ABSECON — When Miss America Cara Mund arrived at her latest South Jersey appearance Thursday, event staff asked her multiple times whether she needed anything.
In a moment of quiet, between posing for group photos with fans in the blistering sun and handing out ice cream, Mund stood in the back room of the Dairy Queen and explained what she really needs: her voice back.
“It’s been a tough year,” Mund said, referring to months of controversy within the Miss America Organization. “There have been a lot of things I can’t control. It’s felt I wasn’t always heard or utilized or appreciated.”
A statement from the Miss America Organization said Mund has had opportunities to give her opinion and manage her own social media accounts:
“While this has been a different year than any Miss America could have ever expected, MAO has worked to provide her a platform from which she can build her future. Every Miss America has ups and downs during their year as the experience is challenging and rewarding at the same time. MAO is proud of the work Cara has accomplished this year and how she has represented the scholarship principles of the program.”
The 24-year-old Mund has been representing Miss America during what may be the most scandal-driven year in the competition’s history.
In December, leaked emails exposed vulgar, sexist conversations between Miss America CEO Sam Haskell and other board members and staff. A rallying cry from former Miss Americas called for the immediate removal of Haskell and several board members. By the new year, the Miss America Organization was planning new leadership, a new direction and a revamped mission.
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A Miss America 2.0 rebranding eliminated the swimsuit portion of the competition, which proved controversial among those most dedicated to the crown. Reports have called organization bickering a “civil war” after public outcry from state pageant leaders and volunteers and the resignation of board members elected just months before.
Mund was interviewed by news outlets about the scandal, then the competition changes, steering her talking points away from initiatives such as the Children’s Miracle Network, her personal platform, Make-A-Wish, and her political aspirations.
“I mean, we all have tough years, but I don’t think others have experienced what I have,” said Mund, who started on the Outstanding Teen pageant circuit nearly a decade ago, then competed four times to win Miss North Dakota.
Former Miss Americas told The Press of Atlantic City they could relate to Mund’s struggles, but that those struggles come with the title.
“It’s a very difficult year, but about six months in, you start to understand your job is not only about how your work reflects upon yourself, but (how) what you do reflects on the organization,” said Miss America 1999 and current MAO board member Heather French Henry.
GALLERY: Miss America visits Atlantic City High School
Miss America 2018 Cara Mund speaks to students at Atlantic City High School alongside Claudia Ratzlaff, Chief Executive Officer of The Women's Center in Linwood, on Wednesday morning. Mund stressed the importance of self-confidence as the students progress into life after high school. Click here to see a video.
During French Henry’s year as Miss America, the MAO went through three CEOs and nearly implemented changes to the contractual guidelines for Miss America.
French Henry said many of the former Miss Americas have reached out to Mund, offering support and letting her know she is not alone.
“There’s always a lot of adjustments throughout the year. Some grow into it with ease as they become a former,” she said. “Thankfully, we can have the current Miss America sit down with the formers and get the 411 on the job.”
And, as Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan points out, “It is a job.”
“I hate that she feels that this year has been hard,” Hagan said. “When you’re an employee of a brand, you’re expected to fulfill their expectations, as well as your own.”
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Back at the Dairy Queen, glancing over at the exit door, Mund worried about being interrupted or having her MAO managers overhear her candid conversation.
“I can’t answer that. I’ll get punished,” she’d say to questions delving into deeper feelings.
Mund has one month left as the current Miss America. Although unaware of the remaining appearances she has coming up, she said she’s looking forward to coming back to Atlantic City in September for this year’s competition.
“I wanted to represent my state and have people get to know me. But the way I’m portrayed isn’t always me,” she said.
Mund wrapped up the conversation by saying she feels she’s attempted to stand up for herself. She made her way to the door, secured her crown and got back to the business of being Miss America.
Contact: 609-272-7286 LCarroll@pressofac.com