ATLANTIC CITY — Despite many unanswered questions about the future of Miss America, Sunday night brought back many familiar sites in the hours before this year’s competition.
Miss America fans, former contestants and supporters walked around the city and in front of Boardwalk Hall in the rain — some wearing crowns of their own — ready to cheer on the candidates in the final hours before the crowning.
“Everyone is there for the girls,” Julianna Erdesz, Miss Nevada 2008, said ahead of the finals on Sunday night. “You’re there for the girls, and I think that’s remained true and remained strong this year — I think stronger this year more than every other year.”
It’s been unknown for months what exactly the Miss America 2019 competition would look like for the 51 candidates, since controversy rocked the organization, new leadership was announced, bullying allegations and the elimination of the swimsuit component.
Sunday’s crowning was the first since the announcement in June to eliminate swimsuit and to rebrand the competition as “Miss America 2.0.”
More interview segments were added and the evening wear portion was modified — now dubbed “red carpet” — where the women walk in evening wear of their choice and make a statement about their platforms or “social impact statements.”
Reactions to competition changes and board changes over the past few months varied throughout state pageant organizations. Some took the new marketing and mission in stride, while others were critical of new board of trustees chair Gretchen Carlson and President/CEO Regina Hopper, saying the changes were made unilaterally.
Brenda Edwards, who traveled to Atlantic City from Florida and is a local director of a competition there, said change is welcome, and the controversy from the past few months might help them get stronger.
“I think it was definitely a time for us to refresh, revive and revamp,” she said. “It will help us be introspective and really give some serious thought on what we want this organization to be going forward.”
It was the first time in Atlantic City for Erdesz, who now lives in Portland, Oregon. While there have been a lot of changes this year, she said she was interested to see what the final layout of the competition would be.
“We literally have no idea what to expect, “she said. “But the true core of what Miss America is, and what the sisterhood is and what the organization is, is strong powerful world-changing women who stand for something.”
Katie Schreckengast, Miss Pennsylvania 2017, returned to Boardwalk Hall Sunday to support the Miss America 2019 class.
She said she was interested to see how the competition unfolded, but lamented the lack of the iconic runway on this year’s stage.
“I’m going into tonight with an open mind,” she said, “but I’m also keeping in mind this isn’t the experience that some of the contestants signed up for.”
Melissa Johnson, of Rhode Island, has a daughter who’s currently serving as Rhode Island’s Miss Outstanding Teen.
She said she’s glad to see the competition continued despite the controversy.
“There’s been a lot of turmoil,” she said. “I’m happy that they’re still having (the competition.)”
The future of the competition in Atlantic City is somewhat in doubt. MAO has relied on a subsidy from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority since it returned to Atlantic City in 2013. CRDA decided in April to approve $4.325 million in supplemental funding for this competition, but it’s the final payment of a three-year contract.
CRDA officials have previously said they would not comment on the possibility of a renewal of the contract until after Sunday’s competition.