Miss America is cutting the swimsuit portion of its pageant, promising to stop judging contestants on physical appearance, but the change will not alter the format of this year’s Miss Nebraska competition. And at least one past Miss Nebraska worries that the move isn’t in the competition’s best interest.
“I think it’s great they’re being more inclusive and starting to shift the focus away from appearance and toward what people are going to say,” said Brook Hudson, Miss Nebraska 2004, “but is this going to evolve the Miss America pageant into oblivion?”
Losing the swimsuit component and altering the evening wear competition, Hudson said, could lower public interest and serve as a kiss of death for Miss America’s revenue stream. According to the Miss Nebraska Organization, Miss America offers more than $1.4 million annually in college tuition scholarships.
“You have to wonder if this is too much change all at once,” Hudson said. “They’re stripping away things that, like it or not, people identify with the pageant. Is the average consumer going to get it? Is that going to affect ratings?”
The changes — the pageant also is allowing participants the freedom to choose less conventional evening wear in the gown competition — are expected to take effect in July. That’s too late for the Miss Nebraska competition, which will stick with the traditional format when that competition begins Thursday in North Platte.
On Tuesday morning, Gretchen Carlson, chair of the national organization’s Board of Trustees, announced the changes on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Carlson said the swimsuit competition is not one of the pageant’s highest rated components — talent is.
“We’ve heard from a lot of young women who say, ‘We’d love to be a part of your program, but we don’t want to be out there in high heels and a swimsuit,’ so guess what, you don’t have to do that anymore,” Carlson said.
The change may worry some pageant veterans, but some Omaha-area women were quick to cheer the move on social media.
Miss Nebraska executive director Rachel Daly said the organization’s scholarships are funded primarily through donations and sponsors.
Daly said the Miss America Organization’s changes shouldn’t be a surprise. The organization has been trying to reinvent itself after a Huffington Post report in December led to the resignation of several executives and the construction of an all-female leadership team.
“Having that swimsuit portion in place made it sound like we weren’t practicing what we were preaching,” Daly said. “We would say all are welcome, but then people would show up and we would say ‘Put on a swimsuit and get up on stage.’
“I don’t see how we had any other choice than to make some drastic changes to prove that we are still relevant.”