The Miss America logo
|Headquarters||Linwood, New Jersey|
The Miss America pageant is a long-standing competition which awards scholarships to young women from the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The winner of the national pageant is awarded the title of "Miss America" for one year. The competition is held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In January 2006, the pageant moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where it remained for seven years before returning to Atlantic City, New Jersey. The pageant presents itself as a "scholarship pageant", and the primary prizes for the winner and her runners-up are scholarships to the institution of her choice. The Miss America Scholarship program, along with its local and state affiliates, is the largest provider of scholarship money to young women in the United States and in the world. In 2006 the program made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance. Since most of the contestants are college graduates already, or on the verge of graduating, most of their prize money is devoted to graduate school or professional school, or to pay off student loans for courses already taken.
The Miss America Pageant began as a marketing idea. The Businessmen's League of Atlantic City needed to develop a plan to keep tourists on the boardwalk past Labor Day. They organized a Fall Frolic and held it on September 25, 1920. There were many events that day, but the most popular was a parade of young women being pushed along the Boardwalk in rolling chairs. Ernestine Cremona, dressed in a flowing white robe, was in charge of this event. This event was such a success that a similar one was planned for the following year, and so on. At the same time, in an effort to increase circulation, newspapers on the East Coast had begun sponsoring beauty pageants judged on photograph submissions. The Businessmen's League of Atlantic City got ear of this and decided to capitalize on this idea. They invited the winners of these local newspaper beauty contests to the next Fall Frolic to compete in an "Inter-City Beauty" Contest. This contest had two parts—a popularity contest and a beauty contest. The winner of the beauty contest, the "Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America", was to be awarded the title of "Golden Mermaid". On September 8, 1921, one hundred thousand people came to the Boardwalk to watch the contestants, a turn out much more than the Businessmen's League of Atlantic City had expected. A panel of artists serving as judges named sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., the winner of both contests and awarded her a $100 prize. When Gorman returned in 1922 to defend her laurels, she was draped in the American flag and called "Miss America".
At the time, non-white women were barred from competing, a restriction that was codified in the pageant's "rule number seven", which stated that "contestants must be of good health and of the white race". No African American women participated until 1970, although African Americans did appear in musical numbers as far back as 1923, when they were cast as slaves. Until at least 1940, contestants were required to complete a biological questionnaire tracing their ancestry.
In the early years of the pageant, a beauty competition of the women wearing bathing suits was the main event. Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1951, refused to pose for publicity pictures while wearing a swimsuit, citing that she wanted to be recognized as a serious opera singer. Catalina swimwear, one of the Miss America sponsors, withdrew and created the Miss USA/Universe pageants.
Lee Meriwether, the 1955 winner, was the first to receive her title during a televised pageant. Contestants from the same state have won the title of Miss America in consecutive years several times. This has occurred with contestants from Pennsylvania (1935 and 1936), Mississippi (1959 and 1960), and Oklahoma (2006 and 2007). Mary Katherine Campbell, Miss Columbus, Ohio, won in both 1922 and 1923, and was also first runner-up in 1924. The rules were changed to limit an entrant to participating in only one year.
The pageant has been nationally televised since 1954. It peaked in the early 1960s, when it was repeatedly the highest-rated program on American television. It was seen as a symbol of the United States, with Miss America often being referred to as the female equivalent of the President. The pageant stressed conservative values; contestants were not expected to have ambitions beyond being a good wife (there is also a Mrs. America pageant). Since the 1980s, seven black women have been crowned Miss America.
With the rise of feminism and the civil rights movement, the pageant became a target of protests, and its audience began to fade. In 1968, about 400 women from the New York Radical Women protested the event on the Atlantic City boardwalk by crowning a live sheep Miss America. They also symbolically trashed a number of feminine products. These included false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and bras. Someone suggested burning the contents of a trash can, but a permit could not be obtained. The media seized on an analogy between draft resisters burning their draft cards and the women burning their bras. In fact, there was no bra burning, nor did anyone take off her bra.:4 The brochure distributed at the protest, "No More Miss America", was later canonized in feminist scholarship.
During the 1970s, the pageant began admitting blacks and encouraged a new type of professional woman. This was symbolized by the 1974 victory of Rebecca Ann King, a law student who publicly supported legalization of abortion in the United States while Miss America.
