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Miss America changes competition format once again

Miss America changes competition format once again


With swimsuits out and evening gowns seemingly not far behind, an outfit of choice will become the standard for the Miss America Competition, which is going through yet another change in competition structure.

The competition that will crown Miss America 2020 will consist of three judged phases including talent, on-stage interview and a new “social impact initiative” pitch, according to a document sent to state titleholders and pageant officials and obtained by The Press of Atlantic City.

The Miss America Organization did not reply to a request for comment on the privately announced format changes.

The major change to this year’s Miss America — to be held for the first time in December in Connecticut — will be when candidates walk the stage in evening gowns, a staple of the pageant since the 1950s and previously a scored event.

According to competition and scoring documents, all candidates will showcase their chosen eveningwear during the opening titleholder introductions and on-stage interview in preliminary competition. For the final night, which will be broadcast on NBC, all candidates will wear their evening-wear only for the introduction.

“An elegant recognition of the Miss America tradition!” the document states.

For the top candidates who make it to the on-stage question and social impact initiative pitch portions of the competition, the candidates are instructed to wear a “job interview” outfit or “what you would wear to give a TED Talk or corporate presentation.”

For what will be the final moments of the competition, the top finalists are instructed to wear “what they would want to be crowned in, should they be selected for the job of Miss America 2020,” with the only stipulation being it cannot be their talent costume.

“I think people will be upset to see Miss America crowned wearing an outfit for a TED Talk,” said former Miss New Jersey 2008 Ashley Fairfield D’Ambrosio. “It’s professional and you can feel empowered in a pantsuit, but I believe the girl who wins will be crowned in a gown.”

In 1949, Miss America’s then-Executive Director Lenora Slaughter, who had headed the pageant since 1935, decided it was improper for the winner to be crowned in a swimsuit and changed the standard so contestants would wear an evening or ball gown for the final moments of the show.

The “candidates choice” phrasing leaves many of the wardrobe guidelines open-ended, which has many fans questioning what the next Miss America will wear during the final moments of the competition. The new guidelines have been interpreted by some as a “phasing out” of the glamorous aspects of Miss America.

The eveningwear competition was previously judged as the “first impression of confidence, stage presence, style and personality.”

“It was about being able to portray your personality,” said D’Ambrosio. “You expressed yourself in talent, in the interview and also in evening gown in an elegant form.”

In 2018, former MAO Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson announced Miss America would no longer be judged on physical appearance, which brought the end of the swimsuit competition and saw an initial change to the evening gown phase.

Miss New Jersey 2018 Jaime Gialloreto was a part of the first candidate class to compete for the crown under the new “Miss America 2.0” rules.

“I think my main concern is that they changed the competition again, after (the 2020 class) won their state titles. From personal experience, it’s frustrating, and I feel bad for the women who got to this point,” Gialloreto said.

At last year’s competition, candidates wore evening gowns while explaining their platforms, renamed “social impact initiatives,” and during the final night, the top 10 finalists walked a “red carpet” and were asked a social impact question by host Ross Matthews. The 2019 pageant also was missing the traditional runway stage at Boardwalk Hall.

The past two years have seen the most drastic changes to the Miss America Competition, as new leadership took the reins.

“It really is a traditional institution,” said writer and fan Michael Callahan. Subtle changes were made to modernize the pageant when Callahan covered Miss America in Atlantic City during the 1980s and ‘90s. But he called the recent changes a “swinging pendulum” to making Miss America less of a pageant.

“We’re going to take the things that it is known for — evening gown, swimsuit — things people identify with the institution, and toss them without discussion or debate,” Callahan said.

“I always loved evening gown,” said Gialloreto. “It was a chance to celebrate the hard work. You have to be glammed up as a competitor, at events or everything, so stepping foot on stage in a dress I loved, it was my moment to celebrate competing that year.”

The Miss America 2020 Competition will be held on Dec. 19 at Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Dates for the preliminaries have not been publicly released, and the MAO has also not yet announced the hosts or judging panels for this year’s competition.