So much talking.
The Miss America judges talked more than they ever had. Live from Uncasville, Conn., they had questions. They had follow-up questions. They had critiques. They tried to explain their decisions, except when they didn’t.
The 51 candidates for the job of Miss America talked. And talked. They sat on the stage of the Mohegan Sun arena in evening gowns — a faux pas noted by many longtime Miss A observers, evening gowns on the floor! — and talked. They stood like TED talkers and talked.
They talked at each other in a mini debate. At the end of it, winner Miss Virginia Camille Schrier — a Newtown, Bucks County, native — and runner-up Miss Georgia Victoria Hill, agreed that Miss America 2.0 should, now that you mention it, not be too edgy. And it should hew to the conventions of Rule 7: an unmarried, childless Miss A whose relationship is with America, not any person.
In other words, don’t look for Miss America 3.0 any time soon.
Miss Alabama told Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown, a very talkative judge, that she would be “100 percent on board” with trans and nonbinary contestants being included, and was then cut.
And after the show was over Thursday night, Miss D.C. Katelynne Cox recorded a video accusing the Miss America Organization and NBC of trying to silence her from talking about being a rape survivor. She talked about it anyway, but didn’t make the first cut. (A spokesperson did not immediately respond).
In the end, the undisputed fastest talker won: Schrier, a chemist whose route to the post-Atlantic City Miss America went through New Jersey, where she attended high school at the Hun School in Princeton.
Miss America’s morning after press release allowed that she won both the crown and the job.
(Apparently, you can take Miss America out of New Jersey — for the second time — but you can’t totally take New Jersey out of Miss America.)
Schrier, a 2012 National American Miss Pennsylvania Teen, took a page from Miss Vermont 2016 Alayna Westcom (like the Democrats a few channels over, Vermont’s ideas were co-opted). Schrier introduced multicolor to her elephant’s toothpaste eruptive onstage demonstration, spoke eloquently about her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and got the job.
On the internet, longtime Miss America fans grumbled. They vowed not to watch. They hated the new format, which allowed only five women to perform their talent, eliminated any segments that had anything to do with appearance or fashion (no evening gown, no swimsuit), and arbitrarily narrowed the field from 15 to 7 with no on stage segment in between.
(What’s your top 15-7-5-3-2-1 is not exactly catchy).
The stage looked like a shiny TV set for a Shark Tank or American Idol kind of show, but even Brown criticized the production values, telling Miss Missouri Simone Esters, a baton twirler in the best tradition of Miss America, that the lighting was off. As if that was her fault!
The judges, Superstore costar Lauren Ash, Queer Eye’s Brown, and singer/songwriter/actress Kelly Rowland, kibbutzed and critiqued, insisted they wanted transparency and authenticity. Miss America insisted it was looking for a real staffer to take over the position, but cut Miss Missouri, an honest to goodness social media strategist who seemed very authentic and natural on stage, after she got to the final three.
And the judges pretended like they were being tough American-Idol style critics, but none had the guts to tell Miss Connecticut Jillian Duffy, a hometown favorite who survived leukemia as a teen and got to the final five, the obvious: her singing was pitchy.
What were they after in the end?
The first signs of confusion had came weeks before, when the Atlantic City-based Miss America Organization denied press credentials to its ancestral hometown newspaper — and maybe its last true booster — the Atlantic City Press.
What were they afraid of?
What were they hiding?
Why the ‘tude?
The next sign came on Dec. 8, when their problem-child former Miss A, Cara Mund, showed up as a judge for … Miss Universe, the anti-Miss America, still flaunting its bathing suits and gowns and curves as it crowned Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi.
Tunzi’s win meant that, until last night when Nia Franklin relinquished her crown, all five reigning beauty queens were black women: Miss USA, Miss America, Miss Teen USA, Miss World, and Miss Universe.
Which brings us to Thursday night, live from Uncasville: with Mund live-tweeting her displeasure at every step of the way (she thought the final debate unfairly pitted the women against one another instead of celebrating them, but come on, isn’t that every Miss America since the beginning?)
Maybe they were right to try to keep the old Jersey and national snarky press at bay (The Inquirer did not request credentials this year; the Washington Post was turned down). But you’d think having spent $13 million in subsidies from New Jersey taxpayers via the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority over the last three years, they’d throw a little access to Atlantic City.
And so, beamed across the television universe to those people not watching Thursday night football, or that other American job competition, the Democratic presidential debate; carried to distant lands by the Connecticut bureau of the Associated Press, the Miss America competition wobbled to another offseason.
Would the misses ever be heard from again?
Lots of pageant people just tuned out.
“I’ve pretty much checked out on Miss America,” said Kate Shindle in a Twitter message, adding, “which is not to say that life is bad … all is well!”