Miss America 2.NO

Miss America 2020 aired one week ago, and while social media was buzzing over the few days following, I think the dust has settled. Kind of. I’m kicking it back up again because I still have feelings. The purpose of this is simply to share my thoughts on the telecast and current state of the Miss America Organization, not to bash or undermine those involved. Don’t get it twisted, sista.

If I’m being frank, this isn’t the same Miss America that I grew to love when I first got involved six years ago. Miss America 2.0 is a different monster. (No, it’s NOT because of Donald Trump. He NEVER had a hand in the Miss America Organization. Rather, he owned Miss Universe from 1996-2015. NOT. THE. SAME. Comprende? Well…similar feels in terms of questionable leadership on a nationwide level…whoop there it is…)

Had to clear that one up.

I’m all about organizational growth, change, and evolution; it’s often a necessary transformation in order for organizations to maintain stability and relevance. BUT if we’re being honest with ourselves here, the MAO national board has hijacked an iconic piece of American history. Changes have been made, some better than others, and I watched it all unfold on December 19th, live on NBC from…Uncasville, Connecticut… Feeling behind? Get up to speed here.

I’m not going to throw shade on the entire telecast, because there were parts that I genuinely enjoyed. Overall, though, the NBC production was a yawn. They tried WAY too hard to emphasize that Miss America is a job. Hello? It HAS been a job for nearly 100 years, I’m sure any woman who has held a title — local, state or national — can attest to that. BUT HERE THEY ARE, hosting a televised “America’s Apprentice Got Talent TED Shark Tank” to prove it. Let’s talk about it.

crowning
Miss America 2020 – Camille Schrier of Virginia

INTRODUCTIONS
I’m not even mad here. I loved that they kicked off the show by separating the candidates by their area of study, from STEM to arts to advocacy, etc. I loved hearing about each woman’s educational endeavors and social impact initiatives. It truly showcased how well-rounded each titleholder is. HOWEVER, they really had these women come all the way to Miss America to have them sit on the floor in couture gowns? Now that the evening wear competition is no longer, there was literally no opportunity for the women to show off their gowns. I’d be peeved if I spent time and money on the perfect Miss America dress just to lay on a dusty stage in it. Pass.

SEMI-FINALS
If you don’t know much about the Miss America competition, there are multiple days of preliminary competition before the final televised show. The semifinalists are determined based on the top preliminary scores. During the final show, they called out a Top 15 to kick off the final competition….BUT Top 15 does what? What was the purpose of narrowing down to a Top 15 when they just immediately eliminated 8 more before any area of competition? How was this decided? These girls made it to the semifinals and SIIIIIKE, don’t get to perform ANYTHING. We love some false hope.

Moving on, the Top 7 engaged in an onstage interview with the judges, which gave us a glimpse of what their private interviews were like earlier in the week during preliminary competitions. I loved this! In my opinion, interview should weigh the heaviest in scoring. Unfortunately, that’s still not the case on the score sheets, but I’m glad each woman’s interview skills were showcased during an onstage area of competition.

The rest of the competition, from Top 7 to Top 5 to Final 3, felt like cheesy reality TV eliminations. The judges called each woman one by one and faked them out with “your performance was great but…..” before letting them know whether or not they’d continue in the competition. What happened to the traditional process of elimination by just calling forth who will be moving on? It was humiliating for these women, who worked way too hard to get there to be personally called out and shoo’d off stage. It felt a little bit like this: “You’ve done a great job and you’re doing amazing things…but you’re not moving on in the competition. Here’s your scholarship and some bragging rights as 4th runner-up. Get off the stage.” Boo. These women deserve better.

TALENTS
As the competition was narrowed down to a Top 5, we FINALLY saw some talents. I wish this would’ve been the first area of competition that we saw while there were more contestants left, considering it is weighed the heaviest in terms of scoring (50 freakin’ percent of the total score). Still, Miss America’s stage talent score outweighs speaking ability, apparently, but we didn’t get to see a whole lot of it.

ANYWAY, Miss Missouri…the poor girl was totally cheated. Whoever was running the lighting should be fired. That woman trained her whole life to be showcased on national television under dark, spotty strobe lights? I laughed when judge Karamo Brown pointed out the terrible lighting after her twirling performance.

I think a lot of viewers had differing opinions about Miss Virginia’s science demonstration talent. Do I support women in STEM? Of course I do! To be completely honest, though, I’m not sure how it won a preliminary talent award. Don’t get me wrong, being knowledgeable in a certain area is a talent. She nailed that part, but it was hard for me to justify as a winning talent. Celebrity judges and audiences are wowed by unconventional talents and I think that’s what happened here. One could say the same about Kira Kazantsev’s cup song talent in 2015, though. Meh. I have mixed feelings. I have no room to talk, though, my talent was always my weakest. I don’t lie to myself.

science

Each judge’s surface level feedback following each area of competition was unnecessary and felt too “America’s Got Talent” to me. Besides, in previous years, candidates were NEVER allowed to get feedback from judges. Contestants NEVER got any scores back and you could NOT contact the judges regarding how you performed. HUGE MAO no no…so why is it happening now at the national level on live TV? MAO breaking their own rules, but who’s surprised?

