As Miss America 2016 begins in Atlantic City
The Miss America pageant, set to begin this week Atlantic City, is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year. But is Miss America in any position to celebrate?
Organizers try to use the pageant’s long history to salvage its relevance. The economic woes facing the community made Miss America though it had been billed as a boost to the city seem even more irrelevant.
Not long after the 2015 pageant aired last September, late night satirist John Oliver took Miss America to task for overstating the amount of money awarded through its local, state and national scholarship programs.
Kira Kazantsev, the newly crowned Miss America 2015, had to make a statement on national TV after a Jezebel report alleged she had been dismissed from her Hofstra University sorority because she participated in hazing.
“You are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime,” Kazantsev giddily told this year’s contestants on Sept. 1, at a ceremony marking their arrival in Atlantic City. During her speech, she also joked that after this year, the pageant would close up shop.
Sure, she was kidding, but the remark sent an uncomfortable ripple through the air. How long will Miss America’s journey truly last?
There she is and there she goes?
As a general rule, Sam Haskell III, the CEO of Miss America, isn’t keen on talking about last year’s controversies, and especially Oliver.
“He was doing that as a joke,” he says, adidas botasky asking us not to mention the comedian’s name.
But Haskell says his report did inspire change.
“It has given us the impetus to truly evaluate our scholarship program,” Haskell tells NJ Advance Media, adding that for nine months, the pageant organization worked with an education consultant to reassess the program.
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(As Oliver’s report revealed, the Miss America Organization routinely used the figure $45 million to describe its scholarship program, though that was only the amount that could potentially be made available to contestants. Miss America now refers to its scholarship award total as being in the “millions.”)
On Friday, the organization issued a statement about the review of its scholarship program, saying that in 2014, the pageant and its 52 state organizations awarded “nearly $6 million in combined cash and in kind tuition waiver scholarships to women across the country.”
The statement continued: “In previous years, the organization maintained that it made available $45 million in scholarships annually. While accurate, this figure did not convey the actual acceptance and utilization of scholarships, especially in the form of in kind tuition waivers.”
“We are clearly far and away still the largest provider of scholarships for women in the country,” Haskell says.
He maintained that optimism at the welcome ceremony for contestants.
“This is going to be the year for Miss America,” the Miss America CEO teased, as 52 women sat behind him in glittering crowns, ready to vie for the top spot.
Then there’s the matter of the pageant’s current home. Miss America began in 1921 on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. The outcome of those negotiations will determine the pageant’s future in Atlantic City.
Both Haskell and the CRDA declined to comment on the status of the talks.
But does the pageant look like it’s caught in the past by continuing to stay in Atlantic City? And should the city, struggling to reshape its own image, be pinning its hopes on a struggling organization?
Haskell will only say that the pageant considers Atlantic City to be its true home.
“We’re thrilled to be here,” he says. “It’s where we belong. It is our intent to stay here for a long period of time.”