Can controversy fill swimsuit void at Miss America pageant?
By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The swimsuits are gone, but there has been plenty of controversy surrounding this year’s Miss America competition that could keep viewers tuning in.
The next Miss America will be crowned around 11 p.m. Sunday on a nationally televised broadcast on ABC from Atlantic City.
This year marks the first time the broadcast will not include a swimsuit competition.
It has been replaced by onstage interviews, which have generated attention-grabbing remarks from contestants regarding President Trump, and NFL player protests, among other topics.
And behind the scenes, a revolt is underway among most of the Miss America state organizations who demand that national chairwoman Gretchen Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper resign.
The outgoing Miss America, Cara Mund, says the two have bullied and silenced her, claims that the women deny.
Through it all, the 51 young women vying for the crown and a $50,000 scholarship have tried to remain focused.
“I am just having the time of my life,” said Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras, who won Friday’s onstage interview preliminary with comments on how Americans traveling abroad should let people from other nation’s know that America supports and wants to help them. “I don’t know what will happen; I just really shared myself as much as I could.”
The 98th Miss America competition will be held at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in the city where it started nearly a century ago as a bathing beauty contest designed to extend the summer tourism season for another week after Labor Day.
Upon taking over at the helm of the Miss America Organization last winter following an email scandal in which former top leaders denigrated the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas, Carlson and Hopper set out to transform the organization, dubbing it “Miss America 2.0.”
The most consequential decision was to drop the swimsuit competition and give the candidates more time to talk onstage about themselves, their platforms and how they would do the job of Miss America. Supporters welcomed it as a long-overdue attempt to make Miss America more relevant to contemporary society, while others mourn the loss of what they consider an integral part of what made Miss America an enduring part of Americana.
Unhappy with how the decision was reached, as well as with other aspects of Carlson and Hopper’s performance, 46 of the 51 state pageant organizations (the District of Columbia is included) have called on the two to resign.
Adding to the intrigue was a remarkable letter released by Mund, the outgoing Miss America, who said Carlson and Hopper had bullied, silenced and marginalized her. They deny doing any of that, saying they have been working tirelessly to move the organization into the future. It remains unknown if Carlson will speak or appear during the broadcast finale.
Onstage interview comments have raised some eyebrows during three nights of non-televised preliminary competition. On Friday, Miss West Virginia Madeline Collins was asked what she feels is the most serious issue facing the nation.
She replied, “Donald Trump is the biggest issue our country faces. Unfortunately he has caused a lot of division in our country.”
A day earlier, Miss Virginia Emili McPhail was asked what advice she would give to NFL players about whether to stand or kneel for the national anthem.
She said not standing during the anthem “is a right you have. But it’s also not about kneeling; it is absolutely about police brutality.”
Wednesday night’s preliminary winners were Miss Florida Taylor Tyson for talent, and Miss Wisconsin Tianna Vanderhei for onstage interview. Thursday night, McPhail won the interview preliminary and Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway won for talent. Friday, Taveras won for onstage interview and Miss Indiana Lydia Tremaine won for talent.