Mind and Body

There she is, right next door

The “Miss America 2.0” pageant finds a new home at the Mohegan Sun Casino

Photo by Steve Klamkin

Camille Schrier, Miss America 2020, poses for photos shortly after winning the title at Mohegan Sun Casino on Dec. 19, 2019.

Photo by Steve Klamkin

The Miss America 2020 competition begins at the Mohegan Sun Casino on Dec. 19, 2019, led by celebrity hosts, Access Hollywood co-anchors Mario Lopez and Kit Hoover.

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By Steve Klamkin
Posted 1/6/20
The 2019 Miss America pageant, held at Mohegan Sun Casino, ushered in a new era, without a swimsuit competition, where the winner displayed her talent and prowess as a scientist.
Will the re-branding of the Miss America pageant succeed in bringing new sponsors to the program? How do the changes in the program’s format reflect changes in the attitudes toward women? Will other casinos enter the competition to host the 2020 pageant? Will the winner, Camille Schrier, consider making a series of podcasts as part of her campaign?
The changing demographics in medical school and law school indicate that there are more women than men attending these graduate schools. The success of the Women’s National Soccer Team in winning the World Cup this year and then championing their lawsuit for equal pay has challenged and changed the parameters of professional sports. The electoral voice of women voters remains a key demographic for the upcoming 2020 Presidential election, one where health care promises to be a deciding factor.

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – When the venerable Miss America pageant comes right into your backyard in neighboring Connecticut after spending most of its 99-year history in New Jersey, well, that’s the very definition of news. This called for a road trip.

Despite its critics, young women still compete for the coveted title in what is no longer a bathing beauty contest originated in 1920 in order to extend the summer season at the vacation hotspot of Atlantic City.

Camille Schrier, Miss Virginia, won the crown on Dec. 19, competing with 50 other young women [the District of Columbia also gets a shot at the competition].

“I am so excited and really shocked and thrilled,” Schrier told a late-night news conference about an hour after her win.

There is a lot that’s new about the program, which styles itself as “Miss America 2.0,” after the program’s top management was replaced following 2017 revelations that pageant leaders, almost exclusively male, had exchanged emails making derogatory references to past and current Miss Americas.

Under new management
The new setting for 2019 was Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., with a new network, NBC-TV, and a new outlook. No more swimsuit competition, no more evening gown. This time, viewers saw a show that had new scoring and a new emphasis: on achievement and on social impact.

All of the changes may not have sat particularly well with many of the people in the seats at the Mohegan Sun arena, largely comprised of thousands of pageant volunteers from around the country who’ve long worked to make sure that their contestant had the right clothes, the right swimsuit, the right look.

But the new pageant leadership sees its mandate as remaking Miss America for a new era.

So, how did Miss America do? Nielsen estimates that there are 120.6 million households in the U.S. that watch TV, and according to the entertainment industry publication Variety, 3.6 million watched the show, or about a 16 percent drop from last year’s 4.3 million viewers, an all-time low.

Dual degrees
Schrier, 24, is a graduate of Virginia Tech University, with dual degrees in biochemistry and systems biology. She is now pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, which she has put on hold for the next year. In addition to a $50,000 scholarship, Miss America earns a six-figure salary as a full-time spokeswoman.

For her talent, she “performed” a chemistry experiment that sent colorful plumes of hydrogen peroxide – generated foam shooting out of beakers into the air, what’s called “elephant’s toothpaste.” This led her to credit the very changes in the program for her ability to win the title.

“I never thought that I could compete in the Miss America organization,” said Schrier, who attended the 2013 pageant as an observer.

“I always admired it. I kind of figured that I would never stand on that stage because I was a woman that did not want to get into a swimsuit on stage. I didn’t have a performing talent, which is really ironic now. And it took me that long to figure out that I did have talents. And, when the organization changed to eliminate that swimsuit competition it gave me the opportunity to come forward.”

“It’s about being the woman who God made you to be. Be the person who you are, don’t try to be like anyone else,” she said.

“If I had ever danced or sang on the Miss America stage, I would never have been standing here, I would have never won my state title as Miss Virginia. And so, it’s those changes that brought me here. And what will bring more women like me forward. What this organization needs right now is candidates, we need sponsorships, we need to pay bills.

“I’m really excited for this year. This is an exceptional opportunity. I’m ready to redefine what this organization means and bring this into 2020 …to show that Miss America can be a scientist and that a scientist can be Miss America.”

The first question she fielded involved the “R” word: Is Miss America still relevant?

“By doing a talent that was really outside of the box, I’m showing that I can be a woman who is poised and articulate. But, I also love science and I can bring in people that maybe had never seen themselves in the organization before, kind of like me.”

“I think we need to bring that to all of the children that Miss America talks to, that I am not a beauty queen,” she said. “I am a brand ambassador for this organization and I am more than just someone with a crown on my head.”

Schrier set off on a yearlong whirlwind of public appearances, including parades and ribbon-cuttings.

Back to the future?

There remain a raft of unanswered questions. Will there continue to be a Miss America? Will the pageant/competition return to Mohegan Sun casino? Will Camille Schrier succeed in her bid to bring new interest and, especially, new sponsors to the program? Will there be a new television contract? Stay tuned.

Steve Klamkin, a reporter, anchor and host for WPRO, is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI. He has an unusual connection to the Miss America program: “I often say that I’m “married to the pageant,’” he explained. My wife Donna has volunteered with the Miss Massachusetts program for more years than I think that I am allowed to tell. She has managed the Miss Massachusetts Outstanding Teen program for the last decade, and I have also served as a judge and board member for the state program.”

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