The Miss America 2016 Pageant:
A Response to the Nation’s Loudest Critics


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Miss America 2016, Betty Cantrell, Miss Georgia, Miss America Organization, Stephanie Ziajka, Diary of a Debutante

I apologize about the tardiness of this post; however, I’ll admit I tried my hardest to not validate any of the appalling negative comments surrounding last Sunday’s Miss America pageant. I see the exact same complaints year after year, and the same question remains– why in the world do you watch it then? It’s a 2-hour long event on a Sunday evening. If you’re tuning in and believe you can truly speak to the performances in each and every phase of the competition, it’s because you care. You care about the very event you call rigged, prejudice, stupid, outdated, or cruel.

I’m not a pageant expert, if those exist, but I have competed in both the Miss America system and the Miss Universe system for one year respectively, and I’ve also judged national and state-level pageants. I’ve witnessed the inner-workings of pageantry and believe I can offer some genuine insight into scoring mechanics and judging strategies. Hence, I’ve responded to the ten most common headlines and criticisms of this year’s Miss America pageant in a complaint-and-answer format.

1 | “We, the public, feel that Miss Georgia’s interview answer regarding ‘deflategate’ and Tom Brady’s alleged involvement was completely without merit. Miss Georgia clearly did not know the details surrounding ‘deflategate’ and that Tom Brady’s ‘general awareness’ of the so-called deflation of game balls was not enough to label him a cheater. It is under these terms that we ask for the newly crowned Miss America to be stripped of her crown and to be dethroned immediately. To suggest that someone who simply has been questioned for something, is automatically guilty is an injustice to our American way of life… the exact opposite of what the title of Miss America stands for.”

Yes, this is an actual online petition which has garnered the support of over 1,000 people on change.org. I personally find it hysterical. Americans take football seriously; that’s painfully evident. However, the girl was asked a completely dicey question and needed to provide an answer. She’s a musical theatre major– not sports entertainment, not fitness, not marketing. Regardless of how eloquently she delivered a response, Betty Cantrell randomly selected a poor question for her area of expertise. It was bad luck, not any form for prejudice, injustice, or ignorance.

Was her all-over-the-place answer worthy of a poor score in the On-Stage Question category? Absolutely. However, contrary to what the public believes, the Miss America Organization recognizes the difficulty of speaking under pressure and only counts this portion as 5% of a contestant’s overall score. As a former contestant myself, I can assure you, even at a local level (no TV, no concert-worthy crowd), stepping into the shoes of the woman on-stage is the only way to understand how nerve-wracking of a phase OSQ is. It’s 5% of your score and is over within 30 seconds, yet it routinely generates the most anxiety among delegates for fear of looking like an idiot in front of  your family and friends. Until you’re given 1/3 of a minute to give a politically correct answer about any number of unpredictable national, state, or local topics, please keep your outrageous petitions to yourselves.

2 | “Miss America’s on-stage question was horrible, and she tripped twice in her evening gown. How can she possibly be the winner?”

Does anyone remember Miss America 2015, Kira Kazantsev? She was the one who played the red cups and, despite a tear-jerking platform and a palpable amiability, generated national criticism for herself, as well as the Miss America Organization, in response to her “horrendous lack of talent.” Well, this year’s winner was the obvious overall talent winner– meaning she received the highest score in the talent portion, which makes up 35% of your total score, among all women competing. It’s abundantly clear that the judges are specifically instructed to look for talent, interview skills, or fitness depending on the year, and while the organization cannot specify which contestant will actually win, it can certainly nudge results in a given direction based on their “What We’re Looking For” scoring instruction. The only way to combat allegations of not valuing talent is obviously to crown a talent winner. Until we find a Miss America who looks like Barbie, speaks like Barbara Walters, and sings like Sarah Brightman, we’ll have to settle for one standout representative of 1 or 2 out of 3.

3 | “Miss America is completely irrelevant.”

It’s irrelevant, yet various Miss America-related headlines have completely flooded news channels across the country. Right. Also, I’m praying the day never comes when a service and scholarship-based pageant is cancelled, while the Kardashians sign on for a twenty-something-ith season of garbage reality television.

4 | “Miss America objectifies women.”

Have you not seen Miss USA– a self-proclaimed beauty pageant with 0% educational affiliation and no talent portion? I will never deny that pageants can be extremely detrimental to a vulnerable woman’s self-esteem. However, in a similar fashion, the right pageants can constructively mold young ladies into well-spoken girlbosses. Founded over 90 years ago, the Miss America Organization has become a leading advocate for women’s education and is now the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women. I never reached the national Miss America pageant, although I did grace the Miss Florida stage during my first and final year in the system, and I received/collected/utilized over $2,500 in scholarships. After allegations of providing inflated numbers, they’re now providing full transparency into how the scholarships are awarded, the amounts awarded per year, and their plans to work with colleges and universities across the country to continue increasing their funding.

