Miss America Turns 100. Will She Last Another 100 Years? – NBC 7 San Diego

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When Miss America turns 100, one important question remains unanswered: is it still relevant?

Born out of a 1921 Atlantic City beauty pageant just a year after women were granted the right to vote, the dazzling contest retains an intricate presence in an American culture that has seen several waves of feminism since then.

Attendance and viewership have declined since its heyday in the 1960s – when the next Miss America is crowned Thursday, her coronation will only be streamed on NBC’s Peacock service, which is being pushed from its prime-time broadcast throne.

Loyal Miss America organizers and enthusiasts claim that the annual ritual is here to stay and change with time. And while they may not have developed a plan for world peace, many participants say the organization – considered one of the largest providers of scholarship assistance to young women – changed their lives and opened doors for them professionally and personally. And they believe that others should have the same opportunities.

“I think people have the wrong idea what Miss America is about because it’s not just about dressing up and being perfect on stage,” said Miss America in 2004, Ericka Dunlap, of the debt free graduated from college, started a public relations firm, and became a television personality.

Miss America fans often cheer their state’s contender on like they would for a local sports team. However, some have expressed disappointment with the competition’s attempts to adapt to contemporary mores and to evolve from its regressive beginnings.

“It’s kind of a quandary because as it tries to move forward, not only does it lose its original identity, but it becomes less fun for people who like to watch it,” said Margot Mifflin, author of Looking for Miss America : A Pageant’s “. 100 year quest to define femininity. “Fans, she said, are divided over the trajectory of the competition – no longer” pageant “. Some want it to be about” beauty and fitness, “while others want it to move towards one Appreciate focus on leadership, talent and communication skills, she said.

Meanwhile, the competition is still overshadowed by calls for more diversity.

In the late 1930s, 1940s, and 50s, minority women were excluded by “rule number seven,” which said participants had to be “in good health and of white race.”

In 1968 there was a Miss Black America Contest revolting against the lack of diversity, as well as a protest by several hundred women organized by the feminist group New York Radical Women who called Miss America “an image that women in all spheres suppressed “denotes that pretends to represent us.”

It wasn’t until 1984 that the first Black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was crowned – and she gave up her title over a nude photo scandal and didn’t get an apology from the organization all until 2015.

Miss America President and CEO Shantel Krebs, a former South Dakota Secretary of State who does not accept pay, claims the Miss America organization is “committed to diversity, equality and inclusion.” She said the event had also been at the “center of social problems” for the past 100 years, noting that during their reign the winners addressed serious modern issues, from education about HIV / AIDS to the scourge of opioid abuse. But Mifflin notes that the modernization of competition has come “way behind the broader culture in terms of women’s advancement”.

It wasn’t until 2018 that the appraisal was overturned with the help of former Miss America Gretchen Carlson, who eventually had to step down as CEO. Carlson was part of an all-female leadership team that took over following an email scandal in which male leaders insulted former Miss Americas and denounced her looks, intelligence, and even her sex life. While some welcomed the changes to make the event more relevant, many government organizations rebelled against the new leadership team.

“I say in the book that it was always in dialogue with feminism, but behind feminism,” Mifflin said of the Miss America contest. “So it always seems like it’s trying to catch up.”

Dunlap, the seventh Black Miss America, believes the competition – which she easily calls a pageant – needs to become more diverse to stay relevant. For example, she noted that there had been no Hispanic winners.

She said more needs to be done to help young women of color get involved locally, e.g.

That year, the nonprofit – led by a passionate group of volunteers at the national, state, and local levels – announced that the Top Scholarship, awarded at the finals on December 16, will double to $ 100,000. The change was made possible by a donation from Miss America 1996 Shawntel Smith Wuerch and her husband Ryan Wuerch. According to the organization, this year’s competition will total $ 435,500 in scholarship funds, while more than $ 5 million is awarded annually through national, state, and local programs.

Dunlap hopes the Miss America organization will focus in the coming years on promoting the “organization’s longevity” rather than looking for an “it girl” to attract on social media. Krebs says organizers are doing just that, noting that the number of annual attendees has increased from around 5,000 to 6,500 after the changes in 2018.

“I just have the feeling that there are mixed messages about whether you can be beautiful and attractive and also intelligent or not. And I think that’s just silly to me, ”said Dunlap. “It’s like women can only do one thing, so choose a side. And that’s not true. “

It’s unclear whether the decision to put the contest online said more about the fate of broadcasting than Miss America. NBCUniversal Media was optimistic about its streaming service, and Krebs insisted that switching to streaming was the organization’s decision and had nothing to do with viewership.

In 2019, the Miss America Finals on NBC drew 3.6 million viewers, an all-time low. In contrast, the 1954 competition drew 27 million viewers when there was much less competition for eyeballs.

“When you say you want to be there for the next 100 years, we absolutely wanted to be streamed because that’s where our future lies,” said Krebs, noting how younger people are – and remember that Miss America candidates in between must be between the ages of 17 and 25 – less likely to have access to television programs.

Some fear going online could spell the demise of what is often referred to as “the first reality TV show” that aired live in 1954.

“We witnessed the downfall of a historic event that shaped the lives of Americans,” announced a fan on Facebook. Another agreed with Krebs, predicting “the audience we can reach is now bigger than ever!”

Another fan who is still upset that the event is no longer in Atlantic City – it moved to a Connecticut casino in 2019 – wrote, “Unfortunately, after 100 years it seems to have run its course.”

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