Faron Medhi is the first Indian American Miss Teen USA.

Meet Faron Medhi, the First Indian American Miss Teen USA

Our resident pageant superfan interviews the 19-year-old Nebraskan winner on life, before and after the title

Faron Medhi is the first Indian American Miss Teen USA.

Courtesy of Miss Teen USA and Miss USA

Words by Teresa Tran

There’s a new crop of teen pageant girls rising in the United Statesand they’re no longer your standard white all-American girl.

Meet Faron Medhi, the ultimate multi-hyphenate: college student, aspiring nurse practitioner, model, spokesperson, hip-hop dance teacher, and the first Indian American to win both the Miss Teen Nebraska and Miss Teen USA pageants. Since her history-making coronation, she’s been touring the country speaking at elementary schools, while juggling class assignments, being flown out to state pageants to represent the Miss Teen USA organization, and taking part in photoshoots. She has even authored a children’s book titled I am ABC’s, which has an “I am” affirmation for every letter of the alphabet, that she’s read to more than 4,500 elementary students to date.

Faron Medhi’s book “I am ABC’s,” includes “I am” affirmations for every letter of the alphabet.

Courtesy of Miss Teen USA and Miss USA

Even through a Zoom screen, Medhi is effervescent. Her story of how she came up to become the reigning Miss Teen USA 2022 sounds like it was unpinned right off of a young aspiring girl boss’ vision board. Some years ago, I would’ve found it refreshing and perhaps even subversive. Now though, hearing how hard she’s worked to get to where she is today raises a few questions. Young women have always pursued multiple interests and possessed the ability to succeed in more than one role or discipline. Certainly after decades of being denied the same opportunities as young men, they have more than a right to! But why is it that young women of color have to constantly be twice as good, three times as talented, and more than several levels of high achieving compared to young white women in order to be respected and considered awe-inspiring and even inspirational? Are young women of color cursed to be multi-hyphenates forever, to continue having to break ceilings set up by the white patriarchy, or can we be allowed to fail upwards, strive towards our own standards, and dare I say, be imperfectand still achieve our dreams?

While I’m still looking for answers, Medhi has her own mission. “I have made it my goal to be very authentic and transparent on social media because a lot of people look at titleholders and think that our lives are perfect. But that’s not true.” While Medhi has achieved exceptional things, she’s quite down-to-earth and is game for this life she chose and all that lies ahead of her. As they say, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

I sat down with Medhi to chat about her coronation night, growing up in Nebraska, South Asian American beauty standards, and embracing her big, curly hair.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Elementary appearances are Faron Medhi’s favorite.

Courtesy of Miss Teen USA and Miss USA

Teresa Tran: What does Miss Teen USA do these days? How are you balancing everything?
Faron Medhi: It’s been so busy, but it’s so fun. I just got back from Florida, with [Miss USA 2022] Morgan Romano. I was also with Miss Florida USA and Miss Florida Teen USA. I’ve been able to go to a lot of the state pageants. I’m actually going to Missouri soon, Illinois the week after, and I’ll be going to Nevada soon as well. I’m excited about all of that because it’s always fun to meet the contestants.

Other than that, I’ve been really busy with school, which just ended in April. I’m also always doing my elementary appearances. They’re my favorite. [The Miss Teen USA Organization] keeps me busy and booked. It’s very rewarding and I don’t take this job lightly. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to impact a lot of people with my title. I just want to make sure that I’m using every day to the fullest because we only have a year. It’s crazy because I’m balancing the life of Miss Teen USA and also just being your normal college girl.

TT: Take yourself back to your coronation night and that final stage. What was it like winning Miss Teen USA?
FM: Oh my gosh. I did not expect it at all. Honestly, after I walked out of my interview room, I was telling everyone, “I don’t even think I’m gonna get in the top 16.” I was super self-critical, which taught me a really great lesson, and one that I now share with other girls, which is that you shouldn’t be so self-critical. In my mind, I was just gonna have a good time. I’m here to represent Nebraska in the best way I can, because I love my state so very much. So I wasn’t really focused on winning necessarily.

Right before the top five got called, when we were all standing on stage, I was so calm. I’ve never been that calm before. And then they called me. My parents were in the little pit right next to the stage. I was constantly looking at my mom. I was like, “This is insane.” Then standing in the top two, I thought for sure Jenna [Miss Idaho] had won. We were holding hands, saying how much we loved each other. And then they called her. I wasn’t listening to what the hosts were saying at that point. It was for the first runner-up. But I thought they said she had won. So I was like, “Congratulations!” I was genuinely so excited for her. And then it hit me. After that, my life just changed, and I’m going to have such an amazing year. I still can’t believe it to this day.

Faron Medhi didn’t realize at first when she was crowned Miss Teen USA, then her life changed.

