Ohhhhhh the re-branding, y'all. It was EVERYWHERE.
Each year, my mom and I hunker down to watch the pageant. This year, with all the buzz surrounding Miss America 2019, it was a particularly juicy and interesting watch - full of mis-steps and moments that made me say, "Huh." As my mother put it, "Every year I hold out hope that it'll be a little better." I'm afraid there were lots of disappointments, with a few great moments still shining through.
But I'm also 154 years old and hate change.
We began with an intro that featured all the contestants in casual wear making it crystal clear to viewers that this was not your grandmother's Miss America. They stood in groups and said words like, "Smart." and "Empowered." and "Commanding." It was eye roll-inducing and set the tone for what was a really self-congratulatory evening. During the parade of states, we got treated to one young lady who bragged about having a "certificate in leadership."
Instead of the traditional swimsuit competition, the Top 15 were asked questions by their fellow competitors. As is always the case, some questions were harder-hitting than others, but this portion did give the women a chance to really shine. I have to say, it's been a while since I remember seeing a group of super articulate, whip-smart gals up there representing. Almost without exception, they answered their questions thoroughly and within the allotted time. A glaring outlier was the ultimate winner, Miss New York Nia Franklin, whose answer was fumble-y and not great.
We then moved on to what USED TO BE EVENING GOWN and is now some wretched excuse for evening gown called "Red Carpet," in which the formerly elegant and gorgeous beauty walk was turned into a weird boppy strut down a fake red carpet and then harangued by an E! News commentator in a thinly veiled "tell us about your platform" moment. This part of the competition didn't need a re-think, but apparently Gretchen Carlson and her minions didn't want to leave a single element of the pag untouched. It was so silly and teenager-y, turning what was once a show-stopper into a glorified pep rally. This part may have been the most disappointing to me.
Talent did receive an upgraded feature: instead of putting all the remaining competitors on stage to await their fate in front of the crowd, the new pageant wisely held all the girls backstage and announced them one by one, the way it ought to be. In the old format, there would always be more girls on stage than there were spaces in the talent competition, so a few poor souls would end up left alone, not selected, on stage in their talent costumes, ultimately dismissed and embarrassed. I love that we've gone back to the original talent format.
And y'all, there were some DOOZIES. Talent is most people's favorite part of competition because it really gives you a glimpse into the girl's personalities in a way no other element of competition does. WOW. Wowowowowowow. Apart from the obviously excellent (Callie Walker and Bridget Oei), and the just-okay-but-passable (Nia Franklin), we were treated to talents that ranged from disastrous to cringe-worthy and back again.
Massachusetts' Gabriela Taveras' vocal "Rise Up" was one of the most difficult things I've listened to in a while, so much so that I initially wondered if the on-stage monitors had failed because she was so wildly under pitch throughout the song. Alas, Nia Franklin's vocal later in the show shattered that theory and we were all left with ringing in our ears. My phone exploded during Taveras' talent with fellow watchers complaining about the performance. She couldn't "Rise Up" to the right note, I'm afraid. (I mean that joke was just right there, y'all, come on. Cut me a break.) Somehow, she advanced to Top 5 anyway.
Two of the contestants performed original spoken word pieces and I...can't. Listen, slam poetry is one thing. It's tricky, crafty, it rhymes, it's punchy and powerful - these were...not. Ellery Jones' monologue of an original poem was nice, but more suited for a talent show in grade school. And Jessica Shultis' dramatic monologue detailing her experience as a pediatric cancer survivor could have been tasteful and powerful, but was instead angst-ridden, over-wrought, and over-performed. Screaming at the audience about their mortality and fake-crying your way through a talent don't often make for the best result. I think she scared those poor judges. She scared me from thousands of miles away.
On-stage question was predictable, as the format here doesn't often change. The answers were, again, pretty solid (with the exception once again of Nia Franklin, the ultimate winner, who used "overcoming pricey rent" as a response to, "How has being the candidate from New York prepared you for the job of being Miss America?"). The worst question had to do with men who father children biologically but aren't around to raise them, and was suspiciously asked to a contestant who was raised by a single mother (even though the questions were supposed to have been "randomly chosen").
And poor Cara Mund, whose name and presence were conspicuously absent throughout the pageant until the very end, was awkwardly trotted out for a final walk that couldn't have been any longer than 90 seconds. The crowd was roaring for her, but it felt like watching a prisoner step out for their mandatory "outdoors time." With the year she's had and how public she's been about her terrible experience, this cap to her year felt disingenuous and super weird.
When Nia was crowned, there was no "There She Is, Miss America." She walked back and forth to some generic pop song, then was interviewed Superbowl-style on stage. It was weird. And Carrie Ann...well:
Overall, it was such a disappointment. The pageant is what it is. Women who compete in it know that they're going to be in swimsuits. They expect to have the full glory of a slower, more elegant walk in the gown they've chosen. If we really wanted to empower all women and make the pageant relevant, why wouldn't we keep swimsuit and offer it to all body types and shapes? Wouldn't that be more empowering? And by making evening gown into a chipper little skip down a faux red carpet, aren't we sending the message that you can't be both elegant and also relatable?
I don't know, you guys. Maybe I'm a curmudgeon. But I want swimsuit back, dammit, and I want Miss America to be what it used to be: beauty (both inner and outer), class, grace, and poise. Because none of those things preclude intelligence, feminism, or cultural relevance.
Did you watch?? What did you think?
PS - Callie Walker was a living dream and made me proud to be from Alabama. And also should've easily made it into Top 5 over that ear-bleeding song from MA. Okay I'm really done now.