Answering questions ranging from the recent competition controversies to their personal projects including advocacy and politics, Board of Trustees Chair Gretchen Carlson and President/CEO Regina Hopper spoke at the National Press Club Headliners Luncheon on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Angela Greiling Keane, deputy states editor for Politico and former president of the National Press Club, moderated the discussion, asking prepared and audience questions about Miss America in the modern world and how the organization is dealing with recent blowback after announcing an end to the swimsuit competition.
Carlson opened with saying she and Hopper, both former journalists, couldn’t have imagined two years ago that they would be be talking about Miss America at the National Press Club. Since taking leadership positions with the organization following a December email scandal that ousted former CEO Sam Haskell and several board members, Hopper and Carlson have done several interviews on the “Miss America 2.0” branding.
“I was Miss America 30 years ago, and the primary two reasons why I entered the program were talent and scholarship,” Carlson said, “and those are the two things that we are messaging better as we move this program forward.”
Hopper reiterated the two major competition changes announced June 5 were made to make it more inclusive for future participants.
“We acknowledge the discipline that it takes for young women to be fit — and trust me, you have to be fit to do this job. So we’re not saying we don’t honor that about women — we’re just saying we’re not going to judge them on that anymore.” said Carlson, adding the Miss America Organization believes candidates shouldn’t have to walk in a swimsuit to win the $50,000 scholarship.
The duo also acknowledged misinformation reported about the changes, saying evening wear remains in Miss America, but the 51 competing women now have the choice to wear an outfit that makes them feel “confident.”
A luncheon attendee asked how Hopper and Carlson are dealing with blowback from the changes, including 22 state pageants signing a petition calling for their removal.
“With change, there does come controversy. And change is difficult,” Hopper said. “Our system is comprised of volunteers and we would not be able to move forward without them. Miss American has had the swimsuit competition for forever, and there are people who rightfully believe that it is not a good idea to get rid of swimsuit. But let me just point this out: We have allowed our volunteers to have voice ... it is a very vocal minority and they believe what they believe, but we will move forward.”
Hopper mentioned since January, ABC Networks has been on board to broadcast the final night of competition and open to the changes to increase viewership: “They are really thinking of it as a new show.”
Though unable to give specifics on judging criteria or how competition judges will be selected, Hopper and Carlson did say there will be a two-panel judging process with preliminary judges and celebrity judges for the final night. Hopper also mentioned this is the first time in decades the Miss America competition is working with the city of Atlantic City to promote the show at Boardwalk Hall on Sept 9.
“We hope that everyone in the region will come to Atlantic City and come watch it in person,” Hopper said.