Still, ratings flagged. In an attempt to create a younger image, Bert Parks, the pageant's famous emcee from 1955 to 1979, was dismissed. Parks had virtually become an American icon, singing the show's signature song, "There She Is, Miss America", as the newly crowned Miss America took her walk down the ramp at the end of each year's pageant. His dismissal prompted public criticism; in protest, Johnny Carson organized a letter-writing campaign to reinstate Parks, but it was unsuccessful. Former TV Tarzan and host of Face the Music, Ron Ely, hosted the pageant that year but was gone the next. Since Parks' departure, many have taken on the role of Miss America TV host. Since Ely, pageant hosts have included Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford, Gary Collins and Mary Ann Mobley (herself a former Miss America), Meredith Vieira, Boomer Esiason, Wayne Brady, Mario Lopez, and James Denton. The 2011 pageant was hosted by Brooke Burke, and Chris Harrison.
In 1984 Vanessa L. Williams became the first African American woman to be crowned Miss America, but resigned from her duties after nude photos of her surfaced in Penthouse. The job was subsequently filled by first runner-up Suzette Charles, who carried out the remaining seven weeks as Miss America 1984. Both women are now included on the canonical list of Miss America laureates; Williams is officially designated Miss America 1984 and Charles is officially designated Miss America 1984b.
Many Miss America winners live after their reigns in relative obscurity, but Vanessa Williams has made an internationally prominent career as a singer selling millions of albums worldwide and achieving critical acclaim as an actress on stage, in film and on television. Others who have had prominent careers in show business include Bess Myerson, Mary Ann Mobley, Lee Meriwether, and Phyllis George. The 1989 winner, Gretchen Carlson, went on to have a career in television journalism. Terry Meeuwsen, 1973 winner, went on to co-host the Christian talk show The 700 Club. Myerson, who was the first (and to date only) Jewish Miss America, was selected in 1945, in the face of official antisemitism, including a request by pageant director Lenora Slaughter that she change her name to one less Jewish-sounding. In the 1990s, the pageant was reformed into The Miss America Organization, a not-for-profit corporation with three divisions: the Miss America Pageant, a scholarship fund, and the Miss America foundation.
In 1991 for the 70th anniversary of the Miss America pageant, host Gary Collins introduced Bert Parks to sing There She Is. It was the last time Parks performed this song live before his death the following year.
Since the pageant's peak in the early 1960s, its audience has eroded significantly. In 2004, when its audience fell to fewer than 10 million viewers (a huge drop from 33 million viewers just six years before), its broadcaster, ABC, decided to drop the pageant. "Broadcasters show data proving that the talent show and the interviews, the pageant's answers to feminist criticism, were the least popular portions of the pageant, while the swimsuit part still had the power to bring viewers back from the kitchen", said New York Times reporter Iver Peterson. "So pageant officials—who still require chaperons for contestants when they are in Atlantic City—are thinking about showing a little more".
In 2005, the pageant announced a new television agreement with MTV Networks' Country Music Television. In addition to the move to CMT, there was a switch in the pageant's schedule from September to January 21, 2006, and a move away from Atlantic City and Boardwalk Hall after 85 years to the Las Vegas Strip and the Theatre for the Performing Arts at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. The show was hosted by James Denton, a star of the television show Desperate Housewives. The pageant remained in Las Vegas for 2007 and was again broadcast on CMT. In March 2007, CMT announced that it would not exercise options for the remainder of its contract through 2011. Discovery Networks then picked up the pageant a few months after to air in January on TLC, along with an associated show, Countdown to the Crown, which aired on Friday nights leading up to the actual 2009 pageant. It was the same year Miss America welcomed back Puerto Rico. For the first time since 1961, Miss Puerto Rico competed in the Miss America Pageant.
On January 30, 2010, the pageant was again staged at Las Vegas's Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. The previous day, TLC aired a one-hour preview show at 10:00 pm entitled Miss America: Behind the Curtain, which featured some of the contestants and scenes from the preliminary competition. This show was hosted by Clinton Kelly and former Miss America Susan Powell and was rebroadcast at 7:00 pm, one hour before the live (EST) pageant coverage on January 30. After seven years, ABC resumed broadcasting the pageant on January 15, 2011. In 2011 and 2012, the telecast became the highest-rated non-sports event in its time-slot across all networks, signaling a return of its fan base and support. Due to the altered schedule, Miss America 2005, Alabama's Deidre Downs, reigned for 16 months instead of the usual 12. She was the second-longest-reigning Miss America: in the early days of the pageant, Mary Katherine Campbell from Ohio won the pageant twice, in 1922 and again in 1923. Campbell was also first-runner-up in the 1924 pageant, and when the judge's scores revealed that she had almost won the crown a third time, the pageant created a new rule that a contestant may only win the title of Miss America once (but still allowed a contestant to compete more than once.) Later, the rule was changed so that a contestant may only compete in the Miss America pageant once, whether or not she wins the title.
