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Miss America pageant

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Miss America pageant

For other uses, see Miss America (disambiguation).
Miss America
The Miss America logo
Formation 1921
Type Scholarship Pageant
Headquarters Linwood, New Jersey
Location United States
CEO Sam Haskell
Website Miss America

The Miss America scholarship pageant is a long-standing competition that 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.

The competition was first held in September 1921 in Atlantic City. It continued through 1927 and then ceased for a few years, beginning again in 1933. 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.[1] 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 current Miss America is Nina Davuluri from New York and was competing as Miss New York, who was crowned the winner on September 15th, 2013, at the 87th pageant.[2] She is the first Indian-American Miss America. [3]


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".[4]

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.[5][6][7]

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.

Miss America 1949, Jacque Mercer, was married and divorced during her reign; after this, a rule was enacted which requires Miss America contestants to sign a pledge vowing they have never been married or pregnant. [8]

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), Oklahoma (2006 and 2007), and New York (2013 and 2014). 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]:4 A pamphlet written by Robin Morgan and distributed at the Miss America protest, title No More Miss America!, later became part of feminist scholarship.[12]

During the 1970s, the pageant began admitting blacks and encouraged professional women to compete. 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.[7]

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 were illicitly published in Penthouse. [13][14] 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 1984 B.

Many Miss America winners live in relative obscurity after their reigns, but Vanessa L. 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.[7] 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.

Heather Whitestone won the 1995 pageant; she was the first Deaf Miss America, having lost most of her hearing at the age of 18 months. [15]

Angela Perez Baraquio, Miss Hawaii, was crowned Miss America 2001, becoming the first Asian-American Miss America. [16]

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.[17] "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".[18]

In 1999, Miss America officials announced they had lifted the ban on contestants who were divorced or had had an abortion; however this change was overturned and the Miss America CEO who proposed it (Robert L. Beck) was fired. [19] [20]

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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

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.

Artistic performance, position statement, and talent categories have been added to the contest through the years. 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.[24]

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.[1] 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.

Claire Buffie became the first contestant to campaign for the Miss America title on a gay rights platform in the 2011 pageant. [25][26]

Miss Montana Alexis Wineman, the first autistic contestant, appeared in the 2013 pageant.[27] She was chosen as "America's Choice" which made her eligible for one of 15 semi-finalist spots.

As of 2013, the pageant returned to Atlantic City and ABC will broadcast the show for the next three years, along with a move to being broadcast on Sunday night due to ABC's college football coverage on Saturday nights.[28] The pageant was held September 15, 2013. Due to the scheduling change back to September, Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan only held her title for 8 months instead of the normal 12.

Miss Kansas 2013 Theresa Vail became the first Miss America contestant to display tattoos in the swimsuit competition (the insignia of the United States Army Dental Command on her left shoulder and one of the Serenity Prayer along the right side of her torso) during Miss America 2014. [29][30]

Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri (Miss New York 2013) is the first Indian American to be chosen as Miss America. [31]


Preliminary competition:

  • Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit - 15%
  • Evening Wear - 20%
  • Talent - 35%
  • Private Interview - 25%
  • On-Stage Question – 5%

Final Competition:

  • Composite Score - 30% (Top 16)
  • Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit - 20% (Top 16)
  • Evening Wear - 20% (Top 10)
  • Talent - 30% (Top 8)
  • On-Stage Question (Top 8)
  • Final Ballot - Top five are ranked by the judges, the score which determines the winner.[32]


Year Miss America State Represented
Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri New York
Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan New York
Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler Wisconsin
Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan Nebraska
Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron Virginia
Miss America 2009 Katie Stam Indiana
Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund Michigan
Miss America 2007 Lauren Nelson Oklahoma
Miss America 2006 Jennifer Berry Oklahoma
Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs Alabama
Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap Florida


Television broadcasters

  • ABC: 1954–1956
  • CBS: 1957–1965
  • NBC: 1966–1976
  • [1]
  • NBC: 1978-1996
  • ABC: 1997–2005
  • CMT: 2006–2007
  • TLC: 2008–2011[33]
  • ABC: 2012–2016[34]

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.

