Jenna Stephens—Staff Writer
Miss America underwent a makeover this year in an attempt to combat dropping viewership and remain relevant in today’s culture of women’s movements and feminist empowerment.
On Sept. 9, 4.3 million viewers tuned in to ABC for the live telecast of Miss America. This marks a 19 percent drop in viewership from last year, continuing its steady downward trend since Miss America’s pinnacle in the 1960s when tens of millions of viewers tuned in to root for their home states.
Some might say that pageantry should become a thing of the past. But instead of backing down, the Miss America organization gave this year’s competition a transformation, focusing on empowerment and even adding a new title: Miss America 2.0.
“Starting this year, candidates will no longer be judged on outward appearance,” the Miss America organization posted on its website. “But more importantly, their voices will be heard.”
For the first time in the competition’s 98-year history, contestants did not parade the stage in swimsuits. The traditional evening gown competition also underwent changes. Now called the “Red Carpet,” contestants could wear whatever they wanted to give them the opportunity to display their individual style.
Senior Martina Hoogland has competed in the Miss Iowa USA pageant since her senior year of high school. Although the Miss USA system still includes the swimsuit competition, Martina appreciates the changes made to the Miss America system.
“I think it helps young women realize that pageants are not only about outward beauty,” she said. “Instead, they are about helping individuals grow confident in their abilities and talents.”
As the father of two daughters, Professor Matt Drissell takes a different stance on the topic of pageants.
“They’re terrible. I wouldn’t want anything to do with them,” he said. “I think it’s a sad, chauvinistic holdover from the past.”
Miss America 2.0 formatted the competition less like a beauty pageant and more like an extensive job interview for the position of Miss America and the scholarship which accompanies it. The judges chose Nia Franklin of New York as this year’s winner. The 24-year-old also earned a $50,000 scholarship and the chance to speak, make special visits and raise support for social initiatives during her year-long reign.
The Miss America Organization’s attempt to revamp the competition comes at a strategic time. Recent years have been characterized by social movements, feminist activism and change, often touching on what it means to be a female in the twenty-first century.
“Before I participated, I never had a great self-image,” Hoogland said. “I always compared myself to others, and it hurt me quite a bit. Now with doing this pageant, I have learned that what I look like or who I am as a person is enough for me.”