In the last 56 years of Miss America (through 2013), 29 winners have been blonde, 15 were brown-haired, 9 had black-hair, and 4 were redheads. The average number of steps that a contestant takes during a pageant day is 8939, according to organizers.
Although feminists associated the Miss America Pageant with disrespecting the bodies of all women in earlier times, today the pageant is well-respected. Artistic performance, position statement, and talent categories have been added to the contest. Today, the Swimwear category makes up less than 30% of the scoring. Miss America travels approximately twenty thousand miles a month, changing her location every twenty-four to forty-eight hours. She tours the nation speaking out on topics that are personally significant to her as well as those that affect the United States and the world.
The pageant presents itself as a "scholarship pageant," and the primary prizes for the winner and her runners-up are scholarships to the institution of her choice. The Miss America Scholarship program, along with its local and state affiliates, is the largest provider of scholarship money to young women in the United States and in the world. In 2006 it made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance. Since most of the contestants are college graduates already, or on the verge of graduating, most of their prize money is devoted to graduate school or professional school, or to pay off student loans for courses already taken.
The pageant will return to Atlantic City and ABC will broadcast the show for the next three years. The pageant is scheduled to be held sometime during September 2013. Due to the scheduling, Mallory Hagan will only have her title for 8 months instead of the normal 12.
The following portions of the competition are what the contestants are judged on:
- Personal Interview In the personal interview portion of the competition each contestant converses with the judges on a variety of topics, from frivolous trivia to serious political and social issues. The contestant is awarded points for being well spoken, polite, articulate, and confident. This competition is less known by the general public than other aspects of the pageant, since unlike the other three, it does not take place on a theater stage, nor is it usually televised. The Personal Interview counts for 25% of the contestant's overall score.
- Talent In the Talent portion of the competition the contestant performs on stage before the judges and an audience. The most common talents are singing or dancing, but a variety of other talents may be exhibited at the contestant's choosing; some have demonstrated juggling, playing musical instruments, ventriloquism, quick-draw painting. The Talent portion of the competition counts for 35% of the contestant's overall score.
- Lifestyle & Fitness in Swimsuit In the Swimsuit portion of the competition contestants walk on the stage in swimsuits and high-heeled shoes. The Miss America pageant regulates certain minimum standards of modesty the swimwear must comply with. Judging for this portion of the competition focuses on overall physical fitness, poise and posture. Before 1997, the contestants were required to wear identical, somewhat dated, one-piece suits. In 1996 the pageant held a phone-in poll asking the public to weigh in on whether or not the Swimsuit competition should be continued. 87% of callers voted to retain the swimsuit portion. In 1997 the organization decided to allow contestants to choose their own more revealing two-piece suits, bikinis, or traditional one-piece suits. The Swimsuit competition counts for 15% of the contestant's overall score.
- Evening Wear In the Evening Wear portion of the competition, the contestants are judged on poise and bearing as they walk across the stage. The Evening Wear portion of the competition counts for 20% of the contestant's overall score.
- Onstage Question During the Evening Wear competition the contestants are asked a random question from a pre-determined list that they must then answer onstage with no preparation. Questions are topical and usually involve current events. The questions require the contestant to have knowledge of the event and provide an opinion. The Onstage Question counts for 5% of the contestant's total score
Short-lived section: A casual wear section was added to the Miss America competition in 2003, and was filtering down to state and local competitions; however, the "casual wear" section was canceled in 2006 and is no longer in use at any level of the Miss America Program.
