Swimsuit-less Miss America competition begins amid turmoil

Swimsuits are gone but talent is forever! (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The post-swimsuit era for the Miss America pageant begins Wednesday night.

It does so amid a revolt by state pageant officials unhappy with the way the decision to drop swimsuits was made, and who are demanding that top leadership, including chairwoman Gretchen Carlson, step down.

The current Miss America, Cara Mund, has accused Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper of bullying and silencing her — allegations the two officials deny.

A spokesman for opponents of the current leadership said 46 state organizations have signed letters calling for Carlson and Hopper to resign; only Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada and Vermont have not signed.

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To say that this year’s pageant is unusual would be an understatement. It gets underway in Atlantic City’s Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall amid the most turmoil it has seen in decades, since a reigning Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was forced to relinquish the crown in 1984 after nude photos of her surfaced.

The first of three nights of preliminary competition begins with a big change: In past years, one talent and one swimsuit winner were named in each of the three preliminary nights.

This year, instead of a swimsuit winner, the winner of an onstage interview will be named.

Carlson said earlier this year the change was made to modernize the pageant and put the focus on who the women are, not on how they look in bikinis and heels.

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Some have welcomed the changes as long overdue to make Miss America relevant to contemporary society, while others lament the loss of an integral part of what they say made the pageant a part of American cultural history.

“Starting this year, candidates will no longer be judged on their physical appearance,” The Miss America Organization said in a statement. “The most important part of Miss America 2.0 is to give the audience a chance to get to know who they are and what they want to do with the job. From the first phase of competition, the audience and the judges will hear from each candidate talking about why she is uniquely qualified for the exciting, challenging, 365-day job of Miss America. The focus of the show is on the substance of each woman.”

The preliminaries will not be televised.

The format is similar to what will happen during Sunday night’s nationally televised broadcast on ABC.

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Scholarships totaling nearly $506,000 will be awarded, including $50,000 for the new Miss America; $25,000 for the first runner-up; $20,000 for the second runner-up; $15,000 for the third runner-up, and $10,000 for the fourth runner up.

The Miss America Organization and the Miss America Foundation say they are working to increase the amount of scholarships awarded in future years as the competition nears its 100th anniversary in 2021.