At just 26, Taryn Delanie Smith has worn quite a few hats. On TikTok, the popular content creator commands an impressive following of more than 741,000 and entertains fans with her hilarious updates and relatable daily antics.
But she’s also no stranger to the pageant circuit. Crowned Miss New York in 2022, she was first runner-up in the Miss America contest this past December.
That said, she never really imagined herself taking this path. Recently, Smith spoke with In The Know about her unlikely rise to Internet fame and how her decision to “just be herself” on both TikTok and the pageant circuit took her life in a whole new direction.
According to Smith, making it “big” was never her goal. In fact, she didn’t even have TikTok on her phone until her mom — who is now in her 60s — insisted that she try it.
“I was a receptionist at the time, and I was working at a call center, and I was horrible,” Smith told In The Know. “I hated it, and I was a grad student, and my mom was like, ‘Taryn, you got to get on this thing because you’re so silly and funny.’
“But everyone’s mom thinks they’re great and funny and should have their own show, right?”
After a lot of persistence, her mom finally convinced her.
“I made a TikTok, and I sent it to my mom, and then I was like, ‘Ya happy?'” Smith recalled, adding that she fully expected never to go back on the app again.
But to her surprise, the video racked up 3 million views overnight — and just a few hours later, the views climbed to 21 million.
All at once, things started to change.
“I am a chaos goblin, [so] I quit my job,” admitted Smith of the spur-of-the-moment decision.
She never regretted her decision.
Working in the service industry gave her more flexibility to finish grad school and create content during the day. As the months ticked by, that initial video turned into dozens more, many of which went viral too.
“I’m so grateful that 700,000 people want to hear my stories,” said Smith. “I’m really grateful.”
Most of her videos feature her unique brand of humor, which she admits she was more or less born with. Growing up, Smith describes herself as “loud as heck” — the kind of kid constantly told she was “a lot.” But once she settled in New York City, she no longer felt like she had to dial herself back.
“I’m glad that I didn’t make myself smaller because it totally worked out,” she shared.
In May 2022, Smith competed in the Miss New York pageant and won the title. She also made headlines as the first Black Miss New York to be crowned while wearing her natural hair — something she admits now made her very “proud.”
“I feel like [Black women in pageants] really have to sacrifice the natural hair because, you know, I haven’t seen anybody win without wearing a weave,” Smith recalled.
But when she thought about it being her last year to compete due to the age limit, she wondered what she had to lose.
So, she went natural.
“I will never look back and wonder what if I had done it authentically as myself,” she said. “I never want to ask that question.”
Leaving her hair natural was a “journey” in and of itself because, after years of wearing weaves, Smith admits she didn’t even know how to properly wear her natural hair.
That said, it was all worth it.
“I love going into a space, and the little girls come up to me with their pompoms and their poofs in their hair and their braids,” she shared. “It always makes me so emotional, you know … it is just so cool when they look up and they touch their hair, or they touch my hair, and I know that they’re recognizing. They’re like, ‘Oh, I love her hair on her, so I can love my hair on me.'”
Representing women of color was also a big deal for her, after growing up in a predominantly white community and often being the only person of color in a room.
“It was actually really cool that I was able to go into a room and be loud and be myself and be excited, and I didn’t feel like I got in trouble for it,” Smith shared. “I felt like I was totally embraced and the more I competed, the more I was like, ‘Man, if I can be on the stage and show someone else that there are spaces for people like us, even if I never win,’ that felt worth it to me.”
Smith has since used her platform to advocate for people experiencing homelessness — something she’s been passionate about for years. On TikTok, she regularly promotes causes that are close to her heart and feels grateful that she can spread the word to thousands.
“I’m so so grateful,” Smith said of the generosity and kindness her TikTok fans have shown so many of her causes.
In many ways, it confirmed her faith in humanity at a time when she says many people are questioning the good in this world.
“People are cool, people are dope and people do really wonderful things and beautiful things every day when you’re given the opportunity to,” she shared.
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