Is the future of Miss America going to include men and illegal immigrants?

Is the future of Miss America going to include men and illegal immigrants?
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The Miss America Organization has had an identity crisis for decades. And today, Gretchen Carlson made the pageant more irrelevant than it has ever been before, in an effort to appease those who never understood it in the first place and who will never accept it in the future.  

In Carlson’s misguided efforts to embrace, what she calls, a cultural revolution, she announced that women will not be judged “on their outside appearance.” She explained that Miss America is “no longer a pageant,” but instead a “competition;” there will no longer be a swimsuit portion and wearing an evening gown is optional.

First and foremost, the Miss America Organization has been trying to get people to call it a “scholarship program” instead of a pageant for years. This portion of Carlson’s announcement likely fell flat within the pageant community.


The 2000 film “Miss Congeniality” captured so many of the industry’s traits, one-liners and fundamental beliefs in the comedic transformation of Sandra Bullock; not because it was far-fetched, but because every woman who has ever competed in a pageant could relate. And when Bullock’s character Gracie defensively shouted “Hey! Hey! It is not a beauty pageant! It is a scholarship program,” pageant contestants across the country nodded knowingly.

Decades of effort to push people to call Miss America a “scholarship program” never resonated with people outside of the industry because it was always an inauthentic narrative.

Miss America has always been, for all intents and purposes, a pageant. In fairness, it was not a “beauty” pageant and hadn’t been for a long time. Sure, women had to wear makeup and look glamorous, but in no portion of the pageant were girl’s features and looks actually marked.

Instead, it was about the package: having a great talent and fit body; being well-spoken, poised under pressure and comfortable addressing current events; being young, female, and yes, in part, attractive. But a scholarship program it was not. Instead, it was a pageant that gave away scholarships.

The Miss America program’s inability to be candid with itself, its contestants and its viewers has always hurt its success. And because of that, the program has been dying a slow death for years.

There is no denying that the Miss America pageant, in its most recent form, was no longer relevant. But to the tens of thousands involved in the pageant, that didn’t matter. It was a place for those who loved the glamour, loved the competition, loved the swimsuit and loved the pageantry of it all.

Now that place has been decimated in a last-ditch effort to resuscitate something that will never be accepted by those who never understood it in the first place.

I also have to wonder where it stops? The current Miss America contract (that all contestants must sign who compete at any level) requires you to be a woman. You must be a citizen. You must be single and never married (not even an annulment is permitted). You can’t have children (adopted or biological) or be pregnant. And it goes on with the vague requirement that contestants must be “of good moral character.”

If you want to be relevant, why not abandon those criteria too? Why can’t a married or divorced person compete? Why can’t a mother compete? Why can’t men compete? There is nothing gender specific about an interview and talent-based competition. How about illegal immigrants? And who are they to define morality? People will ask these questions and more now that the Miss America Organization has already abandoned so much of its identity.

Ronica Cleary was Miss Philadelphia 2005. She is a republican strategist and former White House correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @RonicaCleary.