2019 Miss America Competition · Competition

A New Era, Miss America, Pt 1

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Oh. My. Goodness. To say the news out of Miss America today was shocking is an understatement! Here is the release:

“(Gretchen) Carlson said that the organization would no longer judge contestants on their outward physical appearances, and that the changes would be going into effect for this year’s competition. In its place, candidates will participate in a live interactive session with the judges, highlighting their achievements and goals in life, according to a press release from the Miss America Organization. For the evening gown section of the competition, candidates will now have the freedom to wear the attire of their choosing while discussing how they will advance their social impact initiatives, the release said. The talent portion will remain in the competition. “We want to be open, transparent and inclusive to women who did not feel comfortable participating in our competition before,” Carlson said Tuesday. “Miss America’s new mission statement is: ‘To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women,’” Hopper said in the press release. “We want more young women to see this program as a platform upon which they can advance their desire to make a real difference and to provide them with the necessary skills and resources for them to succeed in any career path they choose.”

The above release has sent shock waves through the Miss America community. Today, while I am uncertain of much, I am very certain this is the biggest shift we’ve ever seen in Miss America history. And while I’d love to sit and craft some well-thought-out, significant post, the reality is I am slammed with last-minute preparations for several state competitions occurring the next couple of weeks, so my rambling thoughts in a TWO- or THREE-part post will have to suffice 🙂

After the whole Sam debacle, we knew Miss America had to head in a new direction. We were excited at the prospect of new leadership, new change, new ideas. In fact, contestants, volunteers, directors, and fans have been complaining for years that the world doesn’t take Miss America seriously, and that we all want to be able to see the interviews so that we can better understand why a particular contestant is chosen.

Well, friends, we got what we asked for – and so far, I’ve yet to find a single person who is happy about it.

I believe our new leadership team sat down and asked themselves, “What is the job of Miss America ACTUALLY about? What do we want it to be going forward? And do our current selection processes and areas of competition reflect that?” There has always been a disconnect between young women talking about the hottest political topics in the world one minute, and then strutting around in swimwear with platform heels and gowns the next. Answering difficult questions while sporting the latest couture gown from Sherri Hill has, admittedly, always been strange to the general public and some pageant fans alike.

Based on the board’s desire to marry job duties with the judging criteria, they landed on the above changes. But drastic changes don’t come without a lot of questions and critiques.

First, let’s address the timing. The timing of these changes isn’t just less than ideal; it’s about as bad as you can get. We are literally on the cusp of 47 state pageants in the next three or so weeks, with a handful that have already been crowned the past few weeks. All of the women competing in said pageants have been selected at local competitions based on the former scoring system and criteria. So, in essence, we choose local and state contestants only to completely pull the rug out from under them for nationals.

I have to say, I don’t envy state directors ONE BIT right now. It’s stressful enough the week before your state pageant – throw all the angry fans, contestants, and sponsors in the mix, and you get a recipe for chaos. I wish the national board had come up with an effective communication plan for state directors to unfold as soon as the bomb was dropped this morning on TV. Fear of the unknown is what is largely driving the panicked reaction I’ve been seeing.

I’m guessing the board has much of this figured out and is just waiting to make announcements, but by dangling the proverbial carrot, they’ve invited a lot of speculation and criticism into their decisions.

A much better strategy, albeit not as significant and effective for public relations purposes, would have been to slowly roll this thing out. NOTHING changes for this year. But for all titles awarded leading up to Miss America 2020, you would use the new scoring system and criteria.

As it stands, it’s like we told girls to train to be a sprinter, and then they show up for the Olympics and we say,  “Just kidding, you’re actually running a new race, like a marathon, but we aren’t sure yet what it looks like. We just know it isn’t going to be the race for which you trained and were chosen to compete.”

The job for which they are applying and being selected no longer exists.

The next biggest quandary we have is simply a lack of details. What will the changes look like? How will the score be broken down? What are they calling each phase of competition? Will we still see a partnership with Children’s Miracle Network? And what does it mean to have a “live interactive session” with judges?

And speaking of judges, if you expect them to hold intelligent, meaningful, and insightful back-and-forth conversation on live TV, you probably should stop asking teen Disney stars and country music celebrities to judge your national competition. Choose judges who are capable of engaging in politics, community activism, and general rapid-fire banter.

In the next post, I’ll address the omitted phases of competition and thoughts around those changes as well as commentary on several other talking points: Talent, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, general reactions, the role of “beauty” in Miss America, and the impact these changes have on businesses, like MYM. So stay tuned and come back tomorrow for, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

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