This year, for the first time in its 99-year history, Miss America will be crowned in December — and it won’t happen in New Jersey. Outside of a stint in Las Vegas between 2005-2013, Atlantic City has hosted the Miss America Pageant every September. Crowning Miss America 2020 in Uncasville, Connecticut, the week before Christmas is a big change.
Miss America moved in part because New Jersey would no longer subsidize production costs, and the new venue, the Mohegan Sun Casino, isn’t as costly. The organization also needs the revenue from a television contract to help fund the scholarships it awards. So, when NBC wanted a date change, Miss America had little choice. Diehard pageant fans are disappointed by the upending of tradition, but for most people, the change won’t even register as a blip on the cultural radar.
Miss America is no longer a pop culture phenomenon. The pageant was slow to adapt to societal changes in the wake of victories by civil rights advocates and feminists, which opened up greater educational and professional opportunities for women, so viewers found it out of touch. Last year it finally stopped the swimsuit competition.
I’ve had a hard time finding reasons why the average American should turn to NBC on Dec. 19 — and that’s as someone writing a book on beauty pageants who happens to be the daughter of Miss America 1970 (who won as Miss Michigan). So I reached out to this year’s Miss Michigan, Mallory Rivard, who hopes to become the sixth contestant from the state to take the national title, for her thoughts.
The 24-year-old Bay City native and first-grade teacher, credits Miss Michigan with helping her promote literacy. “Miss America and Miss Michigan is about doing something bigger than yourself,” Rivard says. “My passion has always been to help people, even in my everyday life as a teacher, but as Miss Michigan, to have an impact in my community is a great feeling.” Rivard’s social impact initiative as Miss Michigan, Read to Succeed, is timely. This year, Michigan’s Read by Grade Three retention law goes into effect. The law mandates that any third-grader whose reading score on standardized testing is more than one year below grade level may be required to repeat the grade.
Hearing Rivard’s experiences complicates my thoughts. Miss America may have run its course, but it positively impacts the young women who participate and the communities they represent. In 1970, my mom completed her education at what is now University of Detroit-Mercy using the scholarship she won as Miss America.
Miss America is still a worthy endeavor for some, but that doesn’t mean it deserves primetime coverage. I predict the 100th anniversary broadcast may be the last before the time comes for the centenarian to gracefully take a bow.