SOCIAL IMPACT PITCHES
As the competition narrowed to a Top 3, we got to see some WORK. This new round gave the Top 3 an opportunity to share their passions and business plans in a TED talk sort of format. I actually really liked this area of competition. During private interviews in the past when I’ve been asked if I could add an area of competition, this was it. I think too many women have relied on onstage areas of competition to win and then cop out of the platform and service aspect of MAO. However, I think this might be a tough one for younger candidates on the local level who are brand new to the organization and are just developing their social impact initiatives. Overall, I think this area of competition is very relevant and important for candidates to share.

sii
Photo Credit: Eric Liebowitz – NBC

FINALS
WHAT THE EFF. A debate disguised as a “conversation” with the judges? This area had nothing to do with the job. The final two women, Miss Georgia and Miss Virginia, were pitted against each other, starting with a question from the judges, one woman answering, and the other woman giving a rebuttal. Talk about “empowering.” The question to Miss Virginia was about her thoughts on “why or why not” women who are married should be allowed in the competition. This left both women to defend or protest THE ORGANIZATION’S OWN RULE SYSTEM. Right now, according to sections 2.6.2 and 2.6.3 of the contract, women who compete cannot be, or have ever been, married, pregnant, or the legal guardian of a child. These final questions were a test to see if the women would drink the MAO Kool-Aid in the public eye and conform to the expectations of the organization on live television. OF COURSE they’re going to follow the script. Not cute, MAO.

I have my opinions on their responses, like how Miss Georgia stated that Miss America shouldn’t even have a significant other during her year of reign so she can fully focus on the job. Ummm…I think the epitome of Miss America is a woman who can do it all. She can be a professional career woman, she can pursue her passions, and she can also successfully maintain a personal life. MAO took 1348791654 steps back in their message of “feminism” by asking these ridiculous final questions and allowing the judges to give unwarranted feedback on it once again. Hear what judges Karamo Brown and Kelly Rowland had to say.

Can we talk about no farewell for Nia, Miss America 2019? That girl probably went through HELL during this joke of a transitional year and didn’t even get 60 seconds for a proper farewell? Sounds like a “Cara Mund from the audience” repeat.

AND ALAS, WE REACH THE CROWNING MOMENT! WE FINALLY SEE SOME EVENING GOWNS! But…no sash…no iconic runway walk…no Bert Parks’ “There She Is.” Flop. Flop. Flop.

MISS DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
After the show wrapped, Miss DC shared a post-show Facebook Live video explaining she was told before the telecast that she should not talk about her social impact initiative, Silence Is Not Compliance, in her opening introduction because it would be distracting and uncomfortable for viewers. She is a survivor of sexual assault who was silenced once again by an organization that prides itself in “empowering women.” The Miss America Organization knew what her social impact initiative was from day one. This is shady. Point blank. Frankly, I don’t care to hear MAO’s side of the story.

THOUGHTS THOUGHTS THOUGHTS
Most people are aware that MAO has kind of been going down the drain, unfortunately. If you disagree, oops sorry. *shrug*

Many agree that the Miss America Organization has lacked transparency and effective communication for years. After hearing from a few of the state titleholders from this year, they didn’t even find out the structure of the final night of competition until they arrived at Miss America…for real? This is absurd.

Overall, I really loved that public speaking was more heavily emphasized in this new format. I felt like I knew the candidates on a personal level (or at least from their résumé’s level) after seeing Top 7 onstage interviews and Top 3 social impact pitches. Everything else? Not a fan. The tiny judging panel (MAO breaking their own rules yet again by having only three final judges instead of a required minimum of five), the corny and humiliating reality TV eliminations, lack of any sort of dazzling tradition that the real Miss America pageant carried throughout history, the obvious interference by the national board to hand-pick the winner through a shady final debate, no recognition for the out-going Miss America or former Miss Americas, etc. etc. etc. UGH I’M SAD.

TO WRAP THIS ALL UP IN A BOW…
I give all the credit to every single woman who stood on that stage. Each of them is accomplished, talented, intelligent, driven, service-oriented, business-minded, and so much more. I give extra love to my 2018 National Sweetheart Pageant sisters, Shivali (Miss OR), Alex (Miss KY), and Kathryn (Miss MN), and of course our hometown girl, Alyssa (Miss WI). They all worked SO hard to get there, only to be showcased in a sub-par production crafted by a less than sub-par national board. Hear a little more about it from Betty Cantrell Maxwell (Miss America 2016) and Savvy Shields Wolfe (Miss America 2017) here.

Those who have been involved know that it is the candidates and grassroots volunteers who make the organization what it is. I have gained countless skills, connections, friendships, and scholarship dollars throughout my years of participation, and I thank every person who has contributed to that experience for me. Down to the local level, I still believe this program emphasizes empowerment through service and scholarship. I still support the diverse and beautiful crop of young women who choose to dedicate their hearts to community involvement and personal development through this organization. However, I do not support those at the head of MAO who are making detrimental decisions for the future of our beloved program. Here’s to hoping Miss America will survive for another century. Cross your crowns.

Love always,

Jessica

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