- Bob Russell: 1940–1946, 1948–1950, 1954
- Bert Parks: 1955–1979
- Bess Myerson: 1964–1967
- Phyllis George: 1975–1978
- Mary Ann Mobley: 1979
- Ron Ely and Dorothy Benham: 1980–1981
- Gary Collins: 1982–1991
- Mary Ann Mobley: 1985–1988
- Phyllis George: 1989–1991
- Regis Philbin: 1992–1996
- Kathie Lee Gifford: 1992–1995
- Eva LaRue and John Callahan: 1997
- Boomer Esiason and Meredith Vieira: 1998
- Donny and Marie Osmond: 1999–2000
- Angela Pillas: 2000
- Tony Danza: 2001
- Wayne Brady: 2002
- Tom Bergeron: 2003–2004
- James Denton: 2006
- Mario Lopez 2007, 2009–2010
- Mark Steines: 2008
- Chris Harrison: 2005, 2011–present
- Brooke Burke Charvet: 2011–2013
- Lara Spencer: 2013-present
- ABC: 1954–1956
- CBS: 1957–1965
- NBC: 1966–1976
- CBS: 1977 
- NBC: 1978-1996
- ABC: 1997–2005
- CMT: 2006–2007
- TLC: 2008–2011
- ABC: 2012–2016
Additionally, the pageant can be seen in most other countries via their respective networks. Starting in 2013, ESPN Radio will provide the first radio broadcast of the Miss America pageant.
In popular culture
- Sesame Street parodied the Miss America pageant as the "Letter of the Day" pageant hosted by Guy Smiley; the five finalists were the vowels and the pageant winner was the letter E.
- In the Seinfeld episode "The Chaperone", Jerry dates one of the finalists albeit with his neighbor chaperoning.
- In little Winona's 'Down', he references his girlfriend as Miss America
- List of Miss America winners by state
- Miss America award winners
- Miss America's Outstanding Teen
- National Sweetheart – although not officially connected with the Miss America pageant, runners-up from Miss America's state pageants have been invited to the National Sweetheart pageant in Hoopeston, Illinois since the 1940s.
- Miss Congeniality (2000), movie with a parody of the pageant as the background ("Miss United States")
- "Participate and Earn Scholarships". www.MissAmerica.org. Archived from the original on April 3, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- "Miss America". In Encyclopedia of New Jersey. 2004. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
- Shirley Jennifer Lim (2007). A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women's Popular Culture, 1930–1960. NYU Press. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0-8147-5193-8.
- Sarah Banet-Weiser (September 30, 1999). The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity. University of California Press. pp. 153–166. ISBN 0-520-21791-8.
- "Miss America". American Experience. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/missamerica/peopleevents/e_inclusion.html. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
- Bill Gorman (January 30, 2010). "Miss America Crowned; What Ever Happened to Beauty Pageants?". TV by the numbers.
- Dow, Bonnie J. (Spring 2003). "Feminism, Miss America, and Media Mythology". Rhetoric & Public Affairs 6 (1): 127–149.
- Duffett, Judith (October 1968). "WLM vs. Miss America". Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement.
- Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim (July 22, 2009), Feminist theory reader: Local and Global Perspectives, New York: Routledge, pp. 90–91, ISBN 0-415-99477-2
- "ABC Drops Miss America Pageant". Red Orbit. October 20, 2004. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
- Peterson, Iver (April 9, 2005). "'Fear Factor' Era Poses a Challenge For Miss America". The New York Times (NYTimes.com). Retrieved 2011-12-15. Note: Site requires registration to view.
- Kimberly Nordyke (March 30, 2007). "CMT Drops Miss America Pageant". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
- Richard Huff (August 13, 2007). "TLC's the latest to pick Miss America". New York Daily News (nydailynews.com). Retrieved 2011-12-15.
- Robin Leach (January 17, 2011). "2011 Miss America Pageant: Ratings increase 47% for ABC telecast". Las Vegas Sun (lasvegassun.com). Retrieved 2011-12-15.
- Watson, Ellwood; Martin (2000). "The Miss America Pageant: Pluralism, Femininity, and". Journal of Popular Culture 1 (34): 105–126.
- "Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana, First Miss America Contestant Diagnosed With Autism". ABC News. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- "ABC TO BROADCAST MISS AMERICA IN ATLANTIC CITY, NJ". AP. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
- James Hibberd (November 30, 2010). "Miss America Gets Dumped Again". The Hollywood Reporter (thehollywoodreporter.com). Retrieved 2011-12-15.
- Schneider, Michael (May 23, 2010). "ABC gets back with Miss America". Variety (variety.com). Retrieved 2011-12-15.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Miss America|
- Miss America official site
- Photo Essay: America's Pageant A look back at more than 80 years of the Miss America competition on Time.com (a division of Time Magazine)
- Pageant Almanac: Miss America
- 1968–69 No More Miss America protests
- Audio Podcast special from Miss America 2006 – Episode #6, Episode #7, Episode #8: all include recordings of press conferences from that week