5 | “Miss Colorado just performed a monologue. That’s a talent?”

Well, it’s debatable. I’ve seen some absolutely amazing dramatic monologues performed over the past few years, but this just wasn’t one of them. To be honest, I wouldn’t even label this a monologue. This was a spoken testimonial about her passion for nursing. Was it refreshing to see something different? Absolutely! However, each and every one of those girls has a personal platform they devote their year of service to promoting. It’s highly unlikely that, if given the opportunity, another contestant couldn’t have matched or exceeded her level of passion or sentiment for a particular cause.

6 | “The ladies of The View completely ripped Miss Colorado apart.”

I am not a fan of The View. Who has time to sit and watch notoriously obnoxious women complain about national news for an hour? I don’t. That minor detail aside, I finally gave in and watched their “egregious mockery” of Miss Colorado’s monologue on YouTube. While it was rude, it was no more off-base than any other nonsensical insults they’ve dished out, and quite honestly, I would be more offended if I were the violin player. Watch their controversial segment here.

7 | “How did Miss [State] not make the Top 5? This is clearly staged!”

I wish sometimes that they’d televise the closed interview portion, which accounts for 25% of a contestant’s total score and serves as a powerful first impression of their poise and people skills. Any pageant coach will tell you that the judges choose their winner in this private room. A woman has the opportunity to impress– or not impress– the judges during this 10-minute panel-style interview, where probing questions are asked one by one by different judges in a rapid fire format. Questions range from “Should Osama bin Laden have been granted a trial?” (my very first question when I stepped into the Miss Florida interview room) to “Who is Arne Duncan?” to “Why should we choose you over the 51 other contestants?.” Just when you feel like you’ve gotten into a groove, the topics shift, and you’re forced to adapt. The ability to stay in control of the interview is a rare art form, and those who do it well immediately rise to the tippy top of the judges’ watch list. Those who give mediocre interviews, ie whoever you thought deserved to be in the Top 5 or 10 or 15, may bulk up their scores with talent or swimsuit, but the judges don’t feel as strong of a connection to them and could consequently score them lower.

8 | “Every Miss America is the same, and the Miss America system is rigged for privileged white girls.”

This one gets my blood boiling. When Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri was crowned, she faced the most disgusting display of xenophobic cultural racism, and in the midst of a sea of death threats, she carried herself like a saint. Nina was the first Indian American, and the second Asian American, to be crowned Miss America and the first to perform a Bollywood dance as a talent on the Miss America stage. She is also the first Miss America to be called a Muslim extremist/terrorist/threat to society due to her ethnic background. It’s American ignorance, not the Miss America Organization, that is biased towards privileged white girls.

9 | “I hate anything Donald Trump gets his hands on.”

Well, that’s cool. Donald Trump has no affiliation with the Miss America Organization. He owns the Miss Universe Organization, which is a parent pageant for Miss USA. Miss USA and Miss America are in no way related. In fact, over the past 5ish years, Miss America has adopted a formal policy where titleholders are not supposed to pose for photographs with non-MAO titleholders in order to separate themselves from controversial and/or non-scholarship or service related beauty pageants (coughMiss USAcough).

As a competitor in both systems, I couldn’t blame them if I tried. Miss USA is almost unapologetic about what it’s looking for in a beauty queen, and brains/heart/integrity is not it. They’re looking for visually stunning Barbie dolls. The company you keep says a lot about you, and it’s obvious that Miss America doesn’t want Miss USA to even have the chance to taint their public image.

10 | “I’m never watching Miss America again.”

I look forward to reading all your passionate cries of gross injustice next year.

 

I hope this post gives a little more insight into how ridiculous some of these statements sound. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but judging college students for earning scholarship money through style, service, scholarship, and success is just plain wrong. Until shows like Real Housewives of North Dakota cease to exist, please re-direct these kinds of criticims to reality television.

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4 thoughts on “The Miss America 2016 Pageant:
A Response to the Nation’s Loudest Critics

  1. Sarah Elizabeth

    Well written and a great response to people’s misguided and uneducated understandings of the MAO system. If you spend even 5 minutes looking into the organization you will see the positive impact it makes for education, service and philanthropy, let alone the self-confidence and poise it gives to women who are proud to represent their city, state and hopefully country through the titles they earn through hard-work, perseverance and grace.

    Reply
  2. Nataile Brown

    Thank-you for addressing these questions/comments. I’ve always enjoyed beauty pageants and, yes, every single year (in my case for decades) the same type of statements are made. I still believe they hold a valuable place for young women to learn so many things. I’m from St. Petersburg, FL and am proud to have had you represent our city. 🙂

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