Miss America 2.0. Coming soon: New website. New show. New experience.
Previous winners of the popular pageant are casting their own votes now, after last week’s announcement that the Miss America organization will eliminate its swimsuit and evening gown contests from the 97-year-old event.
Gretchen Carlson, the newly named chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors and herself a winner of the pageant, also announced it was no longer to be considered a pageant, but rather a competition.
Replacing the swimsuit category will be a live interactive session with the judges where, according to the Miss America organization, “she will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.”
“We’re not going to judge you on your outward appearance because we’re interested in what makes you you,” Carlson said. “Whatever they choose to do, it’s what comes out of their mouth that we’re interested in when they talk about their social impact initiatives.”
Carlson acknowledged the Me Too movement played a significant role in the changes.
In fact, the Miss America organization was affected by this movement when a Huffington Post investigation allegedly discovered three years’ worth of emails from top-ranked officials discussing weight gain, sex lives and questionable intellect of previous pageant winners. The officials have since resigned, their positions filled by women — and, more specifically, former Miss Americas.
But not all winners or contestants are in favor of the changes.
Madison Gesiotto, Miss Ohio USA 2014, told Fox News she believed the decision to remove the contests was “ridiculous.”
“Of course, outward beauty is not as important as inner beauty, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean that outer beauty can’t exist,” she said.
Betty Cantrell, Miss America 2016, said the change would take away from the event’s focus on health and fitness.
“Miss America is about having beauty and brains,” she said. “It’s not about being Miss Businesswoman.”
The new live interactive session, however, will certainly highlight the intelligence of each contestant and support the organization’s new motto — “to prepare great women for the world and to prepare the world for great women.”
In a recent article in Time magazine, Kira Kazantsev, 2015 pageant winner, spoke in favor of the change, saying she believed the swimsuit contest may have hindered her ability to perform her duties as Miss America because those she met “would often write me off and not take me seriously. For some, it was even perceived permission to make lewd comments and even mock me.”
She added the competition should be about what one says and does. Her description of the responsibilities as Miss America confirms the importance of intellect and confidence.
“After that one day on television, Miss America goes on the road for 365 days, visiting a different city every two days and traveling about 20,000 miles a month. She becomes the national Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and works exclusively with the United Service Organizations (USO) and our service members,” Kazantsev said.
“All of these things require somebody that is witty, quick and inspiring, has grit and hustle and can get on the ground and talk to little kids one day, then walk into a senator’s office in Washington, D.C., and advocate for causes they believe in the next,” she told Time.
Kazantsev said she believed the Me Too movement certainly played a large role in the change, which will also likely affect contests at the local and state levels. Organizations in a few states, including Texas and Louisiana, however, have already announced they would be maintaining their pageants as they have been, keeping the swimsuit and evening gown contests in place.
Pageant enrollment numbers have dropped in recent years as have ratings for the televised contest. Some sponsors have confirmed they are uneasy about aligning with “a pageant that featured a swimsuit competition.”
Although Carlson denies that the decision to change the format was based on ratings or sponsorships, it is questionably timely in light of the recent Me Too movement and other empowerment initiatives. Time — and likely the bottom line in the organization’s checkbook — will soon tell if the decision had merit.
Stay tuned for the answer. The 2018 Miss America 2.0 airs 9-11 p.m. Sept. 9 on ABC.