Miss America firsts

Beginning in the 1930s, rule number seven of the Miss America rule book, begun under the directorship of Lenora Slaughter, stated that "contestants must be of good health and of the white race." [13] As late as 1940, all contestants were required to list on their formal biological data sheet how far back they could trace their ancestry.[13] Rule number seven was ended in 1950. [35] Despite these restrictions and other barriers, many people of color and other minorities have competed in and sometimes won Miss America. Contestants are listed in the year they competed and winners are listed in the year they wore the title of Miss America.

  • 1941: Mifauny Shunatona, Miss Oklahoma, became the first Native American contestant in Miss America. [36][13]
  • 1945: Bess Myerson, Miss New York, was crowned Miss America 1945, becoming the first Jewish-American Miss America. [37][13][38]
  • 1948: Irma Nydia Vasquez became the first Miss Puerto Rico and the first Hispanic contestant in Miss America. [39] [13][40]
  • 1948: Yun Tau Chee became the first Miss Hawaii and the first Asian-American contestant in Miss America. [13]
  • 1970: Cheryl Brown, Miss Iowa, became the first African-American contestant in Miss America. [13]
  • 1980: Lencola Sullivan, Miss Arkansas, became the first African American contestant to make it to the top five in Miss America. [13]
  • 1984: Vanessa L. Williams, Miss New York, was crowned Miss America 1984, becoming the first African-American Miss America. [13][14][41][42]
  • 1995: Heather Whitestone, Miss Alabama, was crowned Miss America 1995, becoming the first Deaf Miss America. [43]
  • 1999: Nicole Johnson, Miss Virginia, was crowned Miss America 1999; she was the first Miss America with diabetes and was the first Miss America contestant to display her insulin pump. [44][45]
  • 2001: Angela Perez Baraquio, Miss Hawaii, was crowned Miss America 2001, becoming the first Asian-American Miss America. [46]
  • 2011: Kayla Martell, Miss Delaware, made it to a semifinalist round in the 2011 pageant, becoming the first bald contestant in Miss America; she suffered from alopecia areata. [47][48]
  • 2013: Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana, became the first autistic contestant in Miss America. [49]
  • 2014: Nicole Kelly, Miss Iowa, became the first contestant born without part of one arm in Miss America; she was born without her left forearm. [50]
  • 2014: Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, became the first Miss America contestant to display tattoos in the swimsuit competition (the insignia of the United States Army Dental Command on her left shoulder and one of the Serenity Prayer along the right side of her torso). [51][30]
  • 2014: Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, was crowned Miss America 2014, becoming the first Indian-American Miss America. [3]

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.

See also


Additional reading

  • No More Miss America!
  • "There She Is, Miss America": The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant, by Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin (Aug 21, 2004)
  • Miss America official site
  • More Miss America! No More Miss America!
  • Photo Essay: America's Pageant A look back at more than 80 years of the Miss America competition on (a division of Time Magazine)
  • Pageant Almanac: Miss America
  • 1968–69 No More Miss America protests
  • Audio Podcast special from Miss America 2006 – Episode #8: all include recordings of press conferences from that week
  • Hagley Museum and Library. The collection documents the Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company's sponsorship of the Miss America Pageant and the promotion of fabrics by Miss America from the years 1953 to 1967. A majority of the photographs show Miss America modeling her official "Everglaze" and "Ban-​Lon" wardrobe and many photographs and advertising materials document the "Miss America/Modern Bride/Ban-Lon Lace Dream Wedding" promotion. Other miscellaneous items in the collection include paper dolls of various Miss Americas wearing their "Everglaze" ball gowns and Miss America pageant programs from the years 1945 to 1967.
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