Courtesy of Miss Teen USA and Miss USA

TT: Before you became Miss Teen USA, you represented Nebraska. I’m Vietnamese American and I grew up in Georgia, aka the South, and it was a very interesting upbringing. So I’m very curious about what yours was like growing up Indian American in a state such as Nebraska.
FM: I honestly never quite felt like I fit in anywhere. I was always hopping from friend to friend group because people would be so mean to me. They would turn on me and say terrible things and I had a really tough time. I always tried to fit into a box and be someone I wasn’t just to fit in school and feel accepted by other people. I don’t necessarily think it’s because Nebraska super lacks in diversity because, in the schools I grew up in, there was a really good amount of diversity. It was just when it came to the popular kids, they were this humongous group of people that I could not relate to in any kind of way.

When [Miss USA 2019] Cheslie [Kryst] and [Miss Teen 2019] Kaleigh [Garris] won their competitions with their natural hair that year, that hit something in me. They changed my mindset and inspired me to embrace myself. And now I want to be that role model for others. While it was definitely not the easiest growing up, it was still good because it taught me to really love who I am and know that those difficulties didn’t set me back in life at all.

TT: I’m glad you mentioned the year Cheslie won [Miss USA 2019]. Because that was a historic year, where not only did we have all Black queens across the Miss Universe organization, but also in the Miss America organization for the very first time. Speaking of history, American pageants have become more and more diverse in terms of representation among their titleholders year after year. What do you make of the implications of being the first Indian American woman to win Miss Teen USA?
FM: I was so proud of myself that I was able to be the first. Of course, I think it’s unfortunate that there wasn’t one [before me]. In recent years, pageants have shifted to embrace that diversity a little bit more and to embrace all different types of women, and I think that’s so beautiful. When I grew up, looking at the girls on TV, I always looked up to the big pageant queens, but I never really saw someone who I could see myself in until I got a little bit older. It’s been really special because the Indian community has been very supportive of me. Girls will DM me and tell me that I inspired them to compete. I actually met a girl at Miss Florida Teen USA and we had a really, really long conversation about it because she’s Indian and she talked about how her parents were kind of against the idea [of pageantry]. But because of me, they allowed her to do it.

TT: What do you think of the current state of South Asian American beauty standards, both perpetuated by Eurocentric white American society, but also reinforced within the South Asian American community? Did you grow up with any subliminal messaging?
FM: I think if you cultivate a lot of attention towards [an issue], the more you talk about it, the better it can become, because awareness obviously leads to change. With beauty in America, it’s a very interesting subject because I know so many girls, regardless of their age, who feel they’re not enough because of what they’re seeing portrayed in the media. And it breaks my heart because I am definitely guilty of doing that. 

I don’t ever want anyone to come on my page and think that I’m this perfectly put-together person. Because I have my moments. I want girls to know that it’s okay to feel that way. At the end of the day, what matters is your mindset and the way that you talk to yourself. I think social media is a huge problem in that way and we need to change it.

[On South Asian beauty standards], I was always insecure with my beauty mole here because people would always make fun of me for it. I also did struggle with my hair growing up because I didn’t feel like big, curly hair was ever beautiful. Because I didn’t see a lot of Indian women embracing curly hair [growing up], that hurt me because I didn’t look like an American girl with beautiful blonde straight hair or your typical Indian woman with beautiful luxurious shiny black hair. It took me a while, but I finally embraced my hair and I love it so much now.

It took a long time for Faron Medhi to embrace her big, curly hair.

Kristy Belcher

TT: Okay, some fun lightning round questions. First up: favorite celebrity actor?
FM: Zendaya. I love her. She’s perfection. I worked with [photographer] Fadil [Berisha] and he shot with Zendaya and he told me that I reminded him of her. My life was made.

TT: Favorite movie/TV show?
FM: Oh my goodness, that’s hard. I’m going to say right now it’s The Hunger Games. I’m obsessed with the series, especially the new one coming out in November. I’m back in my middle school era.

TT: Favorite social media app?
FM: Instagram. Always on it. That’s my favorite place to meet people. On my stories, I’ll post the most insignificant things and give updates about everything in my life.

TT: Favorite go-to model pose?
FM: That’s a good one! Probably like hands on the face, up over the head. I love a good hand moment.

TT: Favorite food?
FM: Chicken nuggets. [Raising] Cane’s

TT: Girl, really?
FM: Oh girl, I get Cane’s like every day. I actually just had some chicken nuggets right before this call. I was scarfing them down like I have to go! Mac and cheese, too.

TT: Lasting impact you want to leave as Miss Teen USA 2022?
FM: That I loved my community the most I could. That I embraced authenticity and inclusivity and I made people feel like they were welcome and heard, regardless of who they were. That I had embraced everyone. That I inspired people to do whatever they wanted, regardless of what they looked like, their skin color, or their hair. That I inspired people to not put limits on themselves and to love themselves always.

Faron Medhi (center) has been traveling the country since winning Miss Teen USA 2022.

Courtesy of Miss Teen USA and Miss USA

Published on June 7, 2023

Words by Teresa Tran

Teresa Tran (she/her) is an American-born Vietnamese writer and filmmaker based in Atlanta, Georgia, with a background in theater and community organizing. She has a B.A. in English and Women’s Studies and a B.S.Ed in English Education from the University of Georgia and studied British Literature at the University of Oxford. She is currently writing and directing her own short films and working on her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter at @teresatran__.