mink lashes. That’s like putting lotion on a mink coat. They should last 25 uses. If you know you might cry, put on the waterproof. It makes common sense. For finals, do waterproof if you feel like you’re going to lose it.

I mean, you see a lot of tears on the stage sometimes.

You do! I will never forget Laura Kaeppeler winning Miss America. There are pictures, and they are infamous. Bless her, that mascara was running down her face. But the thing was, that didn’t overshadow the enormous joy of how honest-to-god happy she was that she won. That’s what you live for when you watch a pageant. She really didn’t think she was going to win, and she won! Who cares what her mascara’s doing?


Why Gyms Should Be Worried


Rihanna’s Newly Skinny Eyebrows Spark Mass Panic


Stormy Daniels’s Fragrance Just Launched

View all